Hundreds of jobs are at risk if British Airways decides to pull its international flights out of Gatwick.

The airline, which occupies most of the north terminal, is considering moving services to Heathrow as a cost-cutting option.

However, the company stresses this is just one of many options it is considering in its Future Size and Shape review.

Sussex Enterprise director Mark Froud said if the UK's biggest airline moved to Heathrow, it would turn Gatwick into a European, rather than global, hub.

He said service industries and shops at the airport would suffer because smaller planes would be used, meaning fewer passengers.

A BA spokeswoman said: "Senior managers are looking at the whole business and how to improve it through this difficult time. It is a blank sheet process, with many things being discussed."

She said the review would be announced next month and denied reports that BA was close to agreeing a passenger sharing deal with Dutch carrier KLM.

Gatwick's 10,000 BA employees will have to wait until the review's outcome before their fate is decided.

The airline says it is too soon to say what impact, if any, new cost-cutting measures might have.

It is still processing the 7,000 job cuts it announced nine days after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, which led to a worldwide recession in the airline industry.

The cutbacks included 400 pilots' jobs and 2,300 cabin crew posts, with 20 planes grounded and flying reduced by ten per cent.

The airline decided before the atrocities that it was going to axe 1,800 jobs by the end of March this year.

Last year, it lost £172 million on its European operations and £310 million the year before.

But if the airline decides to decamp to Heathrow, there is a queue of rivals eager to take its place.

Budget airline EasyJet already has six planes operating from Gatwick and would like to increase that figure to between 20 and 30 during the next five years.

A spokesman said: "BA is losing a lot of money on its short- haul operations and is scaling down at Gatwick. If it moves out, we will be applying for slots.

"We will pick up any slots we can get. We want to fly as many services as we can."

He predicted BA would move out of Gatwick when the fifth terminal was completed at Heathrow.

Airline Go said it had not previously moved into Gatwick because it was a congested airport with slot restraints.

But a spokeswoman said: "With the recent announcements by BA these issues will be diminished, which naturally makes Gatwick a more attractive option."

An airport spokesman said talks were being held with several carriers looking to expand at Gatwick.