February 29, 2012 9:30 pm

Ministers dared to rethink on Heathrow

The head of International Airlines Group, parent of British Airways, has challenged ministers to have the “political balls” to reconsider the case for allowing a third runway at Heathrow airport.

Willie Walsh said the government should be willing to review its opposition to Heathrow’s expansion because a third runway offered the quickest solution to the UK’s hub capacity crunch.

He also told the Financial Times that the UK needed a four-runway hub airport in the long term, and acknowledged suburban Heathrow was unlikely to be the location.

BA is the biggest airline at Heathrow, which serves as its main hub. The airport’s capacity constraints are putting it at a competitive disadvantage compared with hub airports in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris.

“I’ll bet you that in 2050, BA will be flying from a two-runway airport at Heathrow,” said Mr Walsh. “It is not that I lack ambition. It is that the people who we need to address these issues lack ambition, and lack the balls to take tough decisions in the interests of the long-term economic development of the UK.”

BAA to challenge airport sale ruling

BAA on Wednesday announced plans for a second legal challenge against a ruling by a regulator that it should sell Stansted airport. The Competition Commission ordered BAA to sell Stansted in 2011, but the company appealed against the ruling to the Competition Appeal Tribunal. The tribunal in February upheld the regulator’s ruling, and BAA will now take its case to the court of appeal.

Heathrow is operating at full capacity, and BAA, the airport’s owner, has claimed the constraints mean the UK could miss out on trade worth at least £14bn over the next decade.

In March, the Department for Transport is expected to publish a policy paper that will seek views on how to preserve the UK’s status of having a globally significant hub airport.

Regulators have expressed concerns about the financial and safety impacts of building a four-runway Thames estuary airport and other infrastructure, at a total cost of £50bn – as proposed by Lord Foster, the architect.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, the industry regulator, said Lord Foster’s plan for a new Thames estuary airport, a high-speed rail link, and other infrastructure improvements in the south-east of England may not be viable without some form of state subsidy.

Mr Haines said there was a risk of airlines facing unacceptably large increases in landing charges at the proposed airport in the absence of state support.

Richard Deakin, chief executive of National Air Traffic Services, which is responsible for air traffic control, expressed concern at the risk of aircraft taking off from a Thames estuary airport clashing with Heathrow’s airspace.

He said Heathrow might have to close in such circumstances, but added that the government should alternatively consider expanding Gatwick or Stansted airports.

Related Topics

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.


Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in