BA warns Heathrow expansion set to fail

City A.M. Reporter
BRITISH Airways is working on the assumption that efforts to expand Heathrow airport will ultimately fail and the proposals from a commission on London’s airport problems will be ignored next year, the head of the airline’s parent said yesterday.

In some of his strongest comments yet on the fierce political battle over whether to build a third runway at Europe’s busiest airport, International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh cast the commission as a political football whose recommendations would be put aside after the 2015 elections.

Heathrow operates at around 98 per cent capacity and opposition from local people and environmental activists, concerned by the noise and pollution another runway would generate, has already seen its expansion knocked back once.

BA and other interested businesses argue the project would be a huge boost for UK economic growth, forcing the current government to set up a commission to look again at how to expand London’s aviation capacity.

“I suspect the recommendations by the committee won’t be acted on by politicians... I’m critical of the politics behind their decisions,” Walsh told a public evidence session yesterday assessing the country’s future aviation needs.

“This government gave no credible alternative to a third runway so BA will continue planning for the future on the basis of a two runway Heathrow.”

Overturning the previous Labour administration’s decision to build the third runway, the coalition government, in power since 2010, also ruled out expanding London’s smaller airports.

The government’s commission on airport capacity, chaired by former Financial Services Authority head Howard Davies, will publish an interim report by the end of next year with a final report due in mid-2015. British aviation officials will submit their proposals to the commission next week.