The outspoken boss of British Airways owner IAG, Willie Walsh, said today his confidence that Heathrow would ensure its expansion was on time and on budget “is zero”.
Speaking to MPs on the Transport Select Committee for their inquiry into the government’s national policy statement on Heathrow’s third runway, Walsh said he had no confidence in the third runway being on time and on budget due to “the experience of dealing with Heathrow”.
“We don’t know what the budget is yet, we don’t even know what the plan is,” Walsh said.
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“In terms of on time, they don’t have a great record of delivering major infrastructure projects on time,” the IAG chief executive said, adding that Heathrow claims to have rolled out projects on time. “But the reality is, that it’s rare, if ever, that they’ve done so.”
The IAG boss also returned to what he considers a key sticking point of the proposals: passenger charges. Keeping passenger charges flats while delivering expansion within budget is a challenge Walsh said today, he does not believe the airport is up to.
Walsh appeared alongside the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet’s UK director, Flybe’s communications chief and the boss of industry association Board of Airline Representatives in the UK.
Airlines said guarantees should be provided ahead of a vote by MPs on the third runway in the summer.
Flybe’s Simon McNamara said while the airline would like to grow at Heathrow to help drive domestic connections, it could “take it or leave it” and simply will not expand “if the costs don’t work”.
Airlines said they were not putting all their eggs in one basket on Heathrow expansion either, with Walsh noting Gatwick was mulling the use of its emergency runway to boost capacity.
He said the reason British Airways has 52 per cent of slots at Heathrow is that the airline has picked them up from other carriers that have abandoned the airport – struggling to make money there.
“It has the appearance of being an extremely attractive airport, but it’s an extremely difficult airport to operate from,” Walsh added.
A Heathrow spokesperson said in response to Walsh’s comments: “Since the opening of Terminal 5 , both sides have learned considerable lessons and today Terminal 5 has been voted ‘world’s best terminal’ 5 years in a row. Heathrow has gone on to deliver Terminal 2 and numerous other projects on time and on budget – Willie Walsh’s comment suggesting we have no experience in doing so, is categorically untrue.
“Our expansion cost projections are equally robust and we will continue to work to reduce the cost further. Last year we confirmed potential cost savings of up to £2.5bn which illustrates our ongoing focus and progress in this area. It is a shame this hasn’t been recognised by Mr Walsh in this instance.”
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