Transport Airlines

British Airways boss says prime minister is afraid; tells Gatwick to forget about new runway

Dec 04, 2012 2:32 pm

Skift Take

This is some tough talk by a man who’s knees deep in labor problems and consolidation issues of his own making, but it will likely force movement on the ongoing saga of Heathrow’s new runway.

— Jason Clampet

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World Travel & Tourism Council  / Flickr.com

Peter Greenberg,Travel Editor, CBS interviewing Willie Walsh, CEO, International Airlines Group in April 2012. World Travel & Tourism Council / Flickr.com


Airlines will only pay for expansion at one UK airport and that is Heathrow, Britain’s foremost airline executive told MPs, in a pointed rejoinder to Gatwick chiefs pushing for a second runway.

Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways’ parent company IAG, told the transport select committee that there was no business case to expand the UK’s second biggest airport.

“I’m not aware of consultation with airlines for the significant capital expenditure and the additional operating charges to pay for that investment,” he said, “or to see if the airlines actually want a second runway and how they propose to fund it.”

Walsh added: “I don’t see a business case to build a second runway at Gatwick. The only business case you could stand over is one to invest in a third runway at Heathrow, but I’m not going to waste my time because it’s not going to happen.”

Walsh said the prime minister had proved he was afraid to take tough decisions when he kicked the issue of Heathrow expansion “into the long grass” through setting up the Davies commission. “The decision to cancel the third [Heathrow] runway was a mistake and I believe we’ll live to regret that decision,” Walsh said. BA would expand its network as far as possible at Heathrow but nowhere else.

At an earlier Commons hearing, Gatwick’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said a second runway would allow his airport to compete with Heathrow and said that the current hub was exacting terrible environmental costs on west London.

Meanwhile, the Unite union has vowed to fight any compulsory redundancies at BA after the airline said it would cut 400 senior cabin crew jobs. The airline has offered what insiders say is a generous voluntary redundancy package to crew on the European and worldwide fleet, employed on traditional terms and conditions unavailable to new recruits in the mixed fleet, and believes there will be “good demand”.

BA has started a 90-day consultation period with the first cuts expected to take effect next March.

IAG is already set to make 4,500 workers at BA’s sister airline Iberia redundant, a move that is expected to lead to strikes by Spanish unions.

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