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We’re all for a third runway at Heathrow, but these comments seem to be a little too oblivious to the fact that people need to live near the airport.
Britons make an “excessive” fuss about noise levels from aircraft flying over their homes, a board member of Heathrow Airport has claimed.
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker, who is also on the board of Heathrow, said European airports should open 24 hours a day if they want to compete with the emerging Gulf hubs in Dubai and Doha, which are claiming a growing slice of international passenger traffic.
Home owners living under flight paths “wouldn’t even hear the aircraft” after a while, the outspoken airline chief suggested.
Al Baker, who joined Heathrow’s board after Qatar Holding bought a 20pc stake in the west London airport in 2012, was speaking ahead of his airline’s move on May 27 to Doha’s new $17bn (£10.1bn) airport, Hamad International, which will be able to handle 50m passengers a year when it is completed in full in two-and-a-half years’ time.
The airline chief suggested that the Queen should be making the biggest fuss about aviation noise in London as Windsor Castle is “exactly below” the flight path of one of Heathrow’s runways.
His comments come a week after Heathrow submitted revised plans for a third runway to the Airports Commission, which has been set up by the Government to determine the best place to build Britain’s next runway.
Al Baker said European airlines are unable to grow as quickly as Gulf carriers due to the restrictions placed on them around night flights. Residents in the Gulf “are not making so much fuss” about aircraft noise as they do in Europe, he said, allowing carriers such as Qatar to make better use of their aircraft.
“If you live under the flight path of an aeroplane, I assure you that over a period of time you wouldn’t even hear the aircraft passing over your house,” he said.
“In addition to that, today’s aeroplanes are so efficient vis-à-vis the noise emissions that as soon as the aeroplane is out of the airport perimeter you would hardly hear them.”
In relation to Britain’s long-running debate over where to build new runways, Al Baker said national interests should be taken into account, not just residents’ gripes about noise levels.
“I know that people require freedom but I think this is too excessive,” he said. “Sometimes national interests must be considered also. If you don’t increase the airport size at Heathrow or Gatwick you will be overtaken by other airports which will then connect to your country by high-speed train,” he said, implying Heathrow will lose further business to rival European hub airports such as Paris and Frankfurt.
His comments provoked an angry response from anti-Heathrow expansion group, HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise). John Stewart, its chairman, said: “Mr Akbar Al Baker should meet some of our members next time he is in London. They are in despair about the flights constantly going over their homes. And they certainly don’t get used to night flights.
“Mr Akbar Al Baker is flying in the face of all known evidence to suggest that noise won’t be a problem outside the airport perimeter fence any time soon.”
Dubai International Airport overtook Heathrow for the first time in January and February in terms of monthly passenger traffic. Aviation chiefs warn the expanding hub airports in the Gulf will suck even further business away from London.
Some 85pc of passengers that pass through Doha’s current airport, which will be closed and part of the ground used for one of the Qatar World Cup 2022 stadiums, are on transfer from flights originating in regions such as Asia.
The city expects to capture an even greater slice of the global aviation market once Hamad International is fully operational. A handful of carriers already operate from the site, which has a main terminal the size of 50 football pitches, plus facilities such as a swimming pool and squash courts.
Al Baker is well known in the airline industry for his forthright comments. Speaking to journalists in Doha on Sunday after the launch of Qatar Airways’ all-business class flight from London Heathrow, he defended his airline’s policy of banning its female cabin crew from getting married in the first five years of their employment.
He said cabin crew know what they sign up to when they join the airline, which has to invest a lot of money in recruiting cabin staff from beyond Qatar’s borders and training them.
“We used to allow this and a lot of people started to get married and then two to three months later they were pregnant so we were losing a lot of trained people that we had then to stop them flying,” he said. “We had to put a stop to this. But after five years they can get married to anybody they want.”