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One of the world’s fastest-growing airlines has pressed UK ministers for “clarity” over Britain’s aviation policy, warning it is making decisions now over where to send its aircraft in 20 years’ time.
James Hogan, president of Etihad, has injected a fresh urgency into Britain’s tortured aviation debate after ministers last month postponed a consultation on airport capacity for the second time this year.
Mr Hogan said Heathrow was “maxed out” and expanding airlines from the Middle East and China would be forced to station their aircraft at rival European or American hubs if ministers do not have the “courage” to make a decision over airport infrastructure.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is on course to generate $5bn (£3bn) of revenues this year and will more than double its fleet to 160 aircraft by 2017.
Mr Hogan said the order books of aircraft manufacturers show the major buyers over the next decade are all from fast-growth regions such as the Middle East and China.
Britain is at risk of losing interest from those airlines if it does not give a clear idea of where aviation strategy is going, he said.
“The problem with Heathrow is it is just about maxed out. Having a competitive hub is very important.
“What is important for airlines is to have clarity on airport infrastructure because that determines your acquisition strategy of aircraft and how you build your network over time.
“We have a network plan that goes 20 years ahead.”
Mr Hogan, an aviation veteran who was chief operating officer of bmi in the early part of the last decade, said a link between Heathrow and Gatwick would not work as airlines only want to operate “over a single hub”.
The Etihad president flew to London last week for the Government’s global investment conference, at which David Cameron urged overseas companies to invest in Britain.
Mr Hogan said he was “disappointed” that the Government was trumpeting the success of Heathrow during the Olympics when airlines are more interested in what will happen in 15 years’ time. The Prime Minister continued to rule out a third runway.
“That decision whether it’s the third runway [at Heathrow] or another airport has to be made and the sooner the better,” he said.
Etihad has recently bought stakes in Aer Lingus and Virgin Australia.