Politicians “afraid” to take decisions on airport expansion, says Willie Walsh

16:00 04 December 2012

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways' parent company, has said politicians are afraid to take decisions on airport expansion. File picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Politicians have been afraid to take tough decisions on airport expansion, the head of British Airways’ parent company told MPs today.

International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh also said that the operating costs of the so-called Boris Island Thames Estuary airport plan favoured by London Mayor Boris Johnson would be so high that no one would be able to afford to fly from there.

Speaking to the House of Commons Transport Committee Mr Walsh said that the airport expansion issue was “too difficult” for politicians and governments to handle.

He added that he was working on the principle that there will be no third runway at Heathrow Airport. Mr Walsh told the committee that he envisaged that there would still be only two runways operating at Heathrow even as late as 2050.

He said: “New runway capacity is required, but I don’t believe that capacity will be provided.”

An aviation commission headed by former Financial Services Authority chief Sir Howard Davies has been set up by the government and is due to finally report on aviation capacity in the summer of 2015.

Mr Walsh said he was “not optimistic” that the Davies Commission would lead to any expansion any time soon.

He said a similar three-year commission in the late 1960s had led to nothing, with the report “still sitting somewhere”, and went on to say: “This issue is too difficult for politicians and governments to deal with. We are positioning our business on the basis that there will be no expansion.”

Mr Walsh said the opposition to a third runway at Heathrow by the coalition government had been “wrong” and the decision to cancel the expansion at the west London airport was “a mistake”.

He went on: “I believe we will live to regret that decision.”

Asked why no airport expansion decisions had been made in the past, Mr Walsh said: “I think it is fear on the part of politicians. They are afraid to tackle tough issues.

“It (expansion) has been kicked into the long grass and I think it will be sitting there for a considerable time.”

On the Boris Island airport Mr Walsh said: “Financially, I don’t think you could make a business case to support it.”

He said the only way it could work would be to close other airports down and “force people to fly from there” and that he could not see that happening.

Mr Walsh pointed out that in 2001, Dubai in the Middle East was the 99th biggest international airport in the world. By 2011 it was fourth, he said.

He said Dubai would overtake Heathrow as the world’s biggest international airport “within two to three years”.

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