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BBT March/April 2019 cover
March/April 2019

Walsh: ‘We will not pay for third runway’

Heathrow to open first independent lounge at T5

The boss of British Airways’ parent company IAG has vowed not to pay for the building of a third runway at Heathrow.

The Airports Commission, headed by Sir Howard Davies, has recommended that a third runway, which is likely to cost around £18.6 billion, should be built instead of a second runway at Gatwick.

But Willie Walsh, IAG’s chief executive, called the third runway “inefficient and expensive infrastructure”.

“How the hell are they going to finance this? The project as envisioned by Heathrow and the commission is, to our mind, way over the top and extremely inefficient and expensive infrastructure - we can’t see how it can financed in an efficient way,” he said.

“Our position is that we’re not going to pay for it. I think we’re in a very strong position because we did not support this initiative .

“We did not support the building of a third runway or any of the other initiatives being reviewed by the commission.”

Walsh said that the third runway “remains shaky on a political basis” due to opposition by “strong personalities” within the ruling Conservative party, although he admitted there were strong supporters of the project as well.

He praised the commission for some of its analysis in the final report but accused Davies of “glossing over” the financing of the third runway and the “ability of airlines to pay”.

“If airlines have been making excessive profits at Heathrow, then you would have to question why BMI was effectively bankrupt and why Virgin Atlantic has never really made a profit.”

Walsh said there remained “significant political obstacles” to a third runway, including Prime Minister David Cameron having to perform a “u-turn” after ruling out Heathrow expansion before the 2010 general election.

“Maybe I should be a little bit more positive in my outlook but I still remain sceptical about the deliverability of any runway expansion at Heathrow.”

Walsh had supported the previous Labour government’s plans in 2009 for a shorter third runway at Heathrow, which was later cancelled by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Gatwick was quick to seize on Walsh’s comments, with the airport’s CEO Stewart Wingate saying that the findings of the commission were “unraveling”.

“It is no surprise British Airways have come out today against expansion. For the huge costs of a third runway at Heathrow you could build Gatwick, have all the benefits and billions left to invest around the country,” he added.

“We also learnt today that - buried deep in the report - is the revelation that a third runway would reduce rather than increase domestic connections to the UK. This blows a hole straight through the heart of Heathrow's central claim to be the airport for the whole of the UK.”



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