British Airways boss Willie Walsh has called on ministers to give the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow and dismissed Tory leader David Cameron’s suggestion that there is no economic case for expansion.
Walsh accused Cameron of insulting millions of UK residents who use Heathrow to connect to other services after the Conservative leader suggested last week that transfer passengers contribute no more to the UK economy than the value of “a cup of tea”.
The BA chief executive told a conference on aviation and the environment in London: “David Cameron appears to agree that transfer passengers are worth little. That is insulting to millions of residents in the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who fly through Heathrow.”
Walsh said overseas transfer passengers also make “a significant contribution by helping to maintain routes that would otherwise not be viable. They support frequencies on routes that would otherwise not be maintained.. They mean Heathrow can offer a large network of destinations.
“That is how a hub airport works and it is why other economies, in Europe and the Middle East, are investing in hubs. Without a third runway, Heathrow will become a regional airport.”
Former BA boss Robert Ayling has also questioned the value of transfer passengers – a core part of BA’s business. Walsh said: “Bob Ayling retired eight years ago and the industry has moved on.”
He dismissed London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan to look again at building a new airport in the Thams estuary east of London. “It is an absolute fantasy – a non-runner,” said the BA boss.
Walsh added: “We have already spent six years discussing a third runway at Heathrow and not yet confirmed the intention to proceed let alone begun the planning process. I urge ministers not to be distracted from false arguments.”
The government is due to give a decision on whether to proceed later this year, but has repeatedly signalled its support for expansion.
Talking to Travel Weekly, Walsh suggested Cameron’s recent speech was “political posturing”, adding: “I think he will have been surprised by the reaction. He needs to come off the fence [on Heathrow].”