The bosses of the UK’s two largest airline users of Heathrow have voiced support for a cost-effective alternative third runway plan for the airport.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways owner International Airlines Group and his Virgin Atlantic counterpart Craig Kreeger, both backed the new scheme put forward by Arora hotel group founder Surinder Arora which he claims can cut the price of the project by up to £7 billion.
Arora, whose hotel and property group is one of the largest landowners at Heathrow, said the airport’s current runway plan, estimated to cost about £16 billion, would lead to an “unacceptable and untenable level of airline and passenger charges”.
His proposal has been put forward to the government as part of its consultation on Heathrow expansion that ministers backed last year, after more than a decade of delays and indecision about how to expand airport capacity in south-east England.
Arora claims it could save £5.2 billion by amending Heathrow’s plan for a third runway to the north-west of the airport, partly by reducing the site area by 20%, as well as cutting the amount of demolition and groundworks required.
It could save another £1.5 billion by avoiding construction work on the M25 motorway that runs close to Heathrow. This would bring total savings to £6.7 billion.
Walsh said: “Arora’s Heathrow proposal is a welcome alternative to the airport’s own costly scheme.”
He urged the government to study the proposal closely, adding that in post-Brexit UK, Heathrow would need to compete effectively with European hubs and not “price itself out of the market”.
Kreeger also welcomed the “fresh thinking” from Arora, whose rival runway proposal has been devised with help from US construction giant Bechtel and former BA chief executive Sir Rod Eddington.
Heathrow pointed out that its current third runway proposal was “supported by the government and have widespread cross party political, business and union support”.
“We continue to develop our plans to improve passenger experience, reduce the negative impact on local communities, and lower the cost so we deliver expansion at close to current charges,” it added.
The Department for Transport said it would consider the Arora scheme along with all other responses to its consultation on Heathrow’s proposal for a third runway.
“The government has made clear that it believes a new north-west runway at Heathrow is the best scheme to deliver the economic and connectivity benefits this country needs,” it added.
“This will not be expansion at any cost but the right scheme at the right price, and we expect industry to work together to drive down construction costs for the benefit of passengers.”
The DoT told the Financial Times that it will set out its next steps “in due course” after analysing all responses to its consultations.
One of Arora’s proposals, which would deliver the biggest savings, is to shorten the proposed runway from 3.5km to 3.2km and move it to the east.
However, this could mean noisier flights over the capital compared with Heathrow’s plan, in part because aircraft may have to fly lower for longer over London, it has been argued.
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