TC 2010: Walsh regrets block on Heathrow expansion

ABTA Travel Convention logoBA chief executive Willie Walsh has said it was “regrettable” that some UK politicians had decided that stifling growth at Heathrow would have an impact on the global environment.

Walsh said airline growth would happen anyway and that stopping Heathrow expanding would make do difference to global carbon emissions.

Speaking today at The Travel Convention in Malta before heading off to a crucial board meeting for the new Iberia-American Airlines joint venture, Walsh said: “There are governments all around the world investing in air travel because they know the difference it makes to their economies.”

He denied BA was planning to shift the focus of its hub to Madrid as part of the Iberia tie-up but said the Spanish government had invested in air capacity and it would take advantage of that.

Walsh said BA would seek growth in the UK by buying more slots at Heathrow as they became available and expanding capacity at London City and Gatwick.

He also rounded on the government’s move to increase APD, a tax that he described as “exploitative” and “socially regressive”.

He said the amount BA already paid in APD was enough to offset its carbon emission 10 times over.

Repeating the carrier’s opposition to moving to a per-plane tax, a move supported by Abta, Walsh called on the travel industry to work together to oppose the tax.

“Do not allow the differences in our approach to divide us,” he said. “As we squabble over the structure, the government just smiles and keeps on increasing the taxes. Enough is enough, we must fight back.”

Walsh said the tax was damaging not just the UK economy but also many destinations. And he said the recent rises, including the next on November 1, had only gone ahead because there had not been enough opposition in previous years.

Asked about BA’s ongoing dispute with the Unite cabin crew union, Walsh said it was entirely the union’s fault that no settlement had been met.

But he said although he did not think it was the intention of Unite to strike again, BA had contingency plans in place that would enable it to fly all of its long-haul programme.

Walsh said the only issue was how much of BA’s Heathrow short-haul programme it could operate, but he said during the last round of strikes the carrier flew 60% of that schedule.

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