Fifteen years to save Heathrow, BAA chief warns

BAA chief executive Colin Matthews (pictured) has warned that time is running out to find a solution to London’s aviation crisis before the damage is irreversible.

He told Prime Minister David Cameron that Heathrow would be reduced to a “local airport” by 2027 with devastating impact on the capital’s economy.

Matthews called for government action before this summer’s major aviation consultation or risk London becoming a “branch line” on global travel networks.

The main London hub is at maximum capacity and cannot accept new routes. Meanwhile, European rivals such as Paris and Frankfurt have seen passenger numbers rise.

“We’ve only got about 15 years, we do need to do something now,” Matthews said.

“[Unless we act] the number of destinations served and frequency of flights will progressively decline. There will come a stage when that decline is such that what is left is not sustainable as a hub.

”There is the option of doing nothing. But that simply means that business that should go to the UK will go to Frankfurt, Paris or Amsterdam instead,” the London Evening Standard reported.

The Coalition has so far ruled out building a third runway at Heathrow and has not backed newly re-elected Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for a new £50 billion hub in the Thames estuary.

International Airlines Group chief executive British Willie Walsh said: “I have seen no evidence of the government appreciating the importance of aviation to Britain. The rest of the world is securing infrastructure to ensure they can grow their economies, while the UK has done the opposite.

“After two years in government, [the coalition] is yet to show anyone any semblance of policy. We need action by this government – and I’ve seen none. I fear for the future.

“Clearly Boris [Johnson] is a very intelligent man. While I don’t agree with Boris’s position on Heathrow, I admire him for having the bravery to put the issue of a hub airport firmly on the agenda.”

Johnson told the newspaper: “London’s position as a global economic powerhouse is under grave threat.

“Our European competitors have built mega four-runway-plus airports and are already greedily snaffling up British passengers.

Business leaders said the capital’s status as the world’s premier trading city is under the most severe threat in living memory.

John Dickie, director of strategy and policy at the business group London First, said: “London has held its number one position against all the odds. But if we don’t have the connections to places like China we are not going to maintain that position.”

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