Qatar chief demands Heathrow third runway

Capacity constraints at Heathrow must be urgently addressed by government to avoid a “catastrophic situation” for the country’s economy.

The impassioned call came from Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker (pictured) as he voiced his backing for a third runway at the London hub.

He told the Aviation Club in London that the third runway debate “was not an option, but a necessity” to overcome the capacity crunch the UK’s premier airport was facing.

Al Baker said “Heathrow is bursting at the seams and has already reached a critical point.

“Already heading towards a double dip recession, the UK cannot afford to lose out on the huge benefits a third runway would bring to the economy in southeast England and the country as a whole through the creation of more jobs and more business opportunities.”

“No capacity increase will inevitably lead to further economic hardship with job losses and businesses closing down.

“Heathrow is already losing out to European neighbouring hubs that have the resource to expand capacity.

“Measures to expand need to be taken soon to avoid a catastrophic situation in the future.”

He warned: “The UK government cannot afford to immerse itself in long winded debate and public enquiries. Action needs to be taken.”

The Gulf carrier is preparing to be the first airline to operate the new generation Boeing 787 Dreamliner into Heathrow in a few weeks’ time.

This demonstrates the carrier’s confidence in its operations to the UK.

“The government needs to understand the importance of allowing airlines to expand and keep them at Heathrow, otherwise there is a risk carriers will move away,” added Al Baker.

It would be a grave mistake if no immediate investment was made in an industry that continues to experience demand outstripping supply, he claimed, rejecting proposals for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

“While the proposed idea of a new airport, ‘Boris Island’, in Kent is a good idea, this is a project that will potentially take at least 20 years to materialise if the go-ahead is given today. Can the UK wait 20 years?

“During this period, we will see airports expand significantly across the Continent – and of course in my region,” said Al Baker

Bilateral constraints also compounded the problem of ineffective competition.

“Not just in the UK, but governments around the world need to wake up to reality of doing business today,” said Al Baker. “Air corridors should be opened up to give passengers more choice.

“Qatar Airways has managed to steadily increase frequency to five daily flights between Heathrow and our Doha hub, but we believe there is demand for further expansion on the route.

“As we prepare to move to a brand new airport in Doha next year, the opportunities that will present themselves are enormous.

“But to really take full advantage of our new home, we need more services from places like London to cater to the demand,” he added.

Recent industry developments showed that the world of aviation had woken up to the advent of Gulf carriers – Qatar Airways becoming a member of the Oneworld alliance, Emirates’ tie-up with Qantas, and Etihad’s partnership with Air France KLM.

“We have been considered pariahs in the global marketplace. The notion that Gulf carriers are the black sheep of the airline industry is far from reality. The Gulf carriers are here to stay, successfully building strong hubs in Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” said Al Baker.

He explained that the Gulf region had long faced the wrath of critics opposing the dramatic expansion of its airlines.

“It is in Europe that the fiercest of critics have voiced their opinions. I have personally faced criticism from legacy carriers in Europe, falsely accusing Gulf carriers of using government money to subsidise growth.”

Al Baker said that the complaining tactics used by legacy carriers demonstrated their ignorance of Gulf carriers’ business models and that those who criticised with baseless arguments were afraid of the competitive threat posed by the region.

“The region is no longer a follower, but a pacesetter that other airlines are watching closely with envy,” he said.

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