The boss of British Airways’ parent company has lambasted Heathrow’s expansion plans as a “ridiculous glory project”.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, said the £17.6bn plan to add a third runway at Heathrow could lead to a “completely unjustified” increase in airport charges, which would have to be passed on to passengers. His firm also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus, and has more than half the slots at Europe’s busiest airport.
Mr Walsh was speaking at the ACTE-CAPA Global Summit at the Sofitel at Terminal 5, BA’s Heathrow base. He said the runway itself would cost only £200m, with the rest of the budget going on other facilities.
The IAG boss championed an alternative scheme by the businessman Surinder Arora, owner of the Sofitel and extensive property around the airport, which he said could save £7bn on the official Heathrow plans.
He also claimed that if British Airways’ HQ at Waterside in Harmondsworth were to be demolished to make way for the third runway, the airline could end up paying its own compensation through increased charges levied by Heathrow.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Expanding Heathrow is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve Britain’s aviation capacity crisis – with more competition and choice for passengers, improved resilience at the nation’s hub airport and double the cargo capacity for Britain’s exporters.
“It’s critical we get this right, and that is why we are pleased the Civil Aviation Authority has recognised the progress we and our airline partners have made on delivering Heathrow expansion affordably, so that airport charges can be kept close to current levels.”
The boss of Southend airport has weighed in on the expansion debate, demanding lower taxes for smaller airports to take pressure off Heathrow and Gatwick.
Glyn Jones, chief executive of Stobart Aviation, which owns Southend airport, said: “With serious doubts that there will ever be a third runway at Heathrow, the Government needs to address the airport capacity issue now.
“The good news is that there is lots of spare capacity in smaller airports up and down the country, that with a bit of support could be freed up to help.
“Unless we act, our two biggest airports are just going to get fuller and fuller with delays and customer service getting worse and worse.”
The Government is expected to give the go-ahead to the highly controversial expansion of Heathrow in spring 2018.
The IAG chief executive also said that the long-haul, low-cost brand Level might one day fly from Heathrow. At present, the subsidiary operates just two aircraft from its base in Barcelona.
Mr Walsh said it could expand to 30 aircraft by 2022, and fly to destinations currently off the BA route map, like secondary cities in China. But he said the UK’s strict visa rules for Chinese visitors needed urgent reform.
“You can’t do business with the world if you make it difficult for the world to get here.”