Wednesday 29 January 2020

Willie Walsh launches attack on British Government’s handling of aviation

Peter Woodman

THE Irish of British Airways' parent company launched a strong attack today on the British Government's handling of aviation.

The UK was "flying blind on aviation" and had "no aviation policy to speak of", International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh told the British Chambers of Commerce annual conference in London.

Britain was confronting the prospect of losing out on direct air links to world growth countries "without boldness, courage or clarity", he said.

Mr Walsh said while there might be no planes in the sky, there was "plenty of pie in the sky".

He said the possible solving of the problem of no expansion at Heathrow Airport by having a so-called "Heathwick" train link between Heathrow and Gatwick was "as absurd as its name".

Mr Walsh praised London Mayor Boris Johnson for "thinking big" with his plan for a Thames Estuary airport.

But Mr Walsh said it was "an idea whose time never seems to come".

He said the air passenger duty (APD) airport departure tax had cost around 25,000 jobs and was "deterring people from visiting the UK".

Saying the UK was getting itself into "an unholy mess on aviation", Mr Walsh added that although political leadership could not create economic opportunity, "the absence of political leadership can certainly prevent it".

Mr Walsh told the conference: "This country, I am afraid to say, has no aviation policy to speak of.

"We are an island nation. Our trading partners are far-flung. If we do not have a hub airport that links us directly to world growth we will suffer for it.

"At the moment Britain is confronting this prospect without boldness, courage or clarity."

He went on: "We are falling behind in developing air routes to Asia, to Latin America and to all the regions in the world that will power our growth in the future. Yet while there are no airplanes in the sky there is plenty of pie in the sky.

"The Government has ruled out new runways at Heathrow, our only hub airport. Heathrow is currently the number one international airport in the world. We are not number one at many things any more. And we won't be for much longer.

"And the idea that the problem can be solved by a train link between Heathrow and Gatwick - dubbed Heathwick - is as absurd as its name."

Mr Walsh said: "Then there is the question of the Thames Estuary hub. Now, I want to give credit to the Mayor of London. At least he's thinking big. At least he's getting the question discussed.

But this is an idea whose time never seems to come. It's been talked about, on and off, for four decades.

"In that time nobody has ever really offered any convincing answers about how the operational, financial and surface transport challenges would be overcome.

On APD, Mr Walsh said: "We are deterring people from visiting the UK, deterring them from spending money at our hotels, our restaurants and our attractions.

We are choking off jobs in these industries as well as cutting employment in airlines, airports and the long supply chain.

Also in Business