BA expects UK airport expansion plans to fail

British Airways (BA) expects that efforts to expand Heathrow airport will ultimately fail and the proposals from a commission on London’s airport problems will be ignored next year.

On the overly politicised issue of whether to build a third runway at Europe’s busiest airport, Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent of BA, said the commission’s recommendations would be put aside after 2015 elections.

Heathrow operates at around 98 percent capacity and its expansion plans were set aside earlier after opposition from local people and environmental activists following concerns over noise and pollution. Noise produced by airlines using Heathrow affects some 700,000 local residents, according to Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority, more than any other airport in Europe.

BA and others have claimed that the project would be a huge boost for UK economic growth, forcing the government to set up a commission to look again at how to expand London’s aviation capacity.

‘I suspect the recommendations by the committee won’t be acted on by politicians. I’m critical of the politics behind their decisions,’ Willie Walsh, the CEO of International Airlines Group said at a public hearing in London assessing the country’s future aviation needs. ‘This government gave no credible alternative to a third runway so BA will continue planning for the future on the basis of a two runway Heathrow.’

Colin Matthews, the chief executive of Heathrow, said that no taxpayer money would be used to build a third runway at Heathrow. It would be funded by a group of airlines that use it and private investors, who would receive a share of revenues generated by passenger landing fees.

The government’s commission on airport capacity, chaired by former Financial Services Authority head, Howard Davies, is set to publish an interim report by the end of next year with a final report due in mid-2015. British aviation officials will submit their proposals to the commission next week.

About 1,300 flights arrive and leave from Heathrow daily. BA is the largest airline at the airport with around 40 percent of the takeoff and landing slots. Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government has also ruled out expanding London’s smaller airports.