30 NOVEMBER 2015


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Article from BTNews 30 NOVEMBER 2015

COMMENT: Willie Walsh and the third runway

At last week’s Airport Operators Association gathering at London's Hilton Metropole,  BTN  asked Willie Walsh, the introductory speaker, if he could assess, as a former pilot, the merits or otherwise of the two Heathrow runway schemes. Mr Walsh turned away from the questioner and replied “NO”.  

In response to another enquiry from the floor, he complained about Heathrow charges and even seemed to indicate a preference for Gatwick.  British Airways is clearly happy with its slot ownership at Heathrow.  Another runway would open up competition from other airlines.  EasyJet says it would like to come in when R3 opens, its efficiency a real challenge to BA.  It could also be argued that what is still the national airline's sudden interest in the regions (Inverness and Leeds) is just a case of what is known as ‘slot warming’.

Mr Walsh said that the Aer Lingus takeover looks like being a great triumph and quoted IAG's successful acquisitions of bmi and Vueling and also the airline's rapid expansion at London City Airport where BA CityFlyer is now the largest carrier.

Mr Walsh suggested that the construction of a third runway at the west London airport would place an “outrageous” burden on airlines and passengers, who would be forced to pay even higher charges. He suggested that the cost of the scheme was inflated because Heathrow was spending too much on chandeliers in terminals rather than trying to keep the budget to a minimum.

He questioned the idea of reducing the early-morning flights, in agreement with Heathrow on that one.  Others have said that overseas night-time long-haul departures are flexible.  Does it matter much if the take-off time changes from 14:00 to 15:00?  With 50% more runway available Heathrow slots will not be a problem.

He also said that the cost of upgrading roads around airports to cater for more travellers could be eased by introducing toll charges for motorists.  

When it came to acquisitions, Mr Walsh made it clear that IAG was not actively engaged in an airline takeover at the present time. It was not something the group has ruled out.  Finnair has been mooted as a prospect.

Mr Walsh also said that IAG would at last be paying a "substantial" dividend. 

IAG is clearly on a roll.  The question is ‘would it have been’ if fuel prices had stayed at the near US$150 a barrel level at the start of the decade?

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All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

David Bentley, Manchester/UK

As I suspect you are, I am tired of listening to Mr Walsh\'s constant moaning about airport capacity proposals. I have never heard him put forward a positive suggestion, let alone a solution. But why should he? As you say, he\'s sitting pretty. What surprises me is that the business community hasn\'t latched on to his negativity yet. (On a technical point, BA\'s LBA service isn\'t \'sudden interest\' - that service must be five years old now?