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Airports review is doomed to gather dust, British Airways chief warns MPs

4 December 2012

The government’s airports review will simply end up on a shelf, and major airlines will still be operating from a two-runway airport at Heathrow in 2050. That was the stark warning delivered by the chief executive of British Airways’ parent company IAG Willie Walsh this afternoon as he gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee. Walsh told the MPs on the committee:

‘I think the decision of the government to establish the Davies commission has been seen by some as a step in the right direction. I think personally I’m not optimistic… My own view is that the issue is too difficult for politicians and governments to deal with and I’m not optimistic that anything will change in the foreseeable future and as a result of that we’re planning our business on the basis that there will be no change to the capacity of the airports that we operate at in London and have made decisions based on that assessment so I’m an interested observer at this stage.’

He added that ‘in 2050, if we want to take that as along British Airways will be operating from a 2-runway airport at Heathrow.’ He told the committee that ‘from a political point of view, as an observer, I see no evidence of support… I can’t see how you take the report and do anything other than put it on the shelf’. The problem, he said, was ‘fear on the part of politicians: I think they are afraid to tackle tough issues’. He’s not far wrong with that: the Davies Commission’s timetable to report back after the 2015 election shows just how afraid politicians are about its recommendations.

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Walsh’s whole evidence session wasn’t very encouraging: not least because he seems determined that if any airport is going to expand, it should be Heathrow. He dismissed the idea that Gatwick could build a second runway, saying he wasn’t aware that the airport authorities had approached the airlines operating from its current runway to see if they would actually want another one. Walsh certainly doesn’t. ‘I don’t see a business case to build a second runway at Gatwick,’ he said.

But he believes that demand for flights to and from Heathrow will continue to grow, and because the only way we’ll get growth at Heathrow now is by increasing the size of aircraft’, BA is looking to use larger planes so that it can carry more passengers with each flight. But because the debate was currently about how to constrain the west London airport rather than expand it, the ‘UK economy will still suffer as a result of the lack of capacity’.

The committee – those MPs who had actually turned up, at least – were all rather dispirited by the session. Kwasi Kwarteng described some of the points Walsh was making as ‘disturbing’.  Those points also sounded pretty plausible, given the amount of opposition within the Conservative party to Heathrow expansion, and the energy that Boris Johnson has been pouring in to his campaign against a third runway.

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  • Daniel Tekel Thomas

    Willie Walsh is 100% correct, the airport capacity debate will go on for decades to the detriment of British business and the wider economy because the current crop of politicians are too gutless to tackle the difficult issues.
    Career politicians armed with their PPE degrees who went from the student union bar into party politics do not have the experience to run a corner shop let alone the economy.
    We the people are at fault for electing these schoolkids in the first place.

  • HooksLaw

    The problems Britain faces can be seen when you look at the area of Heathrow — 12 sq km.
    Charles de Gaulle = 32 sq km

    • telemachus

      So extend Birmingham

      • dalai guevara

        …or Gatwick, or Stansted, or Torquay, or Manchester, or Leeds/Bradford, or Robin Hood. And move the ENTIRE BBC to Salford, the crown courts to Nottingham (haha), and more FTSE 100 companies out of the city.

        Is it not interesting to see the different responses from O’Leary and this chap here? They epitomise the different players in the game:

        Walsh: status quo centralists
        O’Leary: free market federalists

  • Daniel Maris

    Willie Walsh – hardly Manager of the Year.

    Here’s a novel idea…how’s about we all ignore him and make some rational German-Chinese style decisions about airports and siting thereof.

    • telemachus

      Those being?
      It is fed up we all are of this argument
      Forget London
      Let’s make a firm decision on January 1st 2013 to locate the UK hub inBirmingham
      At the same time give the high speed rail link the go ahead
      At a stroke a solution to the hub question the transport infrastructure problem and the need to grow the economy

  • James Randall

    British Airways has no interest in either Heathrow expanding or moving to a new hub airport. Why? Because 50% of any new slots have to be made available to new entrants first.

    • telemachus

      Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe said it
      was misleading to suggest that expanding airports in south-east England was the
      only way to add capacity.

      He said regions could help take the strain and that a new generation of
      smaller planes that could fly further meant passengers would not need to
      transfer via big hubs as often.

      He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme building a third runway at Heathrow was
      fraught with complications.

      “Unfortunately, Heathrow was built in the wrong location – it is a 1946
      solution to a 21st Century problem. We need to address that and move on

      • HooksLaw

        Germany’s main airport is not in Berlin or Bonn, but Frankfurt, ie its financial centre.
        Arguably The City of London should have been moved after the war and a major airport built to go along with it.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Per that report, they can obtain more runway capacity at Heathrow by optimizing their operating protocol and using the existing 2 runways interchangeably, rather than as individually dedicated takeoff and landing strips. Very little capital cost involved with a simple operational change, certainly less than destroying many hundreds of homes and businesses and associated infrastructure to create room for a newly constructed runway.

    Always best to maximize the use of existing facilities, before building and paying for new. And this is especially true in times of fiscal crunch.

    • Daniel Maris

      Are you an expert in airport management and marshalling of aircraft?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, in comparison to you, yes.

      • dalai guevara

        and a power engineer and economist, it seems. Sadly, he is just a nuclear door salesman, the cold calling type.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …not that you’d be able to distinguish between any of those functions, mind you, because… well… you’re still stupid.

          • dalai guevara

            the cold calling troll type…

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …”still” being the operative word.

    • jazz6o6

      What do you mean by “……..using the existing 2 runways interchangeably…….”.

      The runways are too close together to allow the simultaneous approaches necessary to allow what I think you are suggesting.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        That’s not what that report said. Heathrow currently uses dedicated runways solely to alternate noise paths and share the noise pollution “fairly” in each direction. Those 2 runways have 3-4km separation. Mixed mode would be a minor operational change for them, and since aircraft engines continue to quiet down, noise will likely lessen as a concern as time goes on, much as it has the past 40 years.

        There are many links detailing a potential operational change biased towards optimization of this facility and a more efficient capacity utilization. Here’s one, with pictures:

        Note that the BAA guy acknowledges that he can use bigger aircraft with more passenger capacity, which would be another way to optimize capacity utilization at Heathrow.

        • jazz6o6

          “………Those 2 runways have 3-4km separation………..”

          Those two runways are only 1.3km apart (so there’s a bit of disinformation already). It is not possible to have simultaneous approaches; the only thing that would significantly improve landing and take off capacity under the present configuration. Of course ground congestion and noise pollution would only get worse.

          By comparison Paris CDG has four parallel runways 3 km apart with a 1km longitudinal offset. This configuration is a basic requirement and not possible at LHR; unless you demolish West Drayton, Hayes, Sipson, Harmondsworth,Harlington and Hounslow.

          Heathrow has been ‘optimized’ almost beyond reason and it’s time to start again somewhere else. It is time for the BAA and BA stranglehold to be released.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Those two runways are only 1.3km apart (so there’s a bit of
            disinformation already). It is not possible to have simultaneous approaches which is the only thing that could increase landing and take off capacity with the present configuration. Of course ground congestion and noise pollution would only get worse.

            Actually, those 2 runways are 1.45km apart, so there’s an even further bit of disinformation. Further, your statement that simultaneous approaches are impossible is false. There’s plenty enough separation to allow mixed mode operation, and in fact, it’s already done intermittently at Heathrow, and has been for some time now. Even further, expansions on that operating method are already in trial phase, Phase 2 of the trial phase as a matter of fact, Phase 1 having already completed:


            You can review current and planned mixed mode operation video here:


            You’d be correct that ground congestion and noise pollution would only get worse, but they’d do similar with the addition of a 3rd runway, so that’s not of consideration. The only consideration is WHERE that additional congestion and noise pollution takes place, and how much capital is spent in arriving at that condition. Clearly, optimizing existing facilities would be the first choice.

            Which seems to be what Heathrow and the politicos believe, as they wouldn’t have commissioned these trials and sent out the BA guy to speak, otherwise. I get it that you have reasons to want that 3rd runway, but I’d say it’s as dead as disco right now. When you get an alignment of site constraints and value engineering pointing in one direction, it’s pretty much a done deal.

            • jazz6o6

              1.3 km 1.45 km about 150yds ! an insignificant figure. Actually I make it 1.43km centreline to centreline.

              I shall not be contacting the airport manager at Heathrow because they are not conducting simultaneous parallel approaches something which the Youtube clip you provided clearly illustrates.

              It appears to me that you either don’t know what you’re on about or you’re trying to mislead us.

              Face it LHR is a busted flush. Time to start again.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                No, actually, I’m not misleading or leading or anything close to either. I’m reading this information directly off the Heathrow site I linked to, as per the engineering trials they’re currently engaging in Phase 2 of their optimization plan. Heathrow operates intermittently in mixed mode, and has for some time.

                Again, I’d suggest you immediately notify the Heathrow manager of the error of his ways, in operating in an impossible manner. 😉

                • jazz6o6

                  I am not talking about mixed mode or some other gobbledygook I’m talking about simultaneous parallel approaches. Now trot along and find out what that means.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  No, mixed mode is not gobbledygook. And despite your protestations, it’s how Heathrow is operating today, and has been intermittently for some time. And that includes parallel approaches in the same direction on both runways.

                  Now, as you’re pressing a pettifogging point about “simultaneous”, I assume you’re a Londonistan bubble lawyer, and you’re hanging your hat on a wingtip-to-wingtip formation landing version of “simultaneous”, so as to pettifog your way into some sort of confusing and blusterous support for your position. Very cheap, lad.

                  Because as we know, the mixed mode operating scheme involves staggered approaches, not wingtip to wingtip formation flying, and so is not “simultaneous” as per your pettifog.

                  Again, very cheap, lad. The public is not well served by such misdirection.

                  Now then, you best get trotting along to the phone and inform the Heathrow manager he’s performing the impossible. 😉

                • jazz6o6

                  Well I operated out of LHR for the thick end of 20 years so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

                  Take it from me the difference between ‘mixed mode’ and the ability to conduct simultaneous approaches is significant.

                  However it doesn’t really matter because whatever you do Heathrow is too small. The game is up. Time to move on.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  So, you were pettifogging. I thought so.

                  And no, I don’t think I’ll take much from you on faith, based upon this first little giving. If you’d like to support your statement about the alleged “significant” differences between sim and mixed mode, I might be interested.

                  I agree with you that additional expansion at Heathrow is unwise. You should have said that in the first place, rather than going pettifog.

                • dalai guevara

                  cold calling again?
                  or just generating web hits…eh traffic?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Does the stupid cause your incoherent posts, or are the internets scrambling them?

                • dalai guevara

                  is that your excuse?
                  having an Ed Balls day?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …maybe it’s both?

            • jazz6o6

              So 1.45 then not 3-4 km quite a difference.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Within operating norms at other airports, where they also operate mixed mode, much like that evil Heathrow manager is doing, violating your impossibilities. 😉

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