Airlines divided on new London airport

BA plane over houses in SESteve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Forget what the government says: if the proposed new airport in the Thames Estuary is going to be a success, the airlines have to embrace the idea, and compete to fly into the new facility - or base themselves there.

At the moment, there is a definite divide - and British Airways isn't keen.
As we reported, there are a number of political, financial and environmental concerns that could scupper plans for a new airport anyway. However, even if it overcomes all of these , it seems it is going to have to work hard to get all the airlines on board.

BA opposition

The chief executive of International Airlines Group - which owns British Airways - says he doesn't think the new airport is feasible. Willie Walsh reckons the government can't finance it, so he doesn't have any plans to move any of his services from Heathrow.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "The only way you are going to get a return on your investment is to know that planes are going to fly in there. If you've got the current users of Heathrow saying, 'we're not going to fly in there' you risk building a huge white elephant."

Of course, he is a bit biased. The building of the new airport would mean the end of Heathrow as the main airport hub for the UK. If the company's purchase of BMI goes ahead, it would own 53% of the slots at Heathrow, so he has a vested interest in the thriving future of Heathrow.

Airlines support

Virgin, meanwhile released a statement, showing it is far more enthusiastic. It said: "It is welcome to see the government finally admit that the current capacity problem in the south east cannot be allowed to continue. The UK is becoming hamstrung by our lack of opportunity for growth and risk losing valuable business and tourism to our European competitors." But it went on to say that other alternative solutions need to be considered.

Flybe, meanwhile, has been much more supportive of the move. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jim French said:"Flybe supports any infrastructure investment that improves connectivity for the British travelling public and will respond to the proposed formal consultation in detail."

French added that the firm was behind the government's desire to rebalance the economy away from the South East, and that "any new airport must be a national resource, guaranteeing access for all UK regions to an international hub, thereby maximising the economic potential of the whole of the UK (currently only 7 of the 26 UK airports have connectivity to Heathrow)."

He said the South East clearly needs more runway capacity in order to have space for flights around the UK. "So, given the scarce land resource combined with the dense populations in the South East, it seems entirely appropriate that we consider extending our land space through developing an airport in the Thames Estuary."

But what do you think? Is there any hope for this new airport? Let us know in the comments.
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