British politicians have been afraid to take tough decisions on airport expansion, the Irishman at the head of British Airways’ parent company told MPs yesterday.
The issue of expansion had been “kicked into the long grass” and would stay there for a considerable time, added International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh.
He told the House of Commons Transport Committee that the airport expansion issue was “too difficult” for politicians and governments to handle.
Mr Walsh told the committee that he envisaged that there would still be only two runways operating at Heathrow even as late as 2050: “New runway capacity is required, but I don’t believe that capacity will be provided.”
The government has set up an aviation commission headed by former Financial Services Authority chief Howard Davies which is due to finally report on aviation capacity in the summer of 2015.
Mr Walsh said he was “not optimistic” that the Davies Commission would lead to expansion any time soon. He said a similar three-year commission in the late 1960s had led to nothing, with the report “still sitting somewhere”.
He went on: “This issue is too difficult for politicians and governments to deal with. We are positioning our business on the basis that there will be no expansion.”
Mr Walsh said the opposition to a third runway at Heathrow by the coalition Government had been “wrong” and the decision to cancel the expansion at the west London airport was “a mistake”: “I believe we will live to regret that decision.”
Asked why no airport expansion decisions had been made in the past, Mr Walsh said: “I think it is fear on the part of politicians. They are afraid to tackle tough issues.
“It (expansion) has been kicked into the long grass and I think it will be sitting there for a considerable time.”
He said he could not see the point of the Davies Commission sitting for three years when it was already known that expansion was necessary.
Mr Walsh pointed out that in 2001, Dubai in the Middle East was the 99th biggest international airport in the world. By 2011 it was fourth, he said.
He said Dubai would overtake Heathrow as the world’s biggest international airport “within two to three years”.
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