Stop Dithering over Airport Capacity, Business Leaders tell Politicians

Stop Dithering over Airport Capacity, Business Leaders tell Politicians
Harrods’ managing director, Michael Ward, will this week front a new campaign warning that political indecision over airport expansion is harming Britain’s economy.

Let Britain Fly, a campaign trying to build cross-party support for extra runways in the capital and the South-east, has enlisted 10 business figures to make video appeals for more airport capacity.

In video rushes seen by The Independent Newspaper, Mr Ward said that “increasingly the luxury and international traveller is very time poor, so direct flights for us are hugely important”. He added that cities such as Paris and Frankfurt would take over “where we [London] once led” as a luxury destination. “If politicians continue to dither on a decision on airport capacity we will start to prejudice London’s premier position, certainly as an international luxury destination,” he said.

Paul Mansi, chief operating officer at the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel group, argued that a decision was “long overdue and this procrastination needs to stop”. He added: “We used to be competing with local hotels, now we’re competing globally on location.”

The campaign does not just include well-known luxury and consumer companies. Louis Kunzig, managing director at Berkshire-based Sciaky Electric Welding Machines, warned that “the cost of doing business globally will go up” without a quick decision on airport expansion.

Let Britain Fly director Gavin Hayes said: “This is about the wider business community ramping up our campaign message as we approach the party conferences and a looming general election campaign, which is now just months away.”

Sir Howard Davies, a former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, published his interim airports report at the end of last year, making it clear that the choice for a new runway was between Heathrow and Gatwick.

A second runway at the latter would cost about £8bn, considerably less than Heathrow. However, a third runway at Heathrow would confirm the airport’s standing as one of the world’s premier hubs. But the final report is not due until after next year’s general election, infuriating businesses that believe more airport capacity is needed now if the UK is to compete with growing hubs like Schiphol in the Netherlands and Dubai.

Politicians from all parties are concerned about publicly committing themselves to expansion as they are worried about losing the votes of constituents living near the airports. Expansion is also heavily criticised by environmental groups.

In May, Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, said he believed Gatwick would eventually be chosen because it is less politically sensitive. “My view is that the third runway at Heathrow is not going to happen,” he told The Independent. “We will be making a mistake we will live to regret. We will look back 20 years from now and ask, ‘How did we allow ourselves to get into this position?’ We will lose out in terms of economic growth. A lot of airlines want to fly to Heathrow: not the UK but Heathrow. If they can’t fly to Heathrow they will go somewhere else like Paris or Amsterdam.”

Away from the main two airports, the Government has approved plans to expand London Luton Airport in a move that could allow 45,000 extra flights and create 5,000 new jobs. Among the planned changes at the airport are increased retail, catering and seating areas and more screening lanes.