Ex-BA boss Bob Ayling condemns Heathrow expansion
4.5.2008 (Sunday Times)
BOB AYLING, former chief executive of British Airways, has attacked plans to
expand Heathrow airport as a "costly mistake" that is "against Britain’s economic
His opposition to the proposal for a third runway strikes at the heart of the
government’s case that it is essential for the health of the country’s economy.
Ayling, who headed BA from 1996 to 2000, is the first significant figure from
the aviation industry to come out against plans that could double Heathrow’s number
of passengers from the current 68m.
In an article for The Sunday Times, Ayling states that BAA, the operator of Heathrow,
is pursuing a flawed business model that has contributed to the bankruptcy and
near collapse of numerous US and European air-lines, and has turned the airport
into a "national disgrace".
Ayling, who was the driving force behind the construction of the London Eye during
his time at the helm of BA, warned that developing the airport might even harm
the national carrier.
"An expanded hub at Heathrow might not even be beneficial to British Airways.
Transfer traffic in its own right is loss making.
"What Ruth Kelly and the government do not see is that transfer passengers, for
whom such a hub would be built, spend no money in Britain, at least little beyond
the value of a cup of tea," he said.
Since 1992 the proportion of transfer passengers at Heathrow has more than tripled.
It is now operating so close to capacity, he maintains, that "even the tiniest
problem can snowball into delays, making the Heathrow experience often more akin
to the Third World."
According to Ayling, the Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates BAA, has created
a number of "perverse incentives" for it to pursue expansion at all costs to boost
the airport’s passenger and flight numbers. "BAA is an almost recession-proof
business, paid by the number of flights and the number of passengers it can squeeze
in and out of Heathrow," he argues.
Ayling’s solution involves:
Cutting transfer flights so Heathrow operates at 80% capacity instead of 99%.
Adding a runway at Stansted or Gatwick. Breaking up BAA, which operates London’s
three main airports. Stripping the Civil Aviation Authority of its role in regulating
Ex-BA boss condemns Heathrow expansion