Sir Richard Branson has welcomed the idea of four runways at Heathrow airport but admitted there would be “casualties”, adding that the government needed to be brave and take a decision in the national interest.
While the president of Virgin Atlantic said he did not know if Monday’s calls by the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs for two more runways were realistic, he said: “We need more capacity, and if an airport review really takes into account the needs of Britain, it’s quite likely the review will say you need a couple more runways at least.
“There’s always going to be some casualties. What I’d say to someone close to the airport is that it’s the biggest employer and if it closes [due to an estuary alternative], it’s going to be devastating for employment, devastating for house prices and devastating for businesses.”
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian after his airline’s inaugural flight to Cancun (a trip hosted by Virgin Atlantic), Branson said constructing extra Heathrow runways would create thousands of jobs in the area and would mean less noise because the need for aircraft stacking, in which planes circle while waiting for a landing slot, would be removed. He proposed that noisier, older planes should be banned. Branson said his aircraft would be running on cleaner alternatives to current jet fuel within six years.
He also criticised Justine Greening, the transport secretary, for delaying the publication of a planned airport review and consultation on hub capacity, which may now slip until the autumn.
“Every month that goes by is holding back this country. The country will rue the day that it took the easy political way out.”
While a Tory U-turn on the runway looks increasingly likely, the local residents group Hacan has warned that MPs are “fighting the tide of history if they believe it is possible to build one, let alone two, new runways at Heathrow”. Campaigners noted that officially all three parties are opposed to expansion.
Greening told the Guardian last week that she still planned to publish the aviation framework in the summer, a definition that included the return from parliamentary recess in September.
But in a hint that will fuel recent speculation that the chancellor, George Osborne – thought to be a supporter of Heathrow expansion – may see the review postponed indefinitely, she said: “The reality is that the debate around hub capacity has already started. I’ve set out how I feel it should be structured, but I very much welcome the debates and no doubt they will continue.”
Calls to follow Virgin on APD fight
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 (TravelMole)
The Fair Tax on Flying group has urged other UK airlines and operators to follow Virgin”s endorsement of the APD campaign.
Virgin announced yesterday that it would carry a message on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays e-tickets criticising Air Passenger Duty and encouraging passengers to petition their MP, see previous story.
Simon Buck, chief executive of British Air Transport Association (BATA), said: “Sir Richard’s backing is a reminder of just how seriously this issue is taken by all airlines here in the UK and internationally.
“We hope it acts as a spur to everyone in the travel industry here in the UK to visit www.afairtaxonflying.org and follow his lead by backing the campaign and demonstrating to Government policy-makers just how seriously this issue is taken by both the industry and by passengers.”
The overall APD tax increased significantly on 1st April 2012, after the Government implemented an 8% APD increase.
The Treasury”s 2011 Budget documents also assume annual increases from now.