British Airways has made its strongest attack yet on plans for a new runway through the parish, labelling Heathrow’s proposals “unfinanceable” and a “white elephant”.
That British Airways has made several statements in recent months around its unwillingness to contribute toward the cost of a Third Runway is old news.
But in a statement to a Parliamentary committee just over a week ago the airline has labelled the current proposals a “white elephant” and called for a rethink.
The comments were made in a submission to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into surface access to on October 27. http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/transport-committee/surface-transport-to-airports/written/22975.html (dated 12.10.2015)
BA repeats its oft-made view that the cost of transport infrastructure for the North-West Runway scheme should not be funded by airlines and their customers. It says new road and rail link for the airport should, like standalone transport schemes like M4 widening, be paid for by taxpayers.
While avoiding any specific opposition in principle to expanding Heathrow in the statement, BA has baulked at the exorbitant cost of transport infrastructure which it fears it will be expected to contribute to, telling MPs:
The Heathrow option recommended by the Airports Commission is unaffordable and unfinanceable. This calls into question the economic benefits of the scheme. The Commission’s proposals, costed at £17.6bn, would turn Heathrow into a white elephant
“The surface access costs estimated in the Commission’s report to be some £5bn are especially excessive. BA therefore cannot support a further increase in airport charges for our customers, on top of the significant increases estimated by the Commission, to fund the necessary surface access.”
BA says that with up to £147n of claimed economic benefit to the UK, and the airline already having forked out “substantial sums” for rail links to T5, the Government not airlines should pay “unless there is a clear business case for the airline”.
Would the airline support Heathrow’s plans if it didn’t have to pay is not so clear. The airline’s recent position of opposition has only ever been about who pays for the current transport links proposed. It says the price tag is too high but has not said links proposed are wrong and has presented no alternatives. With a 51% market share at Heathrow BA could well be expected to shoulder a large proportion of the burden if expansion is allowed.
The Economist noted in August that Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, has engaged in a “big bluff” over a Third Runway after his apparent u-turn earlier this year after promoting it in speeches since 2009. In 2011, it notes, Mr Walsh declared a third runway “dead” and talked up growth at the airline’s other hub, Madrid. Similarly there is talk now about expansion in Dublin. The Economist suggests his threat a few months ago to challenge a third runway “by any and every avenue” is “legal browbeating aimed at cowing the CAA into lower charges” rather than stopping Heathrow expansion in its tracks.
BA used the opportunity of its submission to reiterate its previous statement to the Airports Commission: that limited surface access options at Gatwick is one reason why there is no business case for a new runway there.