Heathrow charges too much, says IAG’s Willie Walsh

Heathrow charges ridiculous says Willie Walsh

The chief executive of International Airlines Group — whose subsidiaries include British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus — insisted that airports charged “far too much” in landing fees, with the scale of charges damaging the aviation industry. Heathrow, Europe’s biggest airport, was already the worst offender, even before it was granted approval to expand, he said.

Mr Walsh said that the construction of a third runway at the west London airport would place an “outrageous” burden on airlines and passengers, who would be forced to pay even higher charges. He suggested that the cost of the scheme was inflated because Heathrow was spending too much on chandeliers in terminals rather than trying to keep the budget to a minimum, reports The Times.

He also said that the cost of upgrading roads around airports to cater for more travellers could be eased by introducing toll charges for motorists.

The comments, made at the Airport Operators Association annual conference in London, come weeks before the government is expected to make a decision on a new runway in the southeast. Heathrow is the overwhelming favourite for expansion over Gatwick after a resounding endorsement from the government-backed Airports Commission in the summer. The proposed 3,500-metre runway is expected to cost an estimated £18.6 billion, with higher levies on aircraft to cover the cost of construction. For next year the airport will charge passengers £29.30 on all European departures, rising to £41.14 for long-haul flights.

Mr Walsh said: “I think airports charge far too much and we want them to charge less. A lot less. We want you to stop ripping us off.” Asked which airport was the worst offender, he said: “Heathrow.”

On the subject of a third runway, he said that Sir Howard Davies, head of the Airports Commission, and Heathrow itself “have got their figures wrong”. He added: “If that is the bill . . . then quite honestly the scheme has no prospect of success. I think the figures are overinflated. How many chandeliers can you have in a terminal?”

Mr Walsh also said that any newly enlarged Heathrow risked lying empty because airlines would refuse to pay higher charges.

“We believe it is outrageous that the levels of capital expenditure have been identified,” he said. “We can’t see how it can be justified and certainly we would not be prepared to pay or support the development.

“Quite frankly, there is no point having infrastructure if people won’t use it because it’s too expensive.”

John Holland-Kaye, the Heathrow chief executive, is scheduled to address the conference today and warn that the hub airport is already slipping behind its European rivals because of delays in approving the third runway.

The number of passengers flying long-haul in and out of Charles De Gaulle in Paris and Schiphol in Amsterdam increased by 5 per cent in the past year; numbers were up by 9 per cent in Madrid. By comparison, long-haul passengers increased by 3 per cent at Heathrow.

Mr Holland-Kaye will say: “New analysis shows that the UK’s European hub rivals are increasing their long-haul seats at twice the rate of the UK’s only hub last year — further evidence that demand at Heathrow is being met by our economic competitors.”