A British Airways chief has warned the company could pull out of Britain altogether if plans for a third runway at Heathrow are blocked.
BA’s chief executive Willie Walsh was taking a hard line at a press conference on Monday.
He insisted only Heathrow was suitable to be the country’s premiere long flight airport and said: “If we can’t grow at Heathrow, we may have to look elsewhere. But we want to continue in the UK.”
His warning was a potent one as previous restrictions which prevented airlines switching countries vanish this year, as part of a new open skies policy.
Mr Walsh had an uncompromising message for Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council and the 11 other local authorities which have teamed up to fight the expansion plans.
At a press conference held at BA’s lush Waterside headquarters in Colnbrook, Mr Walsh called on the councils to back down.
He said: “Local people know that the benefits of Heathrow outweigh the disadvantages. I urge their council representatives to take the same view and demonstrate leader-ship for the good of future generations in this area.”
“We have 10 or 12 years before a third runway opens. Let us use that time to address the noise and pollution issues that must be tackled.”
He rejected outright suggestions that less people would fly in the future saying: “There are still few alternatives to most long haul flights. No train does 6,000 kilometres. If you are going to travel in the world, a plane is the most efficient way of doing it.”
He warned that airports across Europe and the Middle East were poised to take Heathrow’s place and that the airport had already lost vital business because restrictions have limited routes they could offer.
He acknowledged some people would lose their homes, saying: “I recognise this will impinge on individuals and it is regrettable. But it has to be recognised that this is a national issue. It is a tough call but we must look at the overall interest of the area and that overall interest is best served by expansion of the airport.”
Windsor and Maidenhead Borough Council leader David Burbage hit back this week, saying: “We have a duty to respect our residents who tell us that more and more people are being kept awake by planes. We aren’t going to be dictated to by commercial interests like BA.”