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Virgin Chief Slates Heathrow

by Jason Gorringe, Tax-News.com, London

11 December 2007


Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic's chief executive, has branded London's Heathrow Airport as a "horrible" experience for international air travellers, and has urged the UK government to press ahead with proposals to expand the airport's capacity.

In remarks made at a recent Aviation Club lunch reported by the Daily Telegraph, Ridgway said that delays at Heathrow and "poor performance" by airport operator BAA, are impacting on the UK's economic growth, and he warned that the UK's major aviation hub is facing tough competition from airports in Europe and elsewhere.

"Heathrow is a horrible experience; it is ruining air travel," he reportedly commented, adding that: "How frustrating is it for a crew who work hard on overnight flights from other parts of the world to find our passengers having to queue for two hours at immigration."

Heathrow is currently operating at 99% capacity, meaning that relatively minor problems, such as bad weather, can often escalate and cause severe delays.

Last month, the UK government published a public consultation on proposals to add capacity at Heathrow by building a third runway (still two less than Amsterdam's Schipol) and a sixth terminal, with access to the road and rail network. It is expected that this would enable the airport to handle around 700,000 flights a year - almost double its present capacity.

"Heathrow supports 170,000 jobs, billions of pounds of British exports and is our main gateway to the global economy. But for too long it has operated at nearly full capacity, with relatively minor problems causing severe delays to passengers," Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly stated on the publication of the consultation.

"If nothing changes, Heathrow's status as a world-class airport will be gradually eroded - jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer. London and the UK's nations and regions alike are reliant on the good international connections that the Heathrow hub provides," she added.

The government is facing fierce opposition from local residents and environmentalists over the Heathrow expansion plans. However, Ridgway, while aware of the environmental impact of the aviation industry, believes that doing nothing is simply not an option.

"A passenger from Scotland flying to Shanghai would fly from Amsterdam - where is the environmental benefit in that?" he asked the Aviation Club meeting.

Moreover, the economic and environmental impact of building a new airport from scratch with associated transport links "would be far greater than is being proposed at Heathrow," he argued.


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