Blog by John Stewart
In praise of Willie Walsh. It’s an unlikely title for a HACAN blog. However, I do want to praise the boss of British Airways. He gave an impressive performance at the Evening Standard’s aviation debate on Wednesday 27th June. He rejected the tired old arguments the aviation industry has been using to justify expansion at Heathrow and elsewhere. He avoided the selective statistics and shallow sound-bites the industry has been trotting out at its conferences and in its high-profile marketing campaigns, an approach Transport Secretary Justine Greening memorably dismissed as ‘a pub-style debate’ - http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/minister-in-shock-warning-on-more-heathrow-runways-7880609.html
He agreed with Greening that what is needed is a long-term aviation policy based on hard evidence. Perhaps most significant, was his clear acceptance that a third runway at Heathrow, much as he lobbied for it and would still like it, is not going to be built. As an astute businessman, he is planning the future of British Airways on the assumption that there will be no further expansion of Heathrow. The reason he bought up BMI was to acquire their Heathrow slots. The reason he has linked up with Iberian airlines is to use capacity at Madrid Airport and to improve connections with South America, the one continent that (for historical reasons) is not well-served by Heathrow.
The big problem in UK aviation right now is not lack of capacity – the country has plenty for at least the next 20 years http://www.aef.org.uk/?p=1423 – but that much of the rest of the industry is refusing to accept the new realities and is still hankering after an era which has gone. A new aviation policy will need to be framed not just by the need to maintain good air international connections but by rising oil prices, tougher climate change targets, better and faster rail connections, the greater use business is making of video-conferencing – http://www.wwf.org.uk/research_centre/?6047/One-in-Five-Challenge—second-annual-report-2010-11 – and the fact that the fast-industrialising countries of the world are creating their own hub airports.
Greening is right to say that unless the industry goes beyond the rather inane sound-bites that, because a Chinese company has located to Paris rather than London our airports are failing, it will remain ‘a pub-style debate’. As Walsh pointed out at the Standard event, it is just as likely that the reason the Chinese firm chose to set up in Paris is that it is easier getting visas to France.
Walsh has led the way out of the pub. Has the rest of industry got the vision and self-confidence to follow him?