Gatwick boss in blast at Heathrow over capacity

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The Independent Online

The boss of Gatwick yesterday blasted a warning at his Heathrow counterpart, saying that moans about London's strangled aviation capacity are damaging business prospects and his base was enjoying strong growth from emerging markets.

"If we want to get economic growth going in this country we can't afford to be sending out a message that airports in London are closed for business," chief executive Stewart Wingate said. "Gatwick has the capacity to transport 11 million more passengers a year."

His comments came as aviation industry and business leaders met in London to beg the Government to set out a secure and long-term airport policy after "almost 50 years without effective action". The Government is preparing to launch a consultation on aviation policy, having accepted the need for further runway capacity but maintaining opposition to a third runway at Heathrow.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways-owner IAG, said: "We've had years of government inactivity and this consultation must result in a plan of action and the commitment to see it through.

"It's the UK that loses out while around the world they will rub their hands with glee as we stumble along our path of inactivity." However, Gatwick, the world's biggest single-runway airport, showed that some parts of South-east aviation still have room to grow, by posting a 17 per cent surge in underlying earnings to £221.5m in the year to April after winning new routes to South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow's owner, BAA, has centred his campaign to overturn the rejection of its expansion plans on the idea that Britain's economy will be strangled by a lack of connectivity.

Heathrow claims its position as the UK's hub airport, with regional and short-haul flights helping to fill long-haul jets, means it alone can attract flights to fast-growing economies. And business bosses, including the CBI's chief executive, John Cridland, and Michael Spencer, head of the broking giant Icap, are among those who have complained about Heathrow's constrained capacity.

Mr Wingate said technology meant it escaped some of the delays that its rival is facing: "The Borders Agency has national targets to achieve, and Heathrow fails them most months."

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