British Airways has launched an unprecedented attack on Heathrow, claiming the UK's biggest airport was "ripping off passengers" and calling for its boss to be ousted.
The outburst from Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA's owner, IAG, follows plans to raise Heathrow's take off and landing charges from April.
"Heathrow is ripping off passengers, it's inefficient, and it's been grossly over-rewarded by the [regulator] CAA," Mr Walsh said.
The airport asked the CAA for charges to rise by 2 per cent plus inflation, as measured by RPI, which would see passengers paying as much as £27 extra per flight from Heathrow, up from about £19 this year, from April.
The CAA initially rejected that plea, instead proposing charges should be capped at the RPI rate of inflation minus 1.3 per cent. But ahead of its final decision next week, industry figures have suggested the CAA could allow higher charges.
Mr Walsh claimed the airport was badly run and that employees, from its chief executive Colin Matthews down to cleaners, were over-paid. "It has too many people and they are paid too much," he said.
He claimed Heathrow – whose owners include Qatari, Chinese and Singapore sovereign wealth funds – is using fliers as cash cows to line the pockets of foreign investors, saying: "Passengers at Heathrow are paying more than they should, and the benefit is going to higher-than-average rewards for the airport's shareholders."
BA believes Heathrow's payouts to shareholders are far higher than the 3.7 per cent average dividend yield in the FTSE 100, pointing out the airport paid £150.8m in dividends last year.
Mr Matthews has warned if Heathrow does not receive its demanded rise in charges it will walk away from £1bn-worth of investments in the airport, such as plans to improve baggage facilities.
Mr Walsh said that statement was "pathetic", adding: "If Colin Matthews is incapable of running the airport and... requires excessive [charges] to justify investment, then he should be replaced. If management can't introduce customer improvements in a cost-effective way, they should step aside and let someone else run the airport."
BA's passengers spend about £120m on the charges, which are always passed on directly to fliers.
Heathrow posted a £44m pre-tax profit for the six months to end of June.
A Heathrow spokeswoman, said: "We have put forward plans for more than £400m of cost savings over the next five years. We want to continue the investment that has been improving Heathrow for passengers."
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