British Airways' Willie Walsh attacks 'damaging' aviation policy as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is unveiled


UK growth is being "undermined by Government policy", the head of British Airways' parent company said today.

Airlines were facilitating growth but the Government had to understand that it was hampering growth, said Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airline Group (IAG).

Speaking at Heathrow airport today, Mr Walsh said Prime Minister David Cameron had been promoting UK trade in Asia of late.

Mr Walsh went on: "While the Prime Minister talks about the fantastic opportunities for Britain, it's a terrible shame that Government policy in the UK is damaging our ability to connect with these Asian markets."

Mr Walsh went on: "UK growth is being undermined by Government policy and that's a terrible thing to have to say."

Mr Walsh is keen to see the Air Passenger Duty (APD) airport departure tax scrapped as well as Heathrow being expanded so that Britain can connect with vital Asian markets.

However, the Government has ruled out a third runway at Heathrow.

He said today: "It's a nonsense to say that British business can be competitive if we can't fly to these (Asian) destinations."

Mr Walsh went on: "This is a Government of contradictions. They talk about the importance of competitiveness yet we have APD."

Asked about the ability of Heathrow to cope with the Olympic Games traffic this summer, Mr Walsh said the problem of immigration queues was not just about Heathrow but about "inadequate resources".

He said Heathrow was a "fantastic airport" but efforts to improve things there were being "undermined" by this lack of resources.

Mr Walsh was speaking as US planemaker Boeing showed off its quiet and "green" new airliner, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, at Heathrow today.

BA and Thomson Airways will be receiving the first of their Dreamliners next year, with Virgin Atlantic taking delivery of its first 787 in 2014.

Describing Dreamliner as an exciting new addition to the BA fleet, Mr Walsh said the Boeing 787 would facilitate growth in the UK.

He went on: "The UK Government needs to understand what UK airlines are doing to facilitate growth in the UK and in UK aviation.

"And the Government must understand what it is doing to hamper growth."

Thomson will be the first UK airline to fly the Dreamliner - in May 2013 - and will operate the plane from Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands and Glasgow airports.

The Thomson 787s can carry 291 passengers. Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines power some of the Dreamliners.

Seattle-based Boeing is showing off its new plane as part of a world tour to promote the Dreamliner which, after numerous production problems, finally entered passenger service last October.

Quieter and around 20% more fuel efficient than corresponding aircraft, the Dreamliner should have started fare-paying flights as early as May 2008.

But it was not until autumn 2011 that Japanese airline ANA became the first to put the 787 into service.

Responding to Mr Walsh's remarks, a Department for Transport spokesman said: "In the summer we will consult on an overarching sustainable framework for UK aviation and alongside this we will publish a call for evidence on maintaining effective UK hub airport connectivity.

"The coalition's position regarding Heathrow has not changed."