The most powerful man in British aviation today compared the UK’s airport policy to the performance of England’s footballers, who are heading home from Euro 2012 after yet another defeat on penalties.

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG – holding company for British Airways and Iberia – said the government’s consultation on airport capacity must deliver “the right runways in the right places”, and added:

“We can decide as a nation that we’re happy where we are, that the quarter-final is sufficient. Or we can decide we want to be winners. We can’t keep going to these tournaments playing the old way. You’ve got to change your attitude.”

Mr Walsh’s national team, Ireland was first to be eliminated from the football championships being held in Poland and Ukraine. Once again, England lost in the quarter finals on penalties, this time to Italy.

The comments were made at an Aviation Foundation meeting in London. Business and trade-union leaders met to demand, in the words of BAA’s chief executive, Colin Matthews: “Clear aviation policy that stays stable and doesn’t change every time there’s an election”.

The transport secretary, Justine Greening, has repeatedly ruled out a third runway at Heathrow. She told the London Evening Standard: “We’ve got to get beyond this kind of pub-style debate we have had … This is not a consultation about a third runway. It is something far more fundamental about what our aviation needs are for the UK.”

Next week the rules on arrivals and departures at Heathrow are to be eased in a bid to cut “stacking” among aircraft waiting to land and long queues for take-off. The prospect of full “mixed-mode” use of Heathrow’s two runways – allowing arrivals and departures from both – could unlock 15-25 per cent more capacity.

Willie Walsh said: “I would personally not be in favour of it, but let’s consider it”.