Letter: Airport shops are essential

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The Independent Online
Sir: Terence Conran argued ("What is an airport for", 17 August) that there was too much retailing at UK airports, disadvantaging the passenger. The sole aim, he asserted, was to make profits for BAA's shareholders instead of providing efficient passenger-handling facilities.

First, those profits are essential to BAA's ability to spend on providing the efficient, modern airports Conran rightly calls for. Last year alone it invested pounds 450m in airport infrastructure; it is additionally committed to nearly pounds 400m on an ultra-modern rail service from the centre of London to Heathrow.

It will, in summary, spend between now and the 21st century more than pounds 1,500m on what is essential national transport infrastructure. In no other country in the world is this kind of infrastructure provided at no cost to the taxpayer.

Second, passengers want the shops. BAA interviews 400,000 passengers a year to establish what their views really are; 90 per cent want high- quality shopping facilities at airports.

Conran says that people come to the airport only to shop. This is nonsense. The overwhelming majority of shops are "airside" and it requires a plane ticket and passport to reach them.

Conran says retail takes up too much space. Wrong again. While the retailing may appear prominent in the terminals, it occupies only 12 per cent of terminal space.

You cannot serve 100 million people a year without momentary lapses and some complaint. But determined effort and generally good results are possible, and, we believe, achieved.

DES WILSON

Director, Corporate and Public Affairs, BAA

London SW1

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