Letter: Runway capacity at Heathrow

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have some sympathy for Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic (Commentary, 16 July) in their difficulty over obtaining an ideal portfolio of landing and take-off slots for a new London Heathrow-Johannesburg service. However, their problem is neither new, nor a special case. On many new routes, my own airline, British Midland, initially had to make do with schedules which were far from ideal in order to realise our own ambition to provide additional competitive European services.

In fact, it could be argued that with the welcome entry of new airlines into Heathrow last year, including Virgin Atlantic, competition on long-haul routes has never been so healthy or intense, with the lowest fares ever available to the consumer. On European routes, by contrast, which repeated opinion surveys show are of most critical interest to travellers, competition continues to be stifled because of the shortage of Heathrow slots.

At British Midland, we have had to take a pragmatic view of this problem. We recognise that the Heathrow Scheduling Committee has a most difficult task in allocating a scarce resource. On the whole, it succeeds in discharging this responsibility with great fairness to the interests of all airlines operating at Heathrow. We have not allowed scheduling problems to deflect us from the successful operation of new European services, although often we have had to work hard over a number of years to improve our slot allocation. I would urge Mr Branson to adopt the same practical approach.

As members of the most successful multi-airline industry in the world, British airlines ought to recognise that they do have a common interest, whatever their own particular ambitions.

British Midland has provided constructive proposals to the Secretary of State on the measures - many of them short term, practical and inexpensive - he can take to achieve the much-needed additional runway capacity at Heathrow. They are for the benefit, pro rata, of all airlines using the airport, and we would therefore urge support of them by all Heathrow carriers.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL BISHOP

Chairman

British Midland

Castle Donington, Leicestershire

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