International Airlines chief Willie Walsh slams Government over visas and Heathrow


James Ashton
Wednesday 10 April 2013 14:12

Airlines chief Willie Walsh today renewed his assault on the Government’s tourism policy, warning Heathrow will be eclipsed by faster-growing hub airports and British travellers face tougher travel restrictions from countries frustrated by our visa regime.

Walsh said it was “tragic” that Heathrow would never succeed in getting a third runway because of political failure. The boss of International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways and Spanish carrier Iberia, said that overcrowded Heathrow would be overtaken by Dubai as the world’s busiest hub airport by 2015, the beginning of a slide down the global league table.

“We are not going to see another runway at Heathrow for the pretty simple reason there are 73 constituencies in the local area and the politicians that are there are fixated on being re-elected,” the Irishman told the World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Abu Dhabi. “None of the political parties will come out to say they want to support Heathrow — it is therefore not going to happen for political reasons.

“Every way you look at this, Heathrow is going to continue to be a hub airport with two runways — 50 years from now, I fully expect BA to be flying from a two-runway airport at Heathrow. It is tragic.

“Instead of being the busiest airport hub, 10 years from now it will be outside the top five; 20 years from now it won’t be in the top 30. The truth of it is the world moves on and the UK will get left behind. It is political and you don’t have politicians who are brave enough to grasp this.”

The travel industry is celebrating the milestone of more than one billion travellers crossing international borders for the first time last year and making plans for the next billion, many of whom will come from China. Meanwhile, the Government’s Davies Commission to examine options for expanding airport capacity in the south-east of England won’t report its final findings until summer 2015, after the next general election. Walsh doubts a new facility in the Thames estuary, championed by London Mayor Boris Johnson, could be funded.

He also took a swipe at Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who is bringing the troubled UK Border Agency back under the control of the Home Office to try to overhaul a visa regime criticised for keeping high-spending tourists and business visitors out of the country.

“I still get a lot of criticisms and complaints from business people when I travel around the world, particularly in growth economies like China, India and Brazil,” Walsh said. “You talk about investing or doing business in the UK and they all point to the difficulties, the bureaucracy and the cost associated with getting visas to travel to the UK and highlight the advantage of the Shengen agreement where they can get access to 26 European countries at the cost of less than the price of a UK visa and less hassle. Countries which have traditionally made it easy for British people to get access are now getting fed up and saying if you are going to make it difficult for our citizens to get into your country we are going to start doing the same.”

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