Heathrow Airport expansion: Furious row erupts between Boris Johnson and Sir Howard Davies over plans

Boris Johnson told the Today programme that legal challenges would prevent the runway ever being built

Simon Calder
Wednesday 01 July 2015 12:39
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LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: An airliner comes in to land at Heathrow Airport on August 11, 2014 in London, England. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the United Kingdom and the third busiest in the world. The airport's operator BAA wants to build a third runway to cope with increased demand.
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: An airliner comes in to land at Heathrow Airport on August 11, 2014 in London, England. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the United Kingdom and the third busiest in the world. The airport's operator BAA wants to build a third runway to cope with increased demand.

Within hours of the Airports Commission recommending a third runway at Heathrow, a furious row broke out involving the boss of the airport’s biggest customer, the Mayor of London and the Commission’s chairman, Sir Howard Davies.

Boris Johnson, who is also MP for Uxbridge, adjoining the airport, told the Today programme that legal challenges would prevent the runway ever being built.

“I don't think my services as a bulldozer blocker are going to be needed,” he said, referring to a previous promise to oppose a new runway “to the very last ditch”. He said he believed his preferred scheme for a Thames Estuary airport would prevail.

“We had to go through this exercise. Having circled around and around, we will eventually come into land at the estuary.”

Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG - owner of British Airways and Iberia, and holder of more than half the current slots at Heathrow - also doubted the runway will be built: "Without political vision and leadership, it will end up on the shelf gathering dust like its predecessors.”

Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow

Sir Howard responded angrily, telling The Independent: “This debate is plagued by people who say 'this is never going to happen'. Willie Walsh has always said it’s never going to happen. Boris Johnson has always said it.”

British Airways has a history of supporting expansion at its home base, Heathrow, but notably its holding company, IAG, did not publish its submission to the Davies Commission.

Artist's impression of plans for Gatwick Airport's expansion

If a third runway goes ahead, IAG will see its majority holding of slots diluted - and will also find a massive competitor for its European routes, in the shape of an easyJet base at Heathrow Terminal 4. The budget airline has already laid out plans to base 30 aircraft at the airport to take on BA and its European legacy rivals such as Air France, Alitalia and Lufthansa.

Willie Walsh was also angry at the assumption that existing passengers should pay for a project that will benefit future travellers: “Even with political consensus, Sir Howard believes naively that the costs associated with the scheme would be borne by airlines. While we believe it would be outrageous to burden passengers with the cost of such expensive infrastructure, we will not pay for it."

"It is all very well to say flights can’t land at Heathrow before 6am, but flights originating from Asia would require very unsocial early-morning departure times or have to be held over Heathrow for around an hour"

Some details of the final report have been questioned by industry experts. John Grant, executive vice president of the timetable specialist OAG, said the plan to eliminate early-morning arrivals between 4.45am and 6am would have a damaging impact: “It is all very well to say flights can’t land at Heathrow before 6am, but flights originating from Asia would require very unsocial early-morning departure times or have to be held over Heathrow for around an hour, which will have more of an environmental burden than if the aircraft could land immediately.”

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