x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai airport to overtake Heathrow as world's busiest by 2015, says BA boss

Heathrow will slide down the global league, believes Willie Walsh, chief executive of the International Airlines Group, holding company for two giant European carriers.

Spectators watch a panel discussion at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Abu Dhabi. Sammy Dallal / The National
Spectators watch a panel discussion at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit in Abu Dhabi. Sammy Dallal / The National
Dubai International Airport will have overtaken London Heathrow as the world's busiest international airport by 2015, according to the man who runs British Airways and Iberia.

And that will just be the beginning of Heathrow's slide down the global league table, according to Willie Walsh, chief executive of the International Airlines Group, holding company for the two giant European carriers.

"Instead of being the busiest airport hub, 10 years from now Heathrow will be outside the top five; 20 years from now it won't be in the top 30," Mr Walsh told the World Travel & Tourism Council summit in Abu Dhabi yesterday. "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."

He was addressing London's long term airport congestion problem, which successive UK governments have sought to address, with plans for a third runway at Heathrow, to even building a new airport on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary.

He said London's dilemma was a classic example of how a government could cripple its own aviation industry.

"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," he said.

"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 British Airways to be flying from a two-runway airport at Heathrow. It is tragic."

Last month, Dubai International beat Paris Charles de Gaulle to become the second busiest international airport behind Heathrow.

Mr Walsh went on to call on governments across Europe to "get out of the way".

"Governments need to understand they must reduce their impact on aviation," he said.

"This can be through the reduction of regressive taxation on our industry, or by allowing the development of suitable infrastructure."

For example, air traffic systems across the world were, "archaic - a network of routes developed in the 1940s", he said. "The technology exists that would allow us to cut our fuel bills by 12 per cent. Its shocking the fuel that is wasted in flying these outdated routes. Air traffic inefficiency in Europe alone costs airlines Euro 5 billion a year."

He also contrasted UK government policy with that of Abu Dhabi, where the flag-carrier Etihad Airways has been growing steadily over the past decade.

"The conditions here in Abu Dhabi have allowed the carrier to develop," he said. "They don't have a government putting hurdles in the way."

dblack@thenational.ae