International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh (pictured) has accused the UK of lacking an aviation policy and the main political parties of showing no interest in the industry.
He attacked Air Passenger Duty, compared the UK unfavourably to the Middle East and voiced doubt that any new runways would be built in the London area in the foreseeable future.
The boss of British Airways’ parent company branded plans for expansion at Gatwick and Heathrow as too expensive and politically unfeasible.
“We don’t have a progressive policy because we don’t have a policy,” Walsh told the Times. “I think not having an aviation policy, given the importance of aviation to the economy, is a mistake.”
Walsh added that he holds out little hope of new runways at either Heathrow or Gatwick even once the Airports Commission has delivered its recommendations on new runways after next week’s general election.
“I think you need consensus across all the political parties before you can have confidence that anything’s going to be built,” Walsh said.
“I don’t see any evidence of change in the political outlook. I still think politics will be the main stumbling block.”
He complained that UK passengers face too much tax on tickets and he made it clear he had little sympathy with US airlines which have objected to unfair competition from Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, all of which are backed by Middle Eastern governments.
“There are many in the airline industry who would like to pretend those airlines will somehow disappear,” said Walsh. “That’s not going to happen. We think they’re foolish – they should just get on and welcome the competition.”
He said he expected a decision “within the next couple of weeks” from Ireland’s government on whether it would be willing to sell the state’s shares in Aer Lingus to IAG.
“We’re pretty relaxed about the timing,” Walsh said. “We’re not going to put pressure on them. It’s not a distraction for us – we’ve got a relatively small team working on it.”
He was speaking after IAG reported its first ever operating profit – €25 million – for first quarter of the year against a loss of €150 million in the same period in 2014.
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