UK Markets open in 4 hrs 32 mins

BA Boss: UK Aviation Policy Is A Disgrace

(c) Sky News 2012

The boss of British Airways (Other OTC: BABWF.PK - news) has slated the UK's aviation policy as a "disgrace" amid a fear of airlines moving to Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) to target the world's emerging markets.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA owner International Airlines Group, told Sky News: "I don't believe that the Government really gets what's going on globally and understands the need to have a coherent aviation policy.

"There is a complete lack of policy."

He added: "The rest of Europe is saying that it is going to connect to the emerging growth economies, and if the UK doesn't, it will take our business, exports and our jobs.

"We're losing ground and it's a disgrace - we're losing because we don't have a political vision and an ambition for this economy, which is really worrying."

Mr Walsh's comments come as airport and airline bosses unveiled a series of tests by which they believe the Government's upcoming aviation policy statement, due in July, should be measured.

The Aviation Foundation, which is made up of BA, BAA, Virgin Atlantic and Manchester Airports Group, said that aviation collectively creates over £50bn of wealth for the UK each year, and protects almost one million British jobs.

It also said businesses trade about 20 times more with a place where there is a direct flight.

Heathrow, operated by BAA, has seen traffic to emerging markets rise in recent years and believes it is now falling behind other airports in the battle for these lucrative routes because of constraints on growth.

Adam Marshall, of the British Chamber of Commerce, told Sky News: "We do need a coherent aviation strategy, what businesses tell us is that they want to get out there in the world and trade, but often they can't get to the destination they want to."

The foundation has been lobbying for a U-turn on the decision not to allow a third runway at Heathrow, which is opposed by environmental campaigners.

Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron were convinced of the need to re-examine the issue of a third runway earlier this year, because overseas leaders and business figures warned trade would move elsewhere in the EU unless Heathrow is expanded.

Mr Walsh said: "To argue that the cancellation of a third runway at Heathrow is somehow going to change the world's climate change problems is nonsense, when China has announced that it will build 17 new airports in the next five years including a brand new airport at Beijing."

He added: "If we're talking about a runway at Heathrow, it's not the Government spending the money, it's the private sector spending the money."

Earlier this month, Birmingham Airport launched an advertising campaign as an alternative international hub as Heathrow struggles to expand capacity.

Meanwhile, Gatwick - London's second largest airport - reported a strong rise in full-year profits, helped by traffic growth and the addition of new routes to emerging Asian markets.

It saw pre-tax profit rise 17% to £221.5m in the year to the end of March.

Gatwick owner Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) said passenger traffic grew 6.9% to 33.8m, boosted by its investment programme and the new routes.

In the past three years, GIP has invested £750m modernising its two terminals and revamping security, baggage and inter-terminal shuttle services.