British Aviation Industry
Walsh: Government doing everything it can to suppress and damage UK airline industry
The boss of International Airlines Group, parent company of British Airways, has launched a scathing attack on David Cameron and the coalition government at a global airlines summit in Beijing, saying they were "completely out of touch".
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh accused the government of "doing everything it can to suppress and damage" the aviation industry, saying it "tops the list" of governments worldwide that "don't get it".
Walsh said: "They government takes for granted aviation's economic contribution – and that it will continue despite their efforts to suppress it."
He cited the lack of capacity, high taxation and a stringent visa regime deterring foreign visitors as the three major factors.
"I think it's fascinating, the prime minister travelling round the world highlighting Rolls Royce and the great engines that they make and forgetting that most of those engines are on British aircraft. There's no recognition of that.
"It's completely disconnected in terms of strategy and we're suffering seriously as a result."
Picking up on a familiar theme at the conference of Iata, the International Air Transport Association, he said that air passenger duty, "the highest aviation tax in the world", was destroying jobs. "The UK can see this tax money coming in but are blind and deaf to the negative effects."
While Walsh said he had "given up" talking about the third runway at Heathrow and that the Thames Estuary airport, championed by Boris Johnson among others, would never happen.
Asked about the anticipated, and delayed, policy review, which has ruled out Heathrow expansion in advance, he said: "The fact that we don't have an aviation policy two years into this government – and they're going to exclude the obvious – tells you everything you need to know.
"Heathrow is the number one airport in the world and the debate in the UK is whether to close it down. In a decade, people will look back and say how did we let this happen?"
Walsh contrasted the value placed on aviation in the UK with that of China, the conference hosts, and the "progressive economy" of the UAE, which has become the fourth ranked nation in the world for international passengers. "If we had that attitude we'd not only have a fantastic industry but a much stronger global economy."
Tourist chiefs also voiced their frustration in Beijing. David Scowsill, the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said that the British government "doesn't listen on a whole range of issues" from visas to taxes, and accused it of being "rude and frankly dismissive" to officials from South Africa and the Caribbean who had tried to press their concerns over the damage British flight taxes were doing to their own economies.
Speaking at the conference on Monday, Tony Tyler, the chief executive of Iata, warned that the UK would soon see its traditional "leading role in world aviation … badly eroded".