By Daniel Hunter
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker has called on the British government to urgently address capacity constraints at London Heathrow to avoid a ‘catastrophic situation’ for the country’s economy.
Al Baker was vocal in support for a third runway at the world’s busiest international airport to remain competitive with rival European airport hubs.
The government recently began a review to address the critical airport issues in south east England in the face of growing competition from airports in Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.
Al Baker was speaking during a keynote address to a distinguished gathering of more than 250 global aviation industry professionals and media at the Aviation Club in London.
In his speech, Al Baker said the third runway debate ‘was not an option, but a necessity’ to overcome the capacity crunch Britain’s premier airport was currently facing.
“Heathrow is bursting at the seams and has already reached a critical point,” he said.
“Already heading towards a double dip recession, the UK cannot afford to lose out on the huge benefits a third runway would bring to the economy in south east England and the country as a whole through the creation of more jobs and more business opportunities.
“No capacity increase will inevitably lead to further economic hardship with job losses and businesses closing down.
“Heathrow is already losing out to European neighbouring hubs that have the resource to expand capacity.
“Measures to expand need to be taken soon to avoid a catastrophic situation in the future. The UK government cannot afford to immerse itself in long winded debate and public enquiries. Action needs to be taken.”
Al Baker stressed that it would be a grave mistake if no immediate investment was made in an industry that continues to experience demand outstripping supply.
“While the proposed idea of a new airport ‘Boris Island’ in Kent is a good idea, this is a project that will potentially take at least 20 years to materialise if the go-ahead is given today. Can the UK wait 20 years?
“During this period, we will see airports expand significantly across the Continent — and of course in my region.”
He said that bilateral constraints compounded the problem of ineffective competition.
“Not just in the UK, but governments around the world need to wake up to reality of doing business today. Air corridors should be opened up to give passengers more choice,” he pointed out.
“Qatar Airways has managed to steadily increase frequency to five daily flights between Heathrow and our Doha hub, but we believe there is demand for further expansion on the route.
“As we prepare to move to a brand new airport in Doha next year, the opportunities that will present themselves are enormous. But to really take full advantage of our new home, we need more services from places like London to cater to the demand,” he added.
Qatar Airways has been a huge investor at Heathrow over the years moving its operations to a dedicated, larger departures area in Terminal 4 and opening its first airport lounge outside Qatar with the official unveiling of the new Premium Lounge at T4, said Al Baker.
“With our Boeing 787 Dreamliner entering London Heathrow as our first long-haul route with this aircraft in a few weeks’ time, this demonstrates the level of confidence we have in our UK operations. The government needs to understand the importance of allowing airlines to expand and keep them at Heathrow otherwise there is a risk carriers will move away.”
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