Airport Expansion: British Airways threatens to pull out of Heathrow
British Airways could move its operations to Dublin or Madrid if the government decides to go ahead with its airport expansion plan Reuters

British Airways has threatened to end its operations at Heathrow if the government decides to go ahead with its proposed expansion plan, which includes adding a third runway. It would move its operations to Dublin or Madrid, the carrier's parent company International Airlines Group (IAG) has warned.

IAG's explanation

Shortly after the government announced a further six-month delay on the decision to expand the airport, British Airways (BA) released a statement by IAG chief executive Willie Walsh who explained that the £17.6bn (€24.4bn, $26.7bn) plan to expand Heathrow would lead to an increase in charges for passengers flying in and out of UK's busiest airport. If the plan is implemented, passengers will end up paying double the approximate £40 they currently pay for a return trip.

The scale of airport charges will "turn Heathrow into a white elephant" and force passengers out of this airport, he said. A new runway would cost only about 1% of the entire budget, but these costs were being inflated by including a new terminal, an underground train link and an £800m car park into the proposed plan, Walsh added.

"We won't pay for it and we most certainly won't pre-fund the construction of any new infrastructure. Why should IAG's customers pay today for tomorrow's customers? Some people may say that we have no other option. Actually we do.

"Heathrow is not IAG's only hub. We can develop our business via Madrid, which has spare capacity, and Dublin, where there are plans for a cost-effective and efficient second runway," the chief executive said.

Response by Heathrow

The west London airport has assured that passenger charges will not double as stated by Walsh and would probably increase only by around 20%. A spokesman said that the expansion of this airport was critical to the British economy's future and was the only way to connect the entire nation with global growth.

"The airports commission has confirmed that expansion can be financed and, with low-cost airlines such as easyJet already committing to provide routes from Heathrow, it is clear that operating costs from the airport will be competitive," the spokesperson said.