Airlines ready to pay to end Heathrow delays
London, May 1, 2012
Airlines using London's Heathrow airport would be prepared to pay higher landing fees to reduce long queues at the British hub which have reached "crisis" levels, according to the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG.
Passengers arriving at BAA operated Heathrow have suffered lengthy delays at passport control in the past week. Travellers have complained of empty border control desks and the failure of iris scanners brought in to speed up the processing of arrivals.
"We have had a crisis for some time and therefore we need urgent action ... we have demonstrated we are prepared to pay where we get the right service," IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told Radio 4 on Tuesday.
"We are not prepared to pay a government that will waste money and not address the problem that is faced... the government is both the regulator and the service provider and is doing an inadequate job in both."
Heathrow - Europe's busiest airport - handled 15.7 million passengers in the first three months of 2012, and is operating at close to its full capacity. BAA was prevented by the government from building a third runway at Heathrow because of environmental concerns.
Ferrovial-owned BAA levies annual charges of more than 1 billion pounds ($1.62 billion) from airlines at Heathrow.
BAA declined to comment when asked by Reuters if it was discussing using higher landing charges to reduce queues.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the delays were having a negative impact on London's image as a global business centre.
"Not only do these queues project the wrong image about the UK being open to business and visitors alike, they risk undermining our reputation as a global trading hub," Neil Carberry, the director of employment and skills policy at the CBI said in a statement.
Britain's immigration minister Damian Green on Monday told parliament heavy rain across the south of England was the main cause of the delays. He said the severe weather had led to diverted flights and the bunching of arrivals.
Green, however, promised that immigration desks at Heathrow and other airports would be staffed during peak periods for the Olympic Games.
"Next month we will have a completely new rostering system, which will make us more flexible," said Green. "Also, for the Olympic period, we are guaranteeing that there will be at peak times full manning across the board," he told the BBC in response to Walsh's comments.
Green added that a control room to help with queues would be set up at Heathrow in the next few weeks, while mobile teams would be deployed in each terminal to help respond to problems.
The government-run border force's headcount is due to be cut by around a fifth by 2015 compared with 2010 levels due to austerity measures. – Reuters