Airlines seek reassurance about Heathrow runway costs

Airlines are demanding fresh reassurances that extra costs will not be passed on to them after a group of MPs backed Heathrow expansion with a £14 billion third runway.

The cross-party transport select committee voiced the need for safeguards to be imposed on expanding the west London hub to ensure that the interests of passengers are protected, and the adverse environmental, social and health impacts on affected communities are addressed.

Committee chairwoman Lilian Greenwood MP said: “The north-west runway scheme, as set out in the draft NPS, is the highest cost expansion option and one of the largest privately financed infrastructure projects anywhere in the world.

“At present, the draft NPS does not guarantee that passengers will be protected from the cost risks associated with the scheme. The secretary of state must set out how airport charges will be held down.”

Iata welcomed the endorsement of Heathrow as the right location to expand airport capacity, but warned that costs could still spiral out of control.

The airline trade body also backed recommendations that the government consider giving the Civil Aviation Authority greater powers to regulate Heathrow’s passenger and airline charges, and that these fees be held flat in real terms.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of Heathrow-based British Airways owner International Airlines Group, said: “Heathrow is the world’s most expensive hub airport and its current costs proposal is exorbitant and unacceptably vague.

“The transport select committee’s conclusion that airport charges must be kept at today’s levels, as this is in customers’ interests, is very welcome.

“It’s critical, as recommended, that the NPS includes a detailed cost breakdown with the condition that airport charges be held flat in real terms, before Parliament votes on it. Also, we endorse that the CAA should test whether the scheme is affordable before it can proceed.”

He added: “We share the committee’s concerns about the lack of detail on how the new runway will bridge the M25, one of Europe’s busiest motorways, and the fact that no costs have been factored in for this.

“Finally, we’re pleased that the committee has acknowledged that domestic routes are based on airlines’ commercial considerations. It notes that they’ve declined in recent years and that this won’t change if airport charges increase.”

Virgin Atlantic commented: “Our customers already face the highest airport charges in the world, and they should not be expected to pay even more for expansion.

“That is why we have called for the introduction of a passenger cost guarantee, setting out the total budget for delivering the expansion, committing that passenger charges will be less than or equal to today’s in real terms, and guaranteeing that Heathrow covers the costs of any overspend.”