British Airways Wants Shorter, Cheaper New Heathrow Runway

(Bloomberg) -- British Airways parent IAG SA called on Heathrow Airport Ltd. to scrap plans for its new runway to span London’s orbital highway, saying the proposal could add 3 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) of costs.

Extending Heathrow’s third landing strip across the M25 motorway would also complicate the project and cause delays for travelers, IAG Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said in a statement Wednesday.

A shorter runway that’s 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) long rather than the 3.5 kilometers planned would be adequate for flights and should allow the London hub to maintain charges to carriers at the current level or even to reduce them, Walsh said.

“Airlines were never consulted on the runway length and they can operate perfectly well from a slightly shorter runway that doesn’t cross the M25,” the CEO said, arguing that Heathrow hasn’t adequately assessed the extension’s financial implications. “We will not pay for a runway that threatens both costs and delays spiraling out of control.”

IAG has shared its views with the government as part of a consultation paving the way for a new national policy statement on airports, which is being prepared to help accelerate Heathrow’s expansion.

Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye has said the airport is considering a ramp to span the M25, an option that could be cheaper and less disruptive than building a tunnel as initially envisaged.

The airport has several factors to balance in accommodating the new runway, Heathrow said in a statement following Walsh’s remarks. A spokesman added that a state-appointed commission recommended the construction of a full-length strip, and that one is necessary both operationally and to reduce noise for neighboring communities.

No decision has yet been taken on whether the runway should slope, he added. Heathrow will comment Thursday on its own submission to the policy consultation, which closes this week.

A short third runway was once a preferred option at Heathrow, though former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government pitched it as a stop-gap measure to provide extra capacity between 2015 and 2020, with London Stansted touted for more rapid expansion. Neither project was taken forward, and with Heathrow close to full a longer strip is now essential, according to the state commission.

The third landing runway, which got the go-ahead from the U.K. government last year, will cost 16 billion pounds and allow the airport to handle 135 million passengers annually, up from almost 76 million last year.