The boss of Heathrow’s biggest customer, British Airways, only discovered that building the airport’s planned third runway would require the demolition of his airline’s head office after looking at a map.
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA’s parent company IAG, claimed that despite the group being responsible for about half of all flights at the London hub, he received no formal warning of the proposed demolition.
He said: “We were never actually informed or advised by Heathrow that they intended to knock down our headquarters.”
Both IAG and British Airways are based at Waterside in Harmondsworth, which opened in 1998 at a cost of £200m and sits in a 115-hectare (280-acre) manmade park. Walsh said the HQ was “a fantastic environmental achievement on our part”.
However, it looks unlikely to stay that way. “The first I saw of it was when the Airport Commission report came out and I saw a map and I thought, that looks very close to Waterside,” Walsh said. “Then I discovered it actually went right through Waterside.”
Walsh’s grievance over his doomed HQ has been compounded by the prospect of being effectively charged for the compensation bill.
While all properties in the path of the runway will be compulsorily purchased at 25% over the market price, the way Heathrow’s charges are set by the Civil Aviation Authority means that airlines are likely to pay more to operate from the airport as expansion costs grow.
Walsh said: “That compensation goes into the regulatory asset base and we end up paying 56% of that.
“We can’t have a situation where I end up paying for the destruction of my own head office.”
The Waterside affair may have contributed to apparent rising antipathy from Walsh towards Heathrow, which he lambasted as “fat, dumb and happy” at the Airport Operators Association conference in London.
The IAG boss accused Heathrow of failing to hold proper discussions with airlines about creating a cost-effective airport and expansion plan.
He said: “I don’t think they have the capacity to engage. They’ve never had to go out there and encourage airlines to operate from [Heathrow], unlike every other airport … Heathrow sits there fat, dumb and happy, waiting for the queue to build up.”
In approving Heathrow’s expansion plans last month, the government said that increased domestic flights from around the UK would be a precondition.
But Walsh stated that his airlines would not operate routes to airports such as Newquay in Cornwall, “even if [Heathrow chief executive] John Holland-Kaye got down and begged me”.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “British Airways has been consulted on the detail of our expansion plans throughout, including options for the relocation of Waterside ahead of the submission to the Airports Commission.
“We are optimising our plans and are determined to work with our airlines to deliver them as cost efficiently as possible, which in turn will keep our airline charges as close to flat with today’s charges as possible.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010