Emirates chief urges UK to act on airport capacity

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Emirates president Tim Clark has called on the UK government to hasten its decision on increasing airport capacity in the southeast of England or risk harming the country's economy.

Launching its new Aviation Experience centre adjacent to its sponsored cable car across the Thames in London, Clark says it is a "decision that needs to be taken quickly". He says the government is doing the country "no favours" by "dillydallying and contemplating projects" that will take so long to complete that they will not alleviate the near-term capacity issues in the southeast.

Although describing himself as a "great fan of grandiose projects" - a reference to Mayor of London Boris Johnson's scheme for an entirely new airport in the Thames estuary - Clark says it is "the time [it will take] that worries me".

"If you want the job done quickly the fastest route is Heathrow and Gatwick," he says. The former is "the jewel in the crown", but Emirates is unable to further increase its five-times daily Airbus A380 service into the hub due to slot limitations, adds Clark.

"Here's something that's on a plate, it's ready to go but you need to take some painful decisions," he says.

Clark believes that a "hearts and minds" campaign is needed in order to convince the general public that Heathrow expansion will not create additional noise or environmental harm: "There's ways of playing off those arguments and getting the general public behind the strategy.

"But they must get on with it or London will lose its unique position in the world today."

Mayor Johnson, who was also at the event, shares Clark's sense of urgency, if not his views on Heathrow. He says it would be "an environmental catastrophe" to add a third runway at the site.

A global hub, he stresses, requires a four-runway solution: "You could cause untold misery and do it in the western suburbs of London, but it's the wrong solution for the city and the country."

Stansted expansion could be one option, says Johnson, but he maintains his preference for a clean-sheet site on the Isle of Grain in Kent.

"The timeline for a third runway at Heathrow is not particularly fast, you will struggle to get it by the late 2020s," he adds. "The message for the government is whatever you decide about those runways get on with it because Britain really can't afford to wait."