British Airways chief Willie Walsh has condemned proposals by the UK Government opposition to abandon plans for a third London Heathrow runway, in favour of new high-speed domestic rail links.

Walsh, speaking at an Insurance Institute of London event today, outrightly dismissed the proposal outlined by the Conservative party earlier this week.

The rail connection would connect Heathrow with major cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds but would not be completed until 2027.

Walsh says it "beggars belief" that the rail link would be an adequate substitute for a third Heathrow runway, given the fact that domestic Leeds and Manchester flights account for just 3% of the hub airport's services.

"The runway capacity this [rail line] would free up would be swallowed almost immediately by natural growth," he says, adding that the "tiny and temporary benefit" of the link will not be available for two decades.

Walsh says a third runway would, in contrast, provide 40% more capacity at Heathrow. But continual public scrutiny means it will not open before 2020.

"The last thing we need is further delay," he says.

Walsh adds that the rail plan, revealed just days after London's mayor declared support for building a replacement for Heathrow, suggests the Conservative party's aviation policy is "all over the place".

"The Conservatives apparently want to undermine the UK's efforts to succeed in a global economy - and condemn Heathrow to permanent status as the most delay-prone airport in Europe," he says.

"High-speed rail should be seen as complementary to air travel, not a substitute for it. That is why Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt already have high-speed rail links. And by 2011, they will also have four runways each - while Heathrow struggles on with two."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news