Airlines using London’s Heathrow Airport would be prepared to pay higher landing fees to cut delays at the British hub which have reached “crisis” levels, according to the chief executive of IAG.
Passengers arriving at BAA-operated Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, have suffered lengthy delays at immigration in the past week.
Passengers have complained of empty border control desks and the failure of iris scanners brought in to speed up the processing of arrivals.
“We have had a crisis for some time and therefore we need urgent action… we (airlines at Heathrow) have demonstrated we are prepared to pay where we get the right service,” IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told BBC Radio on Tuesday.
“We are not prepared to pay a government that will waste money and that will not address the problem that is faced… the government is both the regulator and the service provider and is doing an inadequate job in both.”
Walsh said the 45-minute maximum wait standard for passengers from outside Europe and the 25-minute wait for European passport holders had been repeatedly breached in the past week.
Heathrow handled 70 million passengers in 2011, and is operating at close to full capacity. BAA was prevented by the government from building a third runway at Heathrow because of environmental and political concerns.
Britain’s immigration minister Damian Green said the increase in charges was being discussed by BAA and airlines operating from Heathrow but that the proposal had yet to be presented to the Home Office, which runs the UK border agency.
A possible increase in airport charges would not be necessarily be welcomed by all airlines, however. Industry body IATA recently said the global airline industry would suffer in 2012 because of continuing high fuel prices and the eurozone debt crisis.
Ferrovial-owned BAA, which earns more than GBP£1 billion (USD$1.6 billion) in annual charges from airlines operating at Heathrow, said recent waiting times during peak periods at the airport had been unacceptable and called on the British government to repair the situation.
“Immigration is a matter for the Home Office,” BAA said in a statement. “We have called on the Home Office to address the problem as a matter of urgency. There isn’t a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience – the Home Office should be delivering both.”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said the delays were having a negative impact on London’s image as a global business hub.
“Not only do these queues project the wrong image about the UK being open to business and visitors alike, they risk undermining our reputation as a global trading hub,” Neil Carberry, a CBI director, said in a statement.
The immigration minister Green on Monday told parliament heavy rain across the south of England was the main cause of the delays. He said the severe weather had led to diverted flights and the bunching of arrivals.
Green promised that immigration desks at British airports would be staffed during peak periods for the Olympic Games.
“Next month we will have a completely new rostering system, which will make us more flexible,” Green told the BBC in response to Walsh’s comments. “Also, for the Olympic period, we are guaranteeing that there will be at peak times full manning across the board.”
Green added that a control room to help with queues would be set up at Heathrow in the next few weeks, while mobile teams would be deployed in each terminal to help respond to problems.
The border force’s headcount is due to be cut by a fifth by 2015 compared with 2010 levels due to government austerity measures.