Dubai Airports chief criticises Boris Johnson over London Heathrow runway opposition

Paul Griffiths criticises 'politically toxic' atmosphere in UK and praises Dubai's ability to deliver.
Passengers queue outside Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport in London. Sang Tan / AP Photo
Passengers queue outside Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport in London. Sang Tan / AP Photo

The Dubai Airports chief has criticised the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, over his opposition to a third runway at London Heathrow.

Paul Griffiths, the chief executive of Dubai Airports who was previously the chairman and managing director of Gatwick Airport, has criticised Mr Johnson and spoken out about the “politically toxic” atmosphere surrounding proposals to build a third runway at Heathrow airport.

Mr Griffiths’ comments came as Dubai International Airport overtook Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport for international traffic. In the first quarter of this year, 18.3 million passengers passed through Dubai International while Heathrow handled 16 million.

Dubai’s growth in the first quarter was an 11.4 per cent gain on the previous year period.

“We did have Boris Johnson out here [in Dubai] and I gave him both barrels on [UK] government aviation policy,” Mr Griffiths said.

Referring to specific UK government proposals to increase airport capacity, Mr Griffiths said: “This war between whether there should be a third runway, or whether [the UK government] should build an airport on the Thames estuary – it’s a Pyrrhic battle, really.

“If you have another runway at Heathrow Airport it will be full the day it opens and therefore you probably need both … Both make perfect sense for the expansionary [case].

“So I just don’t understand why you see Boris Johnson joining protesters against Heathrow’s third runway – it doesn’t make any sense.”

Heathrow operates at more than 98 per cent of its runway capacity – it is “virtually full”, according to a report published last year by Heathrow Airport Holdings, which operates four airports in the United Kingdom.

Referring to the interim report published by the UK’s Airports Commission on the future of airport capacity in the UK, Mr Griffiths said the report “has an executive summary of 32 paragraphs ... you could probably distil that down to one sentence, which is that London needs a new runway by 2030”.

“Do you think that in a mature society that is running out of airport capacity and is suffering the economic consequences, that it’s going to be a particularly enlightened decision to suggest that in the next 16 years one runway is going to be sufficient?”

“In a comparable time, Dubai Airports will have added five visible runways … and will be able to cater to 200 million passengers, while Heathrow will probably still be around 80 million,” Mr Griffiths added.

“I really don’t think that the economic prosperity of the [UK] is best served … by a political system that finds the addition of airport capacity to be so politically toxic,” Mr Griffiths said.

When he was managing director of Gatwick, Mr Griffiths said, he “used to spend a lot of time drinking Earl Grey tea sitting in people’s gardens while they complained to me about aircraft noise. I don’t think I have had to do that at all in my six years here.”

“I used to spend most of my time at Gatwick asking permission to do things, and actually a minority of my time actually getting on and doing stuff. Here it’s definitely the other way around. I spend very little time getting permission, and most of my time delivering stuff.”

In Dubai, “just a handful of people ... are actually driving growth, powering the decision making, and getting things done,” Mr Griffiths said. “If you have four or five people in a room, you will be able to make a decision.”

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Published: May 10, 2014 04:00 AM


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