BA’s executive chairman Keith Williams. Photo: Nick Morrish

Faster Thinking

Estuaries, injuries and the immigration issue

Executive chairman Keith Williams on a bruising encounter with airport costs - and another on the football pitch

THE AIRPORTS COMMISSION may have ruled it out, but I am still surprised how many people favour the notion of a new London airport in the Thames Estuary. Remoteness, quiet, a fresh start: all these features seem to appeal. Yet what nearly all Estuary fans overlook is the sheer implausibility of financing such a project. The Commission estimates a cost of £90bn for the necessary road and rail links. Even with a lavish public subsidy (unlikely), the charges for airlines using the airport would have to be astronomic for the scheme’s investors to make a return. Many passengers think an airport’s services are free. In fact, a passenger buying an economy ticket from Heathrow to New York pays nearly £45 to the airport as part of their fare. And Heathrow has an investment programme of barely £3bn over five years. Think what charges might be for a £90bn investment.

INCH BY PAINFUL INCH, the UK visa policy appears to be growing less hostile to Chinese visitors. The Government announced plans for further relaxations for Chinese citizens travelling with approved tour groups or visiting the UK beyond London. But the procedures remain a bureaucratic minefield in comparison with the rest of Europe. The big Continental countries receive about five times as many Chinese visitors as the UK. When we achieve parity, we’ll know things have changed.

MOMENTUM IS BUILDING toward next year’s climate summit in Paris. At British Airways, we have a target to cut net carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, compared with 2005 – and we are making progress. Aircraft CO2 per passenger/kilometre has fallen from 111gm in 2005 to just over 101gm today. New aircraft make a difference: our A380s’ CO2 level is about 16 per cent lower than that of the Boeing 747-400s, and the 787 Dreamliners are up to 30 per cent cleaner than the aircraft they are replacing. And our Greensky project, a facility for converting landfill waste into sustainable jet fuel, is under development in Essex. But aviation needs help from governments. It needs incentives (like those given to the car industry) to accelerate low-carbon jet fuels worldwide, and diplomatic muscle to establish a global carbon trading system fair to airlines from all regions. There is a lot of work to do before Paris.

FOOTBALL is a young man’s game. So it was with considerable relief that I hauled myself off a five-a-side pitch recently with body more or less intact. Until, in the changing room, I slipped on the floor, resulting in toes with severe bruising and a limp that lasted a week. In future, I’ll stick with Match of the Day.