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

Faster Thinking

On staying optimistic

Keith Williams, British Airways’ executive chairman, on Air Passenger Duty, BA’s Community Learning Centre, and why a positive approach is essential for 2015

WILL 2015 BE THE YEAR when Britain finally gets sensible about aviation tax? In April, we will see Air Passenger Duty trimmed on some of the longest-distance routes and in the following month, it will be removed for children under 12. (Did someone say there’s an election in May?)

In truth, these are modest measures that do nothing to challenge APD’s unwelcome status as the highest aviation tax in the world. However, there is another political wind blowing that may have greater impact. All the main Westminster parties have promised to give Scotland more tax-raising powers following last year’s rejection of independence.

The Scottish government has said it would use these to cut APD on flights from Scotland by 50 per cent with a view to subsequent abolition. This would be great news for Scotland’s airports, but less good for competitors in the north of England, who would see passengers heading over the border for APD-free flights. Newcastle airport says the change would cost 1,000 jobs locally, and Northeast MPs are adamant that the region should not suffer as a consequence of further devolution for the Scots.

Not wishing to be outdone, the devolved government in Wales is also pressing for freedom to cut APD for Cardiff airport – with predictable protests from nearby Bristol. This could develop into a fine old mess, for which there would be one simple solution. Abolish APD for everyone, Mr Chancellor.

IN A CORNER of the grounds outside British Airways’ head office stands a small building in a distinctive shade of green. It is our Community Learning Centre, and it has just welcomed its 100,000th student. Drawn mainly from primary and secondary schools in boroughs around Heathrow, young people come to take part in a range of programmes from customer service and languages to environmental projects in the 260 acres of Harmondsworth Moor parkland that adjoin our site. British Airways is a big player in Heathrow’s local communities, and it’s nice to be able to put something back. 

A FEW WEEKS AGO, we had our busiest winter day in Terminal 5’s seven-year history. More than 52,000 customers flew out, and a similar number came in. In some ways, it reflected the year: we carried more customers in 2014 than in any year since 2001. And this year, we’re aiming for more. Growth brings opportunities, not always easy ones. As the saying goes: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” In global airlines, where external shocks can go with the territory, an optimistic outlook is part of the job.