* IAG's Willie Walsh says Britain being left behind by
* Says UK aviation policy an "unholy mess"
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, March 15 Britain lacks a credible
plan to revive its stuttering economy and risks being left
behind by fast-moving emerging markets, said the head of British
Airways owner IAG, at loggerheads with the government
over airport expansion.
The country is not keeping pace with others that have cut
business taxes, spent more on infrastructure and improved their
schools and universities to drive growth at a time of increased
competition and worries about global output, IAG Chief Executive
Willie Walsh said on Thursday.
"We don't have a single plan for growth. We have one every
other week," Walsh said in a speech to the annual conference of
the British Chambers of Commerce, a business lobby group. "The
words are always warm, but they go cold waiting for action."
Britain's GDP contracted by 0.2 percent in the last quarter
of 2011 and the government is facing calls to do more to boost
growth in its budget announcement next week. Fitch warned on
Wednesday that its top credit rating is at risk due to weak
growth and high public borrowing.
Walsh and his IAG group, which also owns Spain's Iberia, has
been lobbying the British government to support the expansion of
the UK's airport capacity.
Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government said in
2010 that it would not allow a third runway at London's Heathrow
Airport. There has been a long debate over how to expand the
country's airports in the face of fierce opposition from green
groups and people living near the sites.
Walsh said Britain's aviation policy was in an "unholy
mess". Heathrow is full and Gatwick, south of the capital, is
operating at full capacity at peak times. London Mayor Boris
Johnson's idea for an airport in the River Thames estuary, east
of London, is unlikely to ever see the light of day, he added.
"If we do not have a hub airport that links us directly to
world growth, we will suffer for it," Walsh said. "Britain is
confronting this prospect without boldness, courage or clarity."
Walsh said the government must do more to encourage better
aviation links with fast-growing China and cut the cost of visas
for Chinese visitors to Britain.
"We only connect to three cities in China from Heathrow," he
said. "It is as if China were standing still. This will show up
on the balance sheet of this country very soon."