Airports operator says Heathrow must expand for the UK to seize valuable trade opportunities

Britain’s leading airports operator BAA has indicated that it hasn’t given up on the idea of a third Heathrow runway.

The company’s chief executive Colin Matthews criticised the mooted alternatives, raising technical objections to “Heathwick”, a possible high-speed rail link between Gatwick and Heathrow, and questioning whether the UK could afford a major new airport in the Thames Estuary.

Matthews told the Financial Times he hoped the government’s next aviation policy document would consider the option of a third runway for Heathrow, which is running at full capacity.

The coalition last year ruled out allowing new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stanstead airports during the current Parliament, citing environmental concerns and objections by local residents.

A report commissioned by BAA and published last month concluded that Britain risked missing out on £14bn of trade with emerging markets over the next decade because Heathrow’s capacity left it unable to expand its range of long-haul routes.

Meanwhile Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent company International Airlines Group, has raised concerns about the newly-appointed transport secretary Justine Greening and a possible conflict of interest.

Walsh claims the fact that the minister’s constituency is under a Heathrow flightpath could colour her approach to the aviation industry.

Greening battled against the previous Labour government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow, and described the coalition’s decision to scrap the proposal as “really fantastic news” that would “help protect our local quality of life”.

Walsh told the Sunday Telegraph he thought David Cameron was “hiding behind” Greening to protect a policy that “damages the economy”.

A spokesman for the transport department said Greening was perfectly able to balance her ministerial brief and her constituents’ wishes, noting: “There are transport considerations in every constituency but these do not prevent ministers from carrying out their duties fairly and responsibly.”