Head of British Airways Shocked to Learn New Heathrow Runway Will Tear Down His Office — and He’ll Be Forced to Pay for the Demolition

Willie Walsh, the former head of British Airways and now head of the parent company that owns BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Veuling, apparently didn’t know that the plan for adding a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport will involve tearing down the IAG and BA headquarters.

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of BA’s parent company IAG, claimed that despite the group being responsible for about half of all flights at the London hub, he received no formal warning of the proposed demolition.

He said: “We were never actually informed or advised by Heathrow that they intended to knock down our headquarters.”

London Heathrow Terminal 5

He’s especially outraged because even though the government will purchase the property — at a 25% premium over market — the source of funds will be charges to the airlines and he represents over half the service at Heathrow. So he will wind up paying a majority of the cost.

I’m skeptical that he wasn’t aware of this however, since British Airways has been intimately involved in the process surrounding Heathrow expansion for years. If they really didn’t know a runway would go through their current headquarters location, that evinces extreme incompetence on the part of his executives.

Both IAG and British Airways are based at Waterside in Harmondsworth, which opened in 1998 at a cost of £200m and sits in a 115-hectare (280-acre) manmade park. Walsh said the HQ was “a fantastic environmental achievement on our part”.

However, it looks unlikely to stay that way. “The first I saw of it was when the Airport Commission report came out and I saw a map and I thought, that looks very close to Waterside,” Walsh said. “Then I discovered it actually went right through Waterside.”

Of course while tearing down his own office is personal, expanding London Heathrow creates more opportunities for other airlines to add service and compete against British Airways. I suspect that bothers him even more.

However none of this will come quickly. The UK government announced support for a third runway in 2009. The airport commission recommended the runway in mid-2015. Optimistically they’re talking about completion in 2025 but I’d be willing to give odds against.

(HT: Hans Mast)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Heathrow is so ridiculously spread out. It’s hard to believe they could not fit 3 (or even 4) runways into the existing footprint.

  2. @WR:
    Heathrow used to have three runways, the old runway 23 was converted to a taxiway ready for when Terminal 5 was built (as it would’ve cut right through the present T5 Satellite C).

    In reality there isn’t space for additional runways on the present footprint, there’s Terminal 4 in the way to the South, and RAF Northolt to the North.

  3. ‘Heathrow is so ridiculously spread out.’

    I am not sure what you mean

    the only space to fit a third runway with relatively little pain is to the north. The Waterside office building is shown below and to the right of the label Harmondsworth Moor, so apparently that is exactly what they will do.

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