Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Friday, 7 November 2008

Third Heathrow runway 'critical'

Heathrow airport
British Airways says Heathrow needs to be a key European hub

A proposed third runway at Heathrow is even more important for the UK economy given the tough economic climate, says the head of British Airways.

Willie Walsh told the BBC that expansion at the west London airport was key, adding, "we are not going to wimp our way out of recession".

Mr Walsh said despite local and growing political objections and looming recession, the need to expand remained.

"I remain absolutely convinced that a third runway at Heathrow is critical."

Mr Walsh told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that times of economic slowdown required "bold" moves by policy-makers.

"I think in tough times like this it really is a case of doing what is right for the long-term future of this country.

"I believe that means building a third runway at Heathrow."

His comments come ahead of next week's debate in the Commons over the proposed expansion.

Air quality test

Labour backbencher John Grogan tabled a Commons motion calling for a rethink given a recent fall in passenger numbers at the airport, one of the world's busiest.

So far 40 Labour MPs have signed the motion and there is speculation that some cabinet ministers may add their objections to the plan.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon is expected to announce next month whether the scheme should proceed, although Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the decision would be contingent on air quality standards being met.

Airport operator BAA has said Heathrow is at capacity and needs a third runway to remain competitive globally.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have said they will oppose the new runway, while key business leaders say the expansion with environmental standards must go ahead.

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