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Qatar signals Heathrow future

LONDON: In a final comment to the British government's Airports Commission on the expansion of Heathrow or Gatwick, the UK's Freight Transport Association (FTA) says a third runway at Heathrow is its preferred option due to higher costs of splitting freight operations between the two airports.

The Commission is due to present its final report and recommendations to the government after the country's general election in May this year.

BA HeathrowCiting a York Aviation study, the FTA says should the Commission opt for a second runway at Gatwick, the UK's air freight market is likely to continue supporting long-haul services out of Heathrow. In such a scenario, the association thinks this would lead to higher costs due to additional trucking and significant inefficiencies through duplication of operations, increased transit times and delays.

Chris Welsh, FTA's director of Global and European Policy explained: "Looking at the analysis from the York Aviation report, FTA estimates additional trucking costs in London to be in the region of £2 million per annum with additional increased utility costs using the Gatwick option. Our report clearly demonstrates the importance of the provision of sufficient concentrated airport hub capacity in London by 2030 and beyond to 2050. Without this capacity the air freight industry and freight customers will suffer, as, ultimately, will the end users in the UK economy."

The FTA comment follows the announcement that Qatar Airways has taken a 9.9 percent share in IAG Group - owner of British Airways and Iberia - for a reported £1.15 billion. Qatar Airways, owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, also has a 20 percent stake in Heathrow and its CEO Akbar Al Baker sits on the airport's board as a representative of the Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund.

According to the Financial Times, the Qatar Investment Authority is also the largest shareholder in Barclays Bank and UK supermarket J Sainsbury, the second-largest investor in the London Stock Exchange and has made an offer to buy London's Canary Wharf.

With Qatar Airways already a member of the oneworld alliance that includes British Airways, the dual investment in Heathrow and IAG by the Qatar Investment Authority should reassure the FTA about the provision of future UK hub airport capacity.

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