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Cameron Urged by Airlines to Back More Heathrow Runways

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron was urged to change the government’s position and back a third runway at London’s Heathrow airport, a shift that would require him to move Transport Secretary Justine Greening to a new job.

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, whose British Airways (IAG) division has its hub at Heathrow, said U.K. economic growth depends on an expansion of the airport, Europe’s busiest. The prime minister will make changes to his Cabinet next month, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“We don’t believe that there is a clear government aviation policy,” spokeswoman Laura Goodes said by telephone today. “The U.K. needs more airport capacity in order to be able to compete effectively with countries where governments have supported the development of aviation, such as China and the Middle East states.”

Cameron’s Conservatives opposed a third runway ahead of the 2010 election, when they were fighting to win districts in West London, under the airport’s flight path. His appointment in October of Greening, who represents one of these districts and had personally campaigned on the issue, was a sign that this position hadn’t changed.

The premier’s been under pressure from within his own party to rethink his policy on Heathrow. In July, a group of 39 Conservative lawmakers called for two new runways to be built there to increase passenger capacity.

Conference Motion

Greening, 43, isn’t the only obstacle within government to an expansion. The Liberal Democrats, the junior party in the coalition government, will vote at their annual conference on Sept. 23 on a motion that would reject the building of any new runways at Heathrow or the capital’s other main airports, Gatwick and Stansted, and demand an independent study to find a location for a hub. The motion also opposes Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal to construct a new airport in the Thames estuary.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. founder Richard Branson has said he’s “deeply frustrated” by opposition to expanding Heathrow. “What should be happening is more runways,” he said in an interview July 12. “It’s holding Great Britain back and holding us back.”

On March 3, the Daily Telegraph newspaper published a letter from nearly 70 business leaders calling on the government to speed up its decision-making process, warning that Britain would fall behind France and Germany in the next 10 years if no action is taken.

The publication of a planned consultation document on the future of London’s airports has been delayed, demonstrating the tensions within the coalition on the issue.

“There are lots of different options” for increasing airport capacity,” Cameron told a conference of investors in London on July 26. The coalition has a “pledge not to have a third runway” at Heathrow, he said, adding that the government will start its review of airport capacity by the end of the year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net; Kitty Donaldson in London at kdonaldson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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