Industry starts clutching at straws

Clutching at straws

While global economic turmoil continues to undermine air transport, die-hards within the aviation industry are left clutching at straws. Rather than accepting that bankrupt airlines, union disquiet and falling passenger figures are a sign of the times, our old friends at BAA and Flying Matters are getting desperate - and desperate times call for desperate (and underhand) measures.

Firstly we have the news that BAA have been rumbled trying to hijack an online debate by posing as members of the public. The Woodland Trust's blog post about expansion at Stansted had generated a heated response, but repeated postings in favour of the scheme just didn't ring true. The Trust decided to investigate and found that the posts all came from a computer registered to...BAA! Shame on you.

Competition Commission condemns BAA for not expanding enough


Isn't free-market capitalism great? Just when BAA was enjoying a few months of rest, after an annus horribilus which saw protestors against Heathrow's expansion sitting on planes, squatting their car park and prancing about on Parliament, along comes the Competition Commission demanding the airport operator sell two London airports ASAP.

Normally I'd be rolling about laughing, except that I made sure to read the fine print. One of the reasons the Commission wants BAA to split up is... it didn't expand airports fast enough. Apparently BAA should have issued a legal challenge against the cap on Gatwick expanding, as well as been more aggressive at Stansted.

BAA invented super-green-jumbo to make case for third runway

Invented plane

God bless the Sunday Times. After exposing a whole host of nonsense from BAA (including how they tried to influence the Competition Commission's report), they've now discovered that BAA faked one of the central claims of the Government's case for expansion.

BAA were given the now-famous "strict, local environmental limits" by the Government, and told that expansion could not take place if either noise or pollution would breach these limits. When it became obvious that the runway would be way too noisy and polluting, they invented a new type of super-jumbo which was uber-quiet and non-polluting.

The plane was going to be so popular that by 2030 it would account for more flights out of Heathrow than any other 4-engined aircraft (including the Airbus A380 and other jumbos). But neither Airbus nor Boeing have any plans for such a plane; nor do engineers think it's even possible to build one. Even the Government was sceptical, but BAA told them there wasn't time to revise the data... so in it went.

BAA's T5 cock-up loses them £62 million

Lego airport

Call me a softy, but I'm starting to feel sorry for the aviation industry. Last weekend we learnt that one airline a week is going out of business in the US, while oil prices have forced Australian flagship Quantus to ground some of its fleet. Then came the cherry on the cake: BAA, the UK's least popular airport owner, made a loss of £62 million in the first three months of 2008.

Quick to rustle up an excuse, the Heathrow bosses blamed the fiasco at T5, although seeing as this was entirely their fault, is a bit like saying "we're broke because we're crap" - not an excuse, but a reason. Apparently they were so determined to get the opening right that they spent £24 million on security and the like - presumably to keep out the scruffy protesters who flash mobbed them.

Sadly this loss just makes their selling Gatwick or Stansted all the more likely, increasing competition between airports and, as the Competition Commission made clear, increasing the calls for unbridled airport expansion - although if BAA keep losing money like this, they'll have to scale back their plans to bury Sipson under the tarmac...

BAA: brother, can you spare a dime?


Brother, can you spare a dime

As anyone who watches daytime TV will know, debt refinancing is big business. There are millions of companies out there who will loan you money to pay off your existing debts, hiking up the interest rate as they go. Normally it's cash-strapped homeowners with their lives in hock who these loan sharks target, but now it's BAA's turn to suffer as it tries to persuade someone to lend it lots and lots of money.

Financial pundits from investment houses and other rarefied places speculate as to whether the owner of 7 of the UK's airports has any chance of sorting out its debts. Ferrovial took on £10 billion worth of debt to buy BAA last year, and now those money turkeys are coming home to roost. Going cap in hand to its shareholders raised £500 million (far more than Plane Stupid could raise, I assure you!) but even that can't save the ailing company. Now hacks are speculating that if BAA cannot sort its finances out in the next two months, bondholders will be able to take their £3 billion investment back, potentially bankrupting the company.

Amusingly the credit crunch is now being blamed for BAA's problems. Seems there's nothing we can't blame on those irresponsible sub-prime lenders, eh?

Breaking (BAA) up is hard to do


Another day, another blow for BAA. After months of speculation, the Competition Commission has indicated that BAA might have to sell off Gatwick to break up their monopoly over London's airports. While the papers are taking great delight in kicking BAA while it's down, I'm getting worried. Could splitting up the monopoly lead to more airport expansion?

According to the Evening Standard, the Commission condemned "A 'short-term and reactive' approach to airport expansion. Major decisions about infrastructure have 'generally been too late to meet demand'." If that wasn't enough to worry you, try this accusation: "BAA managers have also too easily given commitments not to expand further at an airport and abdicated responsibility to government for strategic planning."

Poisoned chalice: best job in Britain


Poisoned chalice

Here's a poisoned chalice if ever there was one: BAA are looking for a pair of mugs to take on the roles of 'Heads of Corporate Responsibility' at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Quite apart from being utterly lacking in any kind of scruples, prospective candidates will also need to be profoundly stupid – BAA is one of the most hated companies in the whole of Britain, and the job entails becoming the smiling face of this celebrated nadir of corporate public relations.

The advert for the post gives a taste of the sort of unsavoury activities that lie in store for the successful applicant. Opening with the line "At BAA, we believe that it's possible for the aviation industry to grow sustainably" – a view that is fundamentally at odds with the conclusions of the UK's best climate scientists – the advert goes on to explain that "whilst representing BAA at external meetings with the local community… you will be the face of our corporate responsibility affairs, and a source of expertise to all affected parties and stakeholders." 'Expertise' here means spin, gloss and lies; 'affected parties' means victims, like the millions of Londoners about to gain noisy flight paths over their homes and schools; and 'stakeholders' include the 2,000 villagers who will be forcibly evicted to make way for the third runway. These terms are probably not meant to encompass the 160,000 people already dying because of climate change each year, or the nations of Bangladesh and Tuvalu which are soon to disappear forever under the rising sea; but they should.

MOLE HUNT: More Austin Powers than James Bond

Mole hunt - Toby close-up

Since late summer 2007, an employee of a corporate espionage agency has been trying to infiltrate Plane Stupid. Toby Kendall, who works for C2i International, a "special risk management" firm, thought he was undercover in our London group, gathering information on what we're up to. Instead we've been feeding the 'revenge movie' obssesed mole false information, which he's been reporting to the aviation industry for months.

After last year's Camp for Climate Action new activists began turning up to London Plane Stupid meetings. Most were perfectly normal people angry at the expansion of Heathrow airport. But one newbie didn't fit in with the rest - Ken Tobias, an Oxford graduate who claimed to have just got back from China. Something about him just wasn't right.

Check out our mole hunt gallery for more photos.

Exposed: BAA are hardcore eco-nutters

T5 Passenger

Who'd have thunk it? For years we've been fighting BAA, convinced by their public image of being anti-environment and pro-expansion. Then, just as we were settling in for the long term, they betray us all, revealing a serious eco-streak.

For all our antics, Plane Stupid's greatest impact on emissions was grounding a couple of planes at Nottingham East Midlands Airport back in 2006. This pales in comparision to BAA, who have been systematically monkey-wrenching Terminal 5. They're doing an awesome job - so far grounding over two hundred planes and stranding countless thousands of passengers, preventing them jetting about in an irresponsible manner.

Just think of all those emissions being stopped at source! Of course, as Schnews pointed out this week, all these cock-ups will be solved soon enough and the airports and airlines can get on with earning some serious bucks. But screwing up what should have been the biggest pro-expansion love-in casts a shadow over their ability to handle a bigger airport - and for that, we tip our hat. Trebles all round, gents!

Whose consultation is it anyway?

Harriet Harman

Some very odd comments from a government Minister last week. Conservative MP Justine Greening spoke about the extraordinary collusion between the DfT and BAA, and demanded a debate in the House of Commons about the third runway. Harriet Harman replied that "The accusations of collusion are utter nonsense" and that "all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently by BAA".

While it's normal for the inner circle to ignore all the evidence laid before them (seriously, did she even read the Sunday Times article?), her second comment was decidedly strange. Was she suggesting that BAA will take the decision as to whether to expand Heathrow or not? If so, what was the consultation all about? Or did she mean to say all decisions will be taken "independently of BAA", or "independently by the Government"? Or was this just a shocking display of just how right we were when we called Parliament 'BAA HQ'?