Bare Protectionism?

Heathrow, London’s (and Britain’s) main airport, has been a disgrace for as long as I’ve been around, and I first used it as a child back in the early 1970s. Terminal 5 is just the latest episode, and frankly I have to admit to a certain degree of schadenfreude about it: people who would fly for a journey like London to Edinburgh or Paris deserve what’s coming to them. But I digress.

That situation could justify changes in the management of the airports, which since privatisation in the 1980s has been in the hands of BAA. And indeed, there are suggestions flying around (pardon the pun) that the regulators may split up BAA, and force them to sell some airports. Maybe more competition would indeed be an improvement.

But right now, a change in management has only just happened! BAA has been taken over, and is under new management, who have scarcely had time to get their feet under the table. They might be embarking on a programme of doing everything right! So why the talk of splitting it up just now rather than, say, a year ago, or ten years ago? Or in a year or two’s time, if things don’t improve.

Could it have anything to do with the fact that the new owners are Spanish, and someone doesn’t like foreigners in control of such high-profile “national” assets? If we don’t want to accept a foreign owner, we shouldn’t have privatised it in the first place!

Meanwhile, I shall personally continue to do my best to avoid both Heathrow in particular and air travel in general.

Posted on April 22, 2008, in rants, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. No, I don’t think it’s anything to do with foreign ownership. This was always going to happen once BAA attracted attention to itself. They’ve just been fairly good at combining quiet operation with keeping their customers (the airlines) “happy enough”. Heathrow Terminal 5 was just the way they attracted attention *and* managed to annoy many of their customers like bmi (who have been told they can’t have the capacity which would have been freed up if BA moved to T5 on time) so they’d help the investigation.

    I agree about trying to avoid flying in general and Heathrow in particular. I think I last used it in 1997 but my memory is poor.

  2. The UK has a rather better record than many of its European neighbours when it comes to allowing foreign ownership of strategic assets and industries. For example, most of the UK’s power industry is owned by the French (state owned EDF) and Germans, whilst French and Spanish companies hold major public sector contracts in areas such as waste disposal and recycling. Our largest railfreight company, EWS, has just moved from Canadian to German (state owned DB) ownership. The entire volume car making industry in the UK is foreign owned (Japanese, German, Indian, US and French).

    Contrast this with the recent unsuccessful attempt by Air France to take over the failing Alitalia business – now that was all about protectionism.

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