British Airways chief Willie Walsh blasts UK aviation policy

Launching a salvo against David Cameron and George Osborne, British Airways boss Willie Walsh said they lacked vision on the economy and only responded to whatever was topical.

Walsh accused the prime minister and his chancellor of giving the impression that the lucrative Chinese tourism market was not welcome in the UK.

Walsh who is chief executive of International Airline Group, which owns both British Airways and Spain's Iberia, had earlier slammed the government's aviation policy but chose to go a step further yesterday.

At the opening of BA's new route to Chengdu in south central China, he said in China, the UK's visa issue remained a major problem, adding not being in the Schengen (shared Europe visa scheme) meant higher costs and bureaucracy for Chinese visitors.

Traffic at Chengdu airport had expanded from 5.5 million annual passengers in 2000 to 32 million last year, and according to Walsh, government policies were hampering the UK's chance to capitalise on that growth.

He added the London-to-Chengdu route could have been launched a year ago without the visa obstacles.

He said there as a  perception in China that the UK did not want to see Chinese tourists and businesses.

As  result, he aded, the Chinese tour operators bypassed the UK on European tours because of the bureaucracy, as it was just too much of a nuisance for them to apply for two visas.

He added, other countries were more welcoming, even while the UK needed more Mandarin speakers, not just at airports, but at major tourist attractions.

Some 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited European destinations using the Schengen visa last year, compared with fewer than 200,000 flying to the UK.