Heathrow lines up Whitehall green champion to head up airport
A Whitehall sustainability champion is an early frontrunner to take over as chief executive Heathrow as the airport braces for a revival of opposition from activists to its proposed third runway.
Emma Gilthorpe, chief executive of the Jet Zero Council and currently Heathrow’s operating chief, is one of the favourites to take over from John Holland-Kaye, the Telegraph has learnt.
The Government’s Jet Zero Council is a core plank of the UK’s 2050 net zero target. It was launched last year to “keep passengers flying in a decarbonised world”.
Although aviation is typically responsible for 2pc to 3pc of harmful emissions, this percentage is expected to rise significantly because the sector is harder to decarbonise compared with others.
The Jet Zero Council is chaired by Grant Shapps and Mark Harper, the Business Secretary and Transport Secretary respectively.
Executives from Shell, BP, Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Airbus also sit on the council alongside the chief executives of British Airways and easyJet.
Mr Holland-Kaye announced on Thursday that he would step down as Heathrow chief executive after nine years running Britain’s busiest airport.
Plans to build a £14bn third runway have been put on ice after a legal challenge by green campaigners initially appeared to overturn parliament’s support for the scheme in 2018.
The Supreme Court ultimately sided with Heathrow, but the airport must first redraw its plans. The pandemic has also significantly affected expansion progress as the airport lost £4bn during the Covid crisis.
Mr Holland-Kaye said on Tuesday that Heathrow would unveil next steps for the third runway “later this year”. The prospect of a Labour government could also complicate the airport’s expansion plans. Mike Kane, shadow aviation minister, refused to say whether a Labour government would support a third runway.
Ms Gilthorpe is expected to face competition from Heathrow's finance chief Javier Echave as the airport seeks to cut costs and return to profitability after losing £4bn during the pandemic.
Mr Echave sparked fury among airlines when he threatened to sue the Civil Aviation Authority if they refused to allow the airport to increase landing fees.
Commercial chief Ross Baker is also expected to throw his hat into the ring.
Headhunters from Korn Ferry are understood to have been hired to find Mr Holland-Kaye’s replacement, and sources said that the airport could yet look for an external candidate instead.
City sources linked Stewart Wingate, Gatwick's chief executive, with a move to Heathrow.
But the airport could instead opt for an overseas candidate that can better manage Heathrow's predominantly foreign shareholders and draw a line under a frosty relationship with airlines.
The airport’s decision to cap passenger numbers to 100,000-a-day last summer sparked revolt among carriers, who blamed Heathrow for failing to hire enough staff.
Airlines had also railed at Heathrow’s demands to increase landing charges from £22-per-passenger prior to the pandemic to more than £40. Although regulators have pushed back on the proposals, the airport has been able to increase the fees to £31.57.
A spokesman for Heathrow said: “The Board has commenced a process to find a successor for John.
“We have developed some excellent internal candidates and we also expect such an incredible job to attract interest from around the world. John will remain in post until the new CEO arrives, making sure Heathrow is ready for the summer and that we successfully deliver the next phase of our transformation for passengers.”