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Heathrow chief welcomes Britain's focus on business in Brexit talks

LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - The boss of London's Heathrow welcomed the government's recent emphasis on protecting business in Brexit talks, as Europe's biggest airport reported record passenger numbers on Thursday.

Heathrow is Britain's biggest trade port, handling a quarter of its goods exports by value, and John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport Holdings, said on Thursday Britain needs to rebalance its economy to other parts of the UK and boost exports if it is to prosper outside the EU.

"I'm encouraged by the language the government's been using, increasingly focusing on the needs of business," he told Reuters after the company reported first half results.

Prime Minister Theresa May has recently moved to ease concerns over Brexit among British businesses, meeting industry chiefs last week and signaling she wanted a "smooth, orderly exit" from the EU including "a period of implementation in order to avoid any cliff-edges."

"We welcome what we're hearing from government about growing the economy faster than before, and making sure Britain keeps its position as a leading trading nation. That's exactly the right sort of thing to be doing," Holland-Kaye said.

Heathrow said it drew a record 37.1 million passengers in the first half of this year, up 3.9 percent on a year ago. That helped push its revenues up 4.1 percent to 1.4 billion pounds ($1.8 billion) while underlying earnings rose nearly 7 percent.

The UK sees Heathrow as a vital element of the country's post-Brexit future, and has pledged to expand the airport.

Holland-Kaye said the Brexit vote had focused minds on a new runway at Heathrow, which was announced last October after 25 years of indecision.

"There's a growing sense that it's really essential in a Brexit world that we get on and make Britain as competitive as we can make it, and Heathrow as the trading hub is key to that," he said.

Heathrow sought to reassure that it can keep costs down as it expands.

The airport operator said it was making good progress towards meeting the government's challenge to deliver expansion while keeping airport charges close to where they are.

Holland-Kaye said that costs would be kept down by simplifying the terminal structure, through a possible expansion of terminals 2 and 5, rather than by seeking a shorter runway.

"We want to be able to have a full length runway which will allow any plane to land and take off," he said. "That means that we can protect the long-term future of the UK economy."

($1 = 0.7607 pounds) (Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Susan Fenton)