Two BA bosses pay price for T5 chaosAnd BA chief admits company got things wrong

16 April 2008

British Airways logo

Two top British Airways (BA) executives have paid the price for the Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) fiasco.

BA said that 'following the airline's move to T5', operations director Gareth Kirkwood and customer services director David Noyes 'will be leaving the company'.

The start of BA flights from the new £4.3 billion T5 on March 27 led to travel chaos, with dozens of flights cancelled and thousands of bags going astray.

Delays and cancellations

BA said it was looking to appoint a chief operations officer to combine the roles of the two executives who were leaving.

It was not until last week that BA was able to run a full service from T5 which had been officially opened - amid much optimism from BA and Heathrow operator BAA - on March 14.

In the days that followed the catastrophic first day of flights at T5, passengers suffered luggage-belt problems, flight delays and cancellations and days-long waits to be reunited with their bags.

Move to T5

Last week, BA announced that it was postponing its planned move to T5 of almost its entire Heathrow long-haul operation from April 30 to some time in June.

Recently, BA chief executive Willie Walsh said that it was possible that the complete move might not be done until October.

During the T5 opening day, BBC viewers saw an exasperated BA press officer shutting the door to a staff rest room in the face of pursuing journalists after a media briefing in which Mr Kirkwood refused to take questions.

Baggage

Mr Noyes had appeared with other BA and BAA bosses at an up-beat media conference ahead of the March 27 T5 opening in which he had said that the new terminal was going to be 'a fantastic facility'.

He said those queueing at check-in would not expect to have more than one person in front of them and that the sophisticated new baggage system would mean BA would 'really improve its baggage performance'.

When asked at that pre-opening press conference whether too rosy a picture of the new terminal was being painted, Mr Noyes retreated slightly by saying there would be a 'bedding down period' for T5.

But he added: 'We are confident that this building is operationally ready.'

Blame

The departure of the two BA chiefs follows comments from Mr Walsh that he accepted responsibility for the T5 problems.

Last week, when announcing the April 30 long-haul move delay, Mr Walsh said: 'I accept responsibility for the issues we encountered, particularly on the first day.'

He added: 'There is little value or merit in trying to apportion blame. It is clear that we got things wrong and we acknowledge that, and there were mistakes on BAA's part and they acknowledge that.'

Fuel surcharges

Asked about any financial package for the two executives, a BA spokesman said: 'They will be leaving in accordance with the terms of their contracts.'

Mr Kirkwood was one of ten current or former BA employees named last August by the US Department of Justice in connection with price fixing of fuel surcharges.

BA was fined £121.5 million by the UK's Office of Fair Trading over the price fixing and was also fined about £150 million by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

BA staff

Mr Kirkwood's name and also the names of the other nine BA staff were in a legal document filed at a federal court in Washington.

The document said the ten would not receive immunity to prosecution which had been offered to all other BA directors, officers and employees.

However, BA and lawyers stressed that this did not mean that the ten were guilty of a criminal offence or that they had participated in any criminal conduct.

The ten, who include former BA commercial director Martin George and former head of communications Iain Burns, face the possibility of extradition to the USA.

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