Embattled airline British Airways has suffered another setback to its business plans, after posting an annual loss of £531m – the biggest profit slump in its 36-year history. Current boss Willie Walsh insinuated that BA needs ‘permanent change across the company’ if the flag-carrier is to return to profit.
The Court of Appeals has also overturned a ban on fresh strikes by BA’s cabin crew team, guaranteeing up to 15 days of disruption throughout May and June. The airline lost £43m in March, as 12,000 members of the Unite union voted in favour of industrial action. BA could now face cancellations throughout the summer, including during the 2010 World Cup.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Willie Walsh, but his mulish attitude has not helped diffuse the row with Unite, regardless of how many politicians wade into the melee. The recent £531m profit dive, which was announced on May 21, was immediately blamed on the union, an odd move given the scale of disruption caused by Eyjafjoll’s smog.
Derek Simpson, joint chief at Unite, urged BA to stop acting ‘macho’ and ‘silly’, whilst a BBC newsreader insinuated that there was too much ‘bad blood’ between BA and Unite for there ever to be an amicable conclusion. BA’s resilience is admirable, but ultimately self-defeating, and a deal with Unite will have to be brokered soon if Willie Walsh wants to prevent further damage to the airline.
With a strike pencilled in for Monday, BA has begun arranging its contingency plans. The carrier plans to sacrifice Heathrow Airport to spare Gatwick and London City from cancellations, but the airline’s debt could still balloon by the end of June, regardless of how well BA prepares its hubs for another Unite siege.