Airtours 'pinches' pounds 60m

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The Independent Online
AFTER an embarrassing software bug caused it to take an extra pounds 60m from travel agents' accounts, Airtours, the holiday company, last week called in computer services giant EDS to manage its systems.

Airtours officials said they realised immediately that an updated version of the company's direct debit program had filched three times as much money as it was supposed to take from agents' bank accounts two weeks ago.

Attempts to return the money the next day, a Friday, failed because the banks were unable to reverse the transaction. Repayments were eventually made the following Monday.

Airtours has promised some 3,000 agents, mostly independents, that it will compensate them for lost interest, estimated to be worth close to pounds 80,000.

"We're pretty upset," said financial controller Tim Byrne. "It's hugely embarrassing, but one has to pay for one's mistakes."

An investigation has identified the people involved in writing and checking the program. Unspecified "appropriate" action has been taken.

The company said that even before the fiasco it was planning to contract out its information technology section, and denied that it rushed into the 10-year EDS deal, which is estimated to be worth up to pounds 10m a year.

Mr Byrne said that, except for a few key executives, all the computing staff from Airtours had been transferred to EDS, which suggests there were no sackings following the program glitch.

Airtours' interim results, announced on Wednesday, showed its off- season pre-tax loss falling to pounds 31.2m from pounds 34.9m in the same period of 1995.