BA loses award of quality standard

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British Airways has suffered an embarrassing and potentially costly blow after the British Standards Institute withdrew the quality accreditation for its Heathrow cargo business, writes Michael Harrison.

The move followed a two-day audit by BSI inspectors which brought to light a series of weaknesses in management and control systems at the airport.

The inspectors are understood to have discovered that goods were being mislocated or incorrectly documented and that BA, headed by Robert Ayling, was failing to put corrective measures in place following customer complaints.

BA's total cargo business is worth pounds 518m a year and in 1995 it handled 666,000 tonnes of freight, making it by far the biggest haulier of freight by air in the UK.

A spokeswoman for the BSI confirmed that the accreditation - known as ISO 9002 - had been withdrawn from BA but would not comment specifically on the case.

However, she added: "There would have had to be some major non-conformities in BA's procedure for us to have taken this action. It is not good for business because it shows that the company is not adhering to high levels of quality."

A BA spokesman told the specialist trade magazine International Freighting Weekly that it intended to regain the ISO standard within six months.

"We are taking our business through a significant change programme and we are experiencing similar problems to other major organisations which have undertaken this level of process re-engineering," the spokesman added.

"This, coupled with the high volume of cargo we are handling through an outdated facility has obviously had an impact on our performance."