Howard Wheeldon: An airline with a future, but only if it ends this industrial dispute

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The Independent Online

Just because the full-year loss at British Airways was 12 per cent lower than many had expected doesn't make it easier to swallow. As to the faint hope that break-even might be a possibility some time soon, I will let that idea pass.

While I do believe that BA's management are doing all the right things, the reality is that despite the odd success we are little further forward sorting out industrial relations problems today than a year or 20 years ago.

To look beyond the current dispute is not a goer yet. But BA does have oodles of potential. It is a generally very well run airline. The plan for Iberia and American Airlines could well work for all three. I also believe that if BA dropped its all things to all men approach, selling its domestic and European short-haul interests, it could be the fantastic international airline that it was originally designed to be.

BA has all sorts of plans in terms of fleet modernisation that will help to bring this stubborn child into the 21st century. It has sufficient cash too, so forget the idea that Unite could bring BA to its knees.

All that said, unless BA's industrial relations problems are sorted out once and for all, looking beyond the next 18 months is futile.

And while it is true that due to the increased level of cost reduction, BA's results were not as bad as some of us had anticipated, the underlying forward story for BA goes from bad to worse.

The planned 15-day strike starting next week looks unlikely to be called off. Then there is the likely £100m negative impact from the fallout of Iceland's volcano. Even before the second month of BA's new financial year is over we will need to build in a £300m loss. Nothing else must get in the way of solving this industrial action.

Howard Wheeldon is a senior strategist at BGC Partners.