Marshall files new flight plan for BA

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SIR COLIN MARSHALL yesterday sought to chart a new course for British Airways on his first day as the airline's new executive chairman.

Speaking hours after taking over from Lord King, Sir Colin said he believed that yesterday's boardroom changes would have a 'stabilising effect' on BA after the traumas of the dirty tricks saga. 'I hope it will provide an uplift,' he added.

But Sir Colin, 59, who joined BA in 1983 as chief executive, also used the occasion to deliver a veiled warning about BA's current trading position.

Sir Colin said that there had been a perceptible slowdown in demand and that BA needed to build up traffic levels before the spring when it brings new capacity on stream for the summer season.

Nevertheless the City responded positively to boardroom changes, which also see Robert Ayling promoted from marketing and operations director to the new post of group managing director. BA shares closed 8p higher at 296p.

In an unusual development, Sir Colin and Mr Ayling will divide up responsibility for running the airline. Sir Colin will look after corporate strategy, finance, legal and company secretary affairs, safety, security, public relations, the environment, health and medical matters.

Mr Ayling will be in charge of his previous portfolio, marketing and operations, together with engineering, flight crews, information services and human resources.

At the same time Sir Michael Angus, president of the Confederation of British Industry, and BA's leading non-executive director, will devote more time to his role as the airline's deputy chairman, putting in up to two days a week.

BA also intends to strengthen the board further by appointing two new non-executive directors, both of whom are likely to be UK- based.

Although the management changes are partly designed to put the Virgin Atlantic affair behind BA, the airline may not yet be out of the woods.

Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, may yet launch an anti-trust case against BA in the United States over the dirty tricks campaign.

Mr Branson yesterday wished Lord King well in his retirement but said he was unable to comment on talks between the two airlines over Virgin's request for compensation from BA for the 'serious commercial damage' done to it.

Rival US airlines are also citing the dirty tricks episode as one reason why BA should not be allowed to keep its 20 per cent stake in USAir, for which BA paid dollars 300m last month. Yesterday United Airlines, America's second-largest carrier, renewed its attack on the deal, saying that BA's planned code-sharing deal with USAir would give it rights that the US government should not grant as a matter of sound trade policy.

(Photograph omitted)