BA executives pay price for Terminal 5 fiasco

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The Independent Online

Two British Airways executives were today forced to carry the can for the shambolic Heathrow Terminal 5 (T5) opening.

BA announced that operations director Gareth Kirkwood and customer services director David Noyes would be "leaving the company" and that their departures "follow the airline's move to Terminal 5".

The announcement comes just a few days after BA chief executive Willie Walsh said he accepted responsibility for the T5 problems and that there was "little value or merit in trying to apportion blame".

T5 opened for business on March 27 and BA and its passengers endured a nightmare start at the £4.3 billion facility.

With the sophisticated baggage system failing, dozens of flights were cancelled, thousands of bags were mislaid and huge queues built up at check-in desks.

It was not until last week that BA was able to run a full service at T5 and a planned April 30 transfer to the terminal of nearly all BA's long-haul Heathrow flights has been postponed to some time in June.

No precise date for the departure of Mr Noyes and Mr Kirkwood has been given. Neither was at work today. It is understood that the two will not receive any special financial package over and above their contractual entitlement.

BA said it was looking to appoint a chief operations officer to combine the roles of the two executives who are leaving.

Mr Noyes, who joined BA in 1985, had been involved with T5 work for about three years. Father-of-two Mr Kirkwood's involvement with T5 goes back to October 2006 and he joined BA in 1986.

At an upbeat media conference given by BA and Heathrow operator BAA before last month's T5 opening, Mr Noyes had said that the new terminal was going to be "a fantastic facility".

He said those queueing at check-in would not expect to have more than one person in front of them and that the sophisticated new baggage system would mean BA would "really improve its baggage performance".

When asked at that pre-opening press conference whether too rosy a picture of the new terminal was being painted, Mr Noyes retreated slightly by saying there would be a "bedding down period" for T5.

But he added: "We are confident that this building is operationally ready."

During the T5 opening day, BBC viewers saw an exasperated BA press officer shutting the door to a staff rest room in the face of pursuing journalists after a media briefing in which Mr Kirkwood refused to take questions.

Mr Kirkwood was one of 10 current or former BA employees named last August by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) in connection with price fixing of fuel surcharges.

BA was fined £121.5 million by the UK's Office of Fair Trading over the price fixing and was also fined about £150 million by the DoJ.

Mr Kirkwood's name and also the names of the other nine BA staff were in a legal document filed at a federal court in Washington.

The document said the 10 would not receive immunity to prosecution which had been offered to all other BA directors, officers and employees.

However, BA and lawyers stressed that this did not mean that the 10 were guilty of a criminal offence or that they had participated in any criminal conduct.

BA has said that the T5 fiasco is likely to cost the airline £16 million.

Announcing the long-haul move delay last week, Mr Walsh said he would not have been happy to move BA's short-haul operation into T5 if he had not been confident that T5 would be a success.

Although two of his senior staff have paid the price for the T5 debacle, Mr Walsh's position will continue to be subject of intense speculation.