BAA chief launches chaos probe

Airlines to be consulted despite their public calls for airports company to be broken up
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Stephen Nelson, BAA's new chief executive, has pledged to work with airlines as he fights off calls for the airports group to be broken up.

Mr Nelson took over the top job earlier this year after BAA's £10.1bn acquisition by Spanish group Ferrovial. Previously the head of retail at BAA, which owns Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, Mr Nelson has had to deal with a barrage of issues since then.

As well as the alleged plot to blow up planes in mid-air, the company is facing an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading into whether it is a monopoly and should be broken up.

Various airlines, including British Airways, have submitted documents to the OFT backing a break-up. They have also complained about the increased security after the alleged plot was foiled as passengers were forced to queue for hours and flights were either delayed or cancelled.

Yet Mr Nelson said he had already started a review and would be working closely with the airlines despite their very public criticisms.

"I have kicked off a thorough review," he said. "It will have to, and should, involve airlines. We need to see where we can all do a better job.

"We're working through the security crisis. We have clear records, day by day, of what went on. We will be talking to Government and we will have to talk to the airlines as well."

But he hit back at the airlines calling for the company's break-up. "What they are asking for is the 'have it both ways' approach. They want regulation on price and [for BAA] to be broken up. In that environment, we believe, with regulated prices screwed down, the consumers are not going to get the investment they need."

Mr Nelson also pointed to the investment BAA was making, including the £4.2bn construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, which is due to open in March 2008.

And he defended the way BAA handled the increased security. The group had to work under government mandates, he said. "The security queuing was not pretty and I'm not saying that was a great result for consumers." But the problems at check-in, which is run by the airlines, has been as bad or worse, he said. "The facts have been skewed."

Mike Toms, the planning and regulatory affairs director at BAA, said the group was looking to recruit "several hundred" more security staff but warned that the process would be a lengthy one.