BA's Walker quits after summer chaos

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The Independent Online

One of British Airways' most senior operations directors has quit following the fiasco at Heathrow airport in August which left thousands of passengers stranded.

One of British Airways' most senior operations directors has quit following the fiasco at Heathrow airport in August which left thousands of passengers stranded.

Mervyn Walker, who joined the airline in 1986, resignedas UK airports director 11 days ago. BA said the decision was voluntary and not related to the summer staffing crisis.

In a memo to staff announcing his departure on 2 December, Mike Street, the director of customer service and operations, said: "Mervyn has been an important executive in BA for the past 18 years... He concluded several months ago that the time was right for him to move on from his current role and pursue other career options."

Industry insiders have said Mr Walker's resignation was linked directly to the crisis at Heathrow on 23 August when a combination of shortages of check-in staff, bad weather, two emergency landings and problems with a new computer system forced BA to cancel 30 flights, leaving 8,000 passengers stranded.

Initially it was thought that Mr Street would be forced out when Rod Eddington, BA's chief executive, launched an inquiry into what went wrong. However, in an interview with The Independent on Sunday in September, Mr Eddington revealed that union officials had convinced him to keep Mr Street on, pointing out that he had played an important role in getting a three-year pay deal for check-in staff. Mr Eddington said then that he did not believe in "publicly executing loyal people who've made an honest mistake".

Following the fiasco, the airline said it would hire an extra 200 customer service staff and cut almost 1,000 flights from its winter schedule to give itself some "leeway", as Mr Eddington put it.

Mr Walker's position may also have been undermined by a series of wildcat strikes in 2003. BA and its three main unions have been at loggerheads for years, fighting over pay, redundancies, pensions and working conditions.

BA said that David Noyes, the airline's head of UK and Ireland sales and marketing, would take control of its operations at Heathrow. He will focus on ensuring that the business is prepared for the move to its new Terminal 5. Beverley Bennett will become the head of UK regional and international customer service, taking responsibility for the management of Gatwick and other UK airports.

Mr Walker will remain as chairman of the trustees of the BA pension schemes until the end of March.

Last month BA warned that it faced a tough winter, forecasting intense price competition over the next few months, particularly in the short-haul market. As is the case with the rest of the industry, the airline has also been hit by the rising cost of fuel.

The shares closed down 1p at 224p on Friday.

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