Outlook: Should British Airways eject its pilot?

BOB AYLING, chief executive of British Airways, seems to have become a deeply unpopular man. The press hates him, the unions despise him, and the City is at best ambivalent and sometimes outright hostile. After yesterday's dramatic, though not unexpected, plunge in reported annual profits, there were renewed calls for his head - now a seemingly ritual event every time he puts it above the parapet.

This is the man, the charge sheet reads, that brought you those terrible "ethnic" tail fins, that threw away a famous and much loved livery, and that poisoned relations with his workforce, a company's greatest asset in any business but particularly in a service orientated one like air travel.

Worse still, he is busily turning the world's favourite airline into its most unloved one by allowing a quite severe deterioration in quality of service to go unchecked. Meanwhile profits have collapsed while the share price has underperformed the rest of the market by 45 per cent while under his command.

Damning stuff, but is it fair or deserved? Excuses, even when they amount to "circumstances outside our control", are the last thing a business traveller wants to hear when confronted with an obvious failure to deliver, but it is not clear that ejecting the pilot is going to solve anything for British Airways right now. No doubt there is more Mr Ayling could have done - there always is - and there have clearly been mistakes.

But actually, BA is not a company which is in crisis, hard though this statement might seem to reconcile with the tone of much recent press comment. Indeed, that it is not in crisis, given the recession which has engulfed many of its markets and the cut throat competition that has developed in others, has much to do with the strategy and vision pursued by none other than Mr Ayling.

Those that lambast Mr Ayling for poor quality of service and even poorer profits should ask themselves where British Airways would be now without the programme put in train to strip pounds 1bn out of costs by the year 2,000. More than pounds 600m of that target has already been achieved - ergo, if BA had not undertaken this transformation it would not have been reporting a profit at all yesterday, but a loss of pounds 400m.

The equation isn't quite as simple as that, it ought to be added, for at the same time as taking cost out, BA has been adding other costs in an effort to improve its competitive position, but that there would now be a severe financial crisis and that the dividend would be gone is not in doubt.

None of this comes as much comfort to BA's travelling customers. The number of FTSE100 ceo's and top investment bankers who regularly complain, if not in directly to the company then certainly at private lunch and dinner tables, about deteriorating quality of service, ought to put BA on notice of serious problems to come. There's no point in taking the axe to costs if the result is to destroy the customer base, and boy does BA have one that needs to treasured, as gold plated and high powered as they come. Even if things haven't in truth got worse, many seem to think they have. In business, perceptions are often as bad as reality.

However, none of this is justification for thinking Mr Ayling has lost the plot. Indeed, from a commercial stand point, the declared strategy of concentrating on higher margin business travel, setting up a differentiated discount airline, and honing capacity towards these ends, seems hard to fault. Mr Ayling may not survive the siren calls for his resignation. But the fact of the matter is that he is preparing British Airways rather well for the next millennium.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
people'I hated him during those times'
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Furyon London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam