Pressure grows for King to step down

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The Independent Online
LORD KING is expected to come under renewed pressure this week to quit early as chairman of British Airways amid continuing controversy over the airline's 'dirty tricks' campaign against its rival, Virgin Atlantic.

Lord King is due to step down as BA's chief in June, but some of the airline's institutional shareholders are understood to be pressing for his earlier departure to end the turmoil at the group.

BA is due to hold a full board meeting on Friday to discuss the succession. According to reports at the weekend, Lord King, who last week won an industry award for an 'outstanding contribution to aviation', may agree to quit sooner than planned to become BA's president.

The move could leave the way clear for Sir Colin Marshall, the chief executive, to become BA's chairman.

As part of the shake-up, Robert Ayling, BA's marketing director, is expected to be moved up to managing director.

However, BA's board is believed to be split over who should replace the man who masterminded BA's turnaround from near-insolvency to one of the world's most profitable carriers.

Sir Michael Angus, a leading City figure and a non-executive director of BA, is regarded by some as a strong contender for the chairman's post.

BA's institutional investors are also understood to be in favour of strengthening BA's board with further non-executive appointments.

A spokeswoman for the company said it was policy not to comment on market speculation.

Meanwhile, Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic's owner, who received pounds 610,000 libel damages and an apology from BA last month, is set to double the airline's fleet to 16 with a pounds 1bn expansion programme.

The orders, first disclosed by the Independent last week, are to be placed with Airbus Industrie and Boeing in preparation for the airline's launch of new routes.

Virgin plans to use some of the new aircraft on the London to San Francisco run, for which it holds a licence but no take-off and landing slots at Heathrow.

Other routes for which it holds licences but no slots include Johannesburg, Chicago, Sydney and Singapore.

However, Mr Branson is demanding some new slots as part of the concession he hopes to wring from British Airways.

The two sides are holding talks. Mr Branson has hinted that he may take legal action against BA in US courts and through the European Commission if the talks fail.

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