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British Airways CEO view on the future of aviation

And that was very tough, and it was very tough on our people, but if we didn’t sort of right size the business last summer, we would be facing into a much tougher situation than we’re in today. And look, we’re by no means out of the woods yet, we still have a choppy path to recovery, but I think right sizing your business, acknowledging that the next three to four years are going to be very different to the last three to four years, and buffering the balance sheet through every lever that you have, I think has been successfully achieved.

I wouldn’t really comment on what’s happening in Europe. I fundamentally believe that airlines are better run when they’re run as businesses, and we’ve demonstrated that through airlines that were historically state carriers. And when they’ve been, number on, privatized, and number two, worked in a group such as IAG, I think their fortunes and the fortunes of the airlines in terms of growth prospered, and I still fundamentally believe that. I that, when we do see the dust settle on this crisis, the ability to run your airline like a business will be as compelling as it’s ever been.

Peter:

So, by implication you’re saying that because you had to strain harder, you had to work on your own two feet, you’re probably better off coming out of this than, say, the Air France, KLM group, or Lufthansa group?

Sean Doyle:

I think I wouldn’t necessarily speculate on that, where they’re heading to. I think we all have new challenges; we’ve never seen anything like this. Before this, we had 9/11, which was kind of not as dramatic, your demand shock. We had the global financial crisis, but we’ve never seen situations where, over a summer, airlines have operated at 5% of their capacity, so it’s a unique situation. And how we come out of it and what the impact is to the industry has yet to be clear and yet to play out. I fundamentally believe that we as a group move quickly, and we’re all the better for it, and I think we’re right sized heading into the future. With a business switch, I think we’ll be better when we come out the other end of the pandemic, and we’ll have to be because it’s going to be pretty competitive out there.

Peter:

Yeah. I think the words leaner and meaner have been associated with the way British Airways is going to look, coming out of this. You don’t look particularly lean or mean at the moment, but obviously, as you say, cost and efficiency is going to be very important in the next couple of years at least.

Sean Doyle:

Yes, and I also think that we’ve taken the opportunity to be more sustainable because we have retired some of our more older aircraft in the form of 31 747s, and we’re now flying around 787s and A350s, which are up to 40% more fuel efficient. So, I think being sustainable is going to be a key dimension of an airline’s right to operate in the future.

Peter:

Just going off at a tangent on that, as you mention it, Sean, I was talking to Alan Joyce earlier today about the 380s, and I gather you’re going to be bringing those back in at some stage. Alan was fairly cagey about when Qantas is likely to do it because obviously it depends on when the big fat routes come back, but that is an aircraft that is in your weaponry as we go ahead still?

Sean Doyle:

Yes, it is, and I think it works very well for British Airways. Because of the sheer volume of aircraft that we have retired, I think we do have a place for the A380 and it’s in our plans, and I think we can fly it to many destinations. We flew it to places like Hong Kong and Johannesburg, but it also worked fairly well into markets like Boston and Dallas, so even in the east coast of the US and to places like Miami, we found that the A380 worked very well. So it’s got multiple purposes in terms of mission capability for British Airways, and that’s why it is retained in the fleet.

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About the author

Linda Hohnholz, eTN editor

Linda Hohnholz has been writing and editing articles since the start of her working career. She has applied this innate passion to such places as Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University, the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center, and now TravelNewsGroup.