BA's legal bill set to rise

The cost of BA's price fixing activities may be about to get substantially bigger.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A class action has been launched by US cargo importers. Previously attention had been focused on passengers who lost out as a result of collusion between BA and Virgin Atlantic over fuel price surcharges, but this action potentially opens up a whole new world of pain for BA. It’s being brought by two out of pocket importers Emerald Supplies and Southern Glass House Producers, which claim that the same fiddled fuel charges which put seat prices up cost them an arm and a leg in increased shipping charges, too.

If successful, the action could mean that the £350m put aside by BA – whose chief exec Willie Walsh has admitted the firm’s guilt, whilst maintaining that he personally knew nothing about it – is not enough to cover the bill, a costly embarrassment. But Walsh’s real frustration is likely to be less over the cost and more because of the distraction it could cause at a time when the business really needs to be focused on operational challenges.

If London mayor Boris Johnson gets his way, one of those ‘operational challenges’ will be the prospect of BA having to up sticks from Heathrow to a brand new island airport out in the Thames estuary. A logistical challenge which would make opening T5 look like snipping the ribbon on a new duty free store by comparison, to say nothing of the cost.

None of the major airlines can raise much enthusiasm for the scheme, despite the obvious benefits to all but the few benighted locals of covering the isle of Sheppey’s miles of gruesome caravan parks in spiffy new concrete. And it has been done before - Hong Kong’s airport was moved from its old city home to the artificial island of Chek Lap Kok a decade or so ago. But even Virgin Atlantic – whose beardy boss normally never misses a chance to welcome bad news for BA – is decidedly lukewarm on the idea.

But there are some advantages to the wheeze, mooted by Boris’ deputy Kit Malthouse, an aviation veteran who failed in 2004 to get his own budget airline, Cambridge-based Hop, off the ground. Multiple runways would be much easier to accommodate stuck out in the river and aircraft would approach and depart over the sea rather than residential areas, making things both quieter and safer. And presumably any airline execs caught trying to fix the price of so much as a cup of coffee could simply be made to walk the plank…

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