Blame BAA for T5, says Walsh

Willie Walsh clearly has a broad definition of 'personal responsibility'. Now he's blaming BAA for T5.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

BA chief executive Willie Walsh told a House of Commons Transport Select Committee yesterday that the disastrous launch of Heathrow’s Terminal Five was a direct result of BAA’s failure to finish building work on time – meaning that his staff weren’t properly trained ahead of the opening. Apparently only about four-fifths of his staff had completed ‘familiarisation’ courses, so when things started to go pear-shaped, they struggled to react. 
Of course this rather begs the question: why wasn’t the opening delayed until his people could at least find their way to the staff toilets? Walsh admitted that this should have happened, but said that BA decided instead to start running short-haul flights – even though it knew various bits weren’t working properly. ‘We believed that, while there were known risks, the opening would be successful,’ said Walsh. So much for that theory...
Now we can well believe that the T5 debacle was somehow BAA’s fault – after all, the hapless airport operator has a pretty solid track record of cocking things up over the last couple of years. But we’re sure we remember Walsh saying that he would take full personal responsibility for the failures of the terminal opening. Since then he’s sacked his two key lieutenants, and now blamed the whole thing on BAA. Perhaps he meant that he’s going to take personal responsibility for apportioning blame?
On the other hand, it’s hard to muster much sympathy for BAA – particularly after CEO Colin Matthews’ lamentable performance before the committee yesterday. He told the committee that he was ‘not aware’ of any problems with T5 prior to the opening – despite the fact that no fewer than 28 of the lifts were broken (17 of which are still not fixed even now) and there were serious software problems with the ‘state of the art’ baggage-handling system (which lost 23,000 bags - we’d hate to see a rubbish one). If this is true, then it’s a fairly damning indictment of the man who was ultimately responsible for all the building work. No wonder the MPs accused him of being ‘complacent’.
Matthews then further infuriated the committee by admitting that he’d cancelled an internal review in order to concentrate on solving the myriad problems – so he couldn’t really answer most of their detailed probing. Not surprisingly, the MPs weren’t impressed, suggesting he was concealing information from them. He denied this, of course – but we can’t help feeling that his chances of preventing a BAA break-up have just taken a distinct turn for the worse...

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