Can A New CEO Kickstart British Airways?

British Airwayshas become a political football, as rose-tinted nostalgia for a flagship brand often distorts the realities of aviation today and in the future.

Sean Doyle, CEO of the Irish airline Aer Lingus, took over as CEO of British Airways last month after Alex Cruz announced he was stepping down.

It was an inside rather than an outside pick, however; both British Airways and Aer Lingus are owned by the Anglo-Spanish multinational airline holding company, International Consolidated Airlines (IAG). And while Doyle had only been at Aer Lingus since January 2019, John Strickland air transport consultant and founder of JLS Consulting, suggests that this, along with his previous history at British Airways, will stand him in good stead.

“Sean has 20-years’ experience in key senior commercial roles in BA and has now gained hands-on experience of running an airline at Aer Lingus,” Strickland say, “so he is returning to the company he is very familiar with.”

British Airways is not the same company Doyle left two years ago, however, when he was director of network, fleet and alliances. Since then, the former UK national carrier has suffered customer data breaches, IT glitches, a pilot strike and growing cabin crew dissatisfaction. The coronavirus pandemic has left it operating around a fourth of its normal schedule, with two of its biggest markets—transatlantic flights and the premium segment—particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis.

With Brexit looming large, moreover, British Airways has become a political football, as rose-tinted nostalgia for a flagship brand often distorts the realities of aviation today and in the future.

Strickland does not anticipate a change in strategy from Doyle’s predecessor, however. “Much work is already underway to reshape British Airways for very different future market conditions,” the consultant says. “I would expect Doyle to continue this; I don’t expect BA to go back in a different direction.”

Financial results pre-Covid suggested British Airways’ strategy has a good chance to succeed. The new chair “will need to invest time in convincing employees of the necessity of the recent tough actions whilst endeavoring to reassure them about their future: something which is difficult to do given the enormous uncertainty being faced by all airlines.”