BA board to demand IT chaos inquiry

Passengers stranded at airport Image copyright Getty Images

The inquisition has begun.

What happened, why, and who was to blame for a catastrophic failure, that caused misery for tens of thousands of passengers, may cost British Airways over a hundred million pounds and tarnished the image of Britain's aviation flag carrier?

There are LOTS of questions to answer.

Company sources tell me the first question is: whose responsibility was the integrity of mission-critical IT systems?

That sounds like a no brainer - it's BA right? Not necessarily.

BA is part of a wider group called International Airlines Group (IAG) which includes Iberia, Vueling and a new cheap transatlantic service, Level. Part of the rationale for that kind of structure is to consolidate some functions at group level - that includes IT. The blame for this failure may fall at the door of Willie Walsh, former boss of BA and now chief executive of IAG.

Second, I'm told that contingency plans for system failure - well, failed.

The procedure for rebooting the systems is not quite "switch it off and switch it on again". Stuff needs to be done in a certain order, and that didn't happen.

Senior company sources acknowledged this was a "big miss" and I've learned that senior figures will be pushing for an inquiry - by professional outside experts - as to why it didn't work.

Then there was the response. A very senior figure told me: "It would be impossible to pretend that it was great. We need to figure out how, and why, decisions on how to deal with it were taken."

Cost-cutting: virtue or vice?

Having said that, other sources were quick to back Willie Walsh - pointing out that IAG is five times more profitable than the similarly-sized Air France KLM.

When I suggested that many people will think that is part of the prosecution rather than part of the defence, the insider changed tack: "What happened could have happened to any company - it was a local, rather than systemic, problem and it was definitely not a consequence of underinvestment or cost-cutting."

That judgement may not be for BA or IAG to make.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Willie Walsh may not be off the hook

I'm told that the board is likely to push for a third party inquiry into exactly what happened, to make sure best practice was followed. It seems unlikely that someone won't get the hairdryer treatment - or worse.

Willie Walsh, the boss of IAG, is in Barcelona to launch a new low-cost service to the US. Some will feel that his first responsibility is to answer questions on why he has not answered publicly to the customers of the established crown jewel of the group that he runs.

Not usually one to shirk his media responsibilities, he has - so far - dodged the tough questions he will surely have to answer.

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