Stephen Nelson's new broom at the top of BAA is busily sweeping away years of what felt like institutional disregard for its airline customers. Listen, this is a different BAA. He actually rings up airline chief executives on a friday afternoon to discuss issues, problems and opportunities.
"We have top-to-top meetings with a number of our major customers, which are progressing," says Nelson, who was promoted to the hot seat at BAA in mid-July last year. This includes chats with British Airways boss Willie Walsh. These can be firey. "We've said that we agree on things 80% of the time and violently disagree 20% of the time. We know that and now we can get down to doing business," says Nelson.
Nelson has come in with a strong customer services agenda, which is natural enough considering he joined BAA as retail director from a top marketing post at a major UK supermarket chain.
"I am putting a lot of emphasis on our airline relationships. Our job is to deliver better relationships so we can collaborate more effectively," he says. This drive included a recent trip to the latest Star Alliance chief executives meeting in Turkey. He has also met oneworld airline leaders.
And Nelson knows he is going to be in for a tough ride in the coming months as BAA campaigns against a break-up of its London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted). It is also asking for a new approach to regulating the charges set at these airports, ie less rather than more regulatory intervention. Moreover, one of its key messages is that to improve the passenger experience at its airports it needs to raise charges.
That isn't going to be easy to sell to airlines for a start. "We will continue to draw a lot of hostile reactions from airlines as we make our position clear," says Nelson.