British Airways will cancel nearly 1,000 flights from its winter schedule out of London Heathrow as it strives to cope with staff shortages and maintenance problems.

Although the cuts amount to just half a percentage point of the annual flying programme, the decision caps a summer of bad publicity for the UK flag carrier. BA was forced to cancel in excess of 20 flights on some days in the peak August period, leaving passengers stranded in a chaotic Heathrow airport. The carrier cited a shortage of check-in staff as the main cause of the problems, exacerbated by problems on the engineering side of the business.

BA says it had 200 fewer check-in staff than it needed in August, partly due to delays caused by the need to check the criminal records of applicants but also due to a higher than expected number of staff leaving prior to the summer season. BA says this problem is being rectified, with staff arriving in batches of 35. However, BA insiders admit that disaffection among the workforce, which saw a strike narrowly averted in August, is also partly to blame.

The carrier is axing 966 flights, or 2% of its flying programme, for the September to November period as it strives to build some slack into its Heathrow operations.

This amounts to around 12 flights per day of the 540 operated by BA out of Heathrow. BA chief executive, Rod Eddington says the decision is "a precautionary measure to help ensure the robustness of our operation". He adds: "By slightly reducing our flying programme we improve our ability to react effectively to the technical issues that face all airlines every day."

In addition to its labour predicament, BA suffered teething problems with phase two of its SAP engineering software introduction in early July. BA insists difficulties were expected, and are well on the way to being sorted, but will delay phase three of the programme, which covers maintenance, until the supply chain software runs smoothly.

In addition, BA had problems with dust contamination on Rolls-Royce Trent engines that power its Boeing 747-400s. Some had to be sent to GE's maintenance facility in Wales.

BA has played down the impact of the cuts, and is sticking to its forecast of a 2-3% improvement in revenue for the financial year to March 2005.

The cuts mainly cover high frequency routes such as New York JFK, Los Angeles and Hong Kong; domestic shuttle routes to destinations such as Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow; and European services to the likes of Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Brussels.


Source: Airline Business