British Airways posts record loss

photo by lrargerich
British Airways today posted the largest loss since it was privatized in 1987, and CEO Willie Walsh warned that he sees "no signs of recovery anywhere." "I'm 30 years in this business and I've never seen anything like this. This is by far the biggest crisis the industry has ever faced," he told CNN. The airline halted its dividend and Walsh announced that he would work without pay in July: "This is no stunt. I want to make a contribution in recognition of the extremely challenging position we face."

BA's posted a net loss of £375 million ($594.6 million) for the 12 months that ended on March 31, only a year after posting a record £712 million profit a year before. Its operating loss of £220 million was compared to year-ago results of £878 million in profit. BA's full year fuel costs are near £3 billion - something that Walsh pinned the loss on, along with "reduced passenger and cargo demand."

While the news of the huge loss is certainly surprising, especially in light of the fact that the airline posted record profits only last year, it wasn't altogether unexpected. BA has long been dominant in flying 'premium' passengers; some have argued that it was the airline that really made business class popular. The number of premium passengers that it flew dropped 13%, and while this number isn't far from the industry average, BA has more exposure to the premium market than other airlines; as such, it is adversely affected by the double-digit drop even more.

This has meant that, over the past year, the airline has had to put volume over yields. In other words, instead of focusing on 'profit per seat' figures that are boosted by premium-paying passengers ('yield'), it's focusing on filling seats, even if those passengers filling seats are paying less. "We're now saying it's getting that balance between yield and volume so it's more a focus on volume than it has been," said Walsh, who believes that going after increased market share "is sustainable in the long term and will be profitable."

BA also announced that it is still ordering the Boeing 777-300ER for delivery between 2010-12, the same time that its remaining Boeing 757-200s will leave the fleet and be replaced by aircraft in the Airbus A320 family. But BA will slash capacity by 4% next winter to reflect the lowered demand for travel as it parks 16 aircraft.