Thought leadership

The boss of British Airways owner IAG says the coronavirus pandemic has hit it harder than anything before. Willie Walsh told the BBC: “These are extreme times. BA has lost more in a quarter than a record loss for a year.”

IAG reported a loss of €4.2bn (£3.8bn) for the first half of the year, and Mr Walsh said it would take until at least 2023 for passenger levels to recover.

Passenger numbers fell 98% in the April-to-June period, and the airline group is planning to cut jobs.

Losses for BA outstrip those made in both the credit crisis of 2008 and following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The loss for the second quarter of the year was £711m, compared with £187m in 2001 and £309m after the financial crisis.

IAG, which also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus, said it planned to raise €2.75bn and had support for this from its main shareholder, Qatar Airways.

However, shares in IAG were down 7% in morning trading at 167p.

BA employs about 45,000 staff and has more than half of these on furlough. Earlier this year it said it was planning to cut up to 12,000 jobs, and the airline is facing the threat of strike action by staff whose jobs are under threat.

However, Mr Walsh suggested that the job cuts might not be as steep as previously indicated. He told the BBC: “We are in consultation with the trade unions. We want them to work with us to try to mitigate the measures that we have to take.

“That figure of 12,000 is the maximum that would be required, I would hope that it will be significantly lower than that.”

Mr Walsh said: “The industry will recover from this crisis, though we do not expect this to be before 2023, and there will be opportunities for IAG to capitalise on its strength and leadership positions.”

He added that business had begun to pick up as guidance on travel abroad was loosened: “We have seen evidence that demand recovers when government restrictions are lifted.”

But he said the industry would never be the same again: “Anyone who believes that this is just a temporary downturn and therefore can be fixed with temporary measures, I’m afraid seriously misjudges what the industry is going through.

“This will represent a structurally changed industry and that’s why we’ve taken the action that we’ve taken and that’s why we believe now the the right time to raise additional capital.”

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