SLI to hold meetings with BA on concerns over Heathrow T5 opening

STANDARD Life Investments yesterday confirmed it will be meeting British Airways's top brass over the next couple of days to discuss the Heathrow Terminal 5 opening fiasco.

David Cummings, SLI's head of UK equities, and Guy Jubb, the Edinburgh fund manager's head of corporate governance, are to meet BA's chairman, Martin Broughton, today.

Then tomorrow the SLI team are due to meet Willie Walsh, the airline's chief executive, who has apologised for the chronic operational malfunctions at the 4.3 billion new terminal, but who has attracted criticism for a perceived abrasive management-style.

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An SLI spokesman said yesterday: "We can confirm we are due to discuss a number of issues, including Terminal 5." The spokesman declined to say what the other issues were.

SLI is one of BA's biggest institutional shareholders, with a stake of 4.2 per cent, and the meetings show the sensitivity of leading investors in the airline to the public relations debacle of the poor running of the new terminal and the possible effect on the share price.

A source close to SLI was reported as saying at the weekend that the fund manager wanted "to understand the situation (at the terminal], as it would when any disaster like this occurs.

"It is important to be reassured that the communication lines between the board and the company are working properly."

It is understood that SLI's talks with Broughton have been brought forward by a fortnight, given shareholder concern about the possible financial cost of the T5 fiasco.

The airline and BAA, Heathrow's operator, said on Friday that they had decided to delay the transfer of BA's long-haul operations at Heathrow until June.

This is a month later than they were originally scheduled to switch.

BA said Standard Life was the only big institutional shareholder to have formally requested a meeting with Broughton and Walsh since the chaos of flight cancellations and delays, plus thousands of lost bags, at the new flagship terminal.

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One analyst said: "The meetings indicate the company has fences to mend with the City as well as passengers."