Heads roll at British Airways over the shambles that is Terminal 5

WILLIE Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, was under pressure last night after two of his senior executives were forced to carry the can for the chaotic opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.

BA said Gareth Kirkwood, its operations director, and David Noyes, its customer services director, would be "leaving the company" and their departures "follow the airline's move to Terminal 5".

The moves came despite Mr Walsh accepting personal responsibility on the second day of the shambles last month, when thousands of passengers and their bags were delayed.

Mr Walsh said on 28 March: "The buck stops with me."

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Mr Walsh also said there was "little value or merit in trying to apportion blame".

The 4.3 billion terminal's sophisticated baggage system failed, which forced the cancellation of 500 flights and a backlog of 28,000 bags.

BA said the last of these bags had been sent on from Heathrow Airport yesterday, although some had still to reach their owners.

It was not until last week that BA was able to run a full service at T5 and a planned 30 April transfer to the terminal of nearly all BA's long-haul Heathrow flights has been postponed to some time in June.

No precise date for the departure of Mr Noyes and Mr Kirkwood has been given. It is understood the two will not receive any special financial package over and above their contractual entitlement.

BA said it was looking to appoint a chief operations officer to combine the roles of the two executives who are leaving.

Mr Noyes, who joined BA in 1985, had been involved with T5 work for about three years. Father-of-two Mr Kirkwood's involvement with T5 goes back to October 2006 and he joined BA in 1986.

At an upbeat media conference given by BA and Heathrow's operator, BAA, before last month's T5 opening, Mr Noyes had said the new terminal was going to be "a fantastic facility".

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He said that those queuing at check-in would not expect to have more than one person in front of them and that the sophisticated new baggage system would mean BA would "really improve its baggage performance".

When asked at that pre-opening press conference if too rosy a picture of the new terminal was being painted, Mr Noyes retreated slightly by saying that there would be a "bedding down period" for T5.

But he added: "We are confident that this building is operationally ready."

During the T5 opening day, BBC viewers saw an exasperated BA press officer shutting the door to a staff rest room in the face of pursuing journalists after a media briefing in which Mr Kirkwood refused to take any questions.

Mr Kirkwood was one of ten current or former BA employees named last August by the US department of justice in connection with price-fixing of fuel surcharges.


• MARKS & Spencer was forced to introduce safeguards this month over its new leadership structure, following investor anger at Sir Stuart Rose being made executive chairman.

• In 2004, Sainsbury's caved in to intense pressure from institutional shareholders by ditching Sir Ian Prosser as the new deputy chairman and chairman-designate of the supermarket group following his "lacklustre" performance at other firms.

• Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline bowed to shareholder pressure and revised pay-and-rewards contracts for its executives, including boss Jean-Pierre Garnier.

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• Greg Hutchings was ousted as chief executive of industrial conglomerates group Tomkins in 2001, amid accusations of executive excess relating to his use of corporate jets and company expenses.

• In 1999, the Bank of Scotland abandoned a venture with right-wing American evangelist Pat Robertson, following investor pressure after he condemned Scotland as a "dark land" riddled with homosexuality.

Firms warned to improve communication or face shareholder-power

COMPANIES which fail to communicate clearly with their shareholders, leave themselves vulnerable to corporate changes forced on them by investors.

The recent departure of two senior British Airways executives came a day after the airline's chairman met Standard Life Investments, its second-largest shareholder.

Investors are becoming increasingly involved with the firms they own because of tighter controls over how they are run, the Association of Investment Companies said yesterday.

Annabel Brodie-Smith, its spokeswoman, said that in general terms, this was a healthy trend, but it also increased the likelihood of clashes.

However, she said they could be avoided if companies devised better ways of keeping investors informed.

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She said: "There are always going to be occasions when shareholders and companies do not see eye to eye, and what often happens is a compromise is reached.

"Corporate governance has increased over the years, and this increased involvement has led to flare-ups. (But] These people do own the company, so it is important for firms to communicate with them. Sometimes companies try to communicate over quite a period of time, but this does not get the interest of investors until a juicy issue arises, like executive pay rises."