BA’s chairman and CEO Alex Cruz

Faster Thinking

Energised by Tehran, encouraged by Montreal

Chief executive Alex Cruz visits the Iranian capital and salutes a landmark deal on emissions

I have just returned from Tehran, which we began flying to in September. It’s an extraordinary place – full of noise and bustle and teeming with traffic. You can sense the excitement that followed the first steps toward the easing of sanctions last year, and the potential that is bursting to break out. With an expanding population – half of which is under 35 – and high levels of education, Iran has many of the attributes needed for economic success in the future.

Initially, I was saddened by the sight of unflyable aircraft with engines and parts missing dotted round Tehran airport – a legacy of the years when isolation meant spares could not be obtained. Just after I left, news came through that the US had approved a big new aircraft order for Iran’s national carrier. It’s a country to watch.

“We’ve developed the British Airways network more than many people realise over the past five years”

Tehran is only one of the new long-haul routes we’ve launched this year. We started flying to Lima, Costa Rica and San Jose (California), in early summer and we have just opened direct services to Qatar and Oman. Our latest announcement is New Orleans, which will become our 23rd American destination next March, and we’re delighted to be launching the only direct service between Europe and Louisiana’s biggest city. (For more, see our separate story on this site).

Network is one of British Airways’ distinctive strengths, and one that we have developed more than many people realise over the past five years. In that period, our total of routes has risen from 177 to 253 – that’s an increase of 43 per cent. Part of that reflects our integration of bmi at Heathrow, but it also reflects a recovery at Gatwick and excellent growth at London City. Another factor has been a more flexible use of our slot portfolio to match seasonal demand and offer a more varied range of leisure destinations.

We can also extend our network through partnerships with other airlines – we are just starting a new joint business with Qatar Airways to offer customers better links between the UK, continental Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa with more choice of flights and greater frequent flyer benefits. Like our two other joint businesses – over the Atlantic with American Airlines, Iberia and Finnair, and between Europe and Japan with JAL, Iberia and Finnair – this one is another important ingredient in the geographical reach we can offer. Network connects the world.

“In an historic decision, countries have approved a global carbon-offsetting programme to come into effect from 2021”

Climate change is worldwide too, and for a long time the aviation industry has been trying to achieve a co-ordinated global approach to how it deals with its carbon emissions. The industry is definitely advancing with significant improvements in aircraft fuel efficiency and successful experimentation with alternative fuels.

However, the international political support required for a global regulatory framework to encourage further progress had repeatedly seemed out of reach. But all that changed at a recent UN-sponsored meeting in Montreal, attended by delegates from nearly 200 countries, which approved a global carbon-offsetting programme to come into effect from 2021.

This is an historic decision – the first time governments from all around the world have agreed a common approach for dealing with the emissions of a specific industrial sector. It’s a great step forward.