British Airways’ chief executive, Keith Williams. Photo: Nick Morrish

Faster Thinking

A landmark year

A new year can often mean a time for change. For Keith Williams, British Airways’ chief executive, it also marks a new role within the business. He takes a look at what’s in store for the business in 2014.

With Sir Martin Broughton’s retirement as chairman of British Airways, I have given up my place on the IAG board and combined Sir Martin’s former role with my position as CEO. I am the first to hold both roles at BA since Lord Marshall in 1996 in rather different circumstances. He had more than 250,000 shareholders to think about. I have one: IAG. So I can bring a new consciousness of shareholder interest to the management of BA. That will give us a stronger business, which is good news for customers.

We want 2014 to be a year of growth for BA. Our fourth A380 has just arrived, the first of 20 new aircraft to join us this year, allowing the retirement of some of our older fleet. We have a new route to Austin and are increasing frequency to nine of Heathrow’s long-haul destinations, from Accra to Seoul. Gatwick is expanding its Caribbean operation, and we are putting three new Embraer aircraft into London City, enabling us to launch services to Florence and Rotterdam.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the first commercial flight: from Tampa to St Petersburg in Florida. It took 23 minutes at an altitude that rarely exceeded 5 feet. BA’s story began five years later as one of our forerunners flew from Hounslow Heath, Middlesex, to Paris, carrying one passenger, a consignment of leather, several brace of grouse and jars of Devonshire cream. Stand by for our centenary celebration in 2019.

We have passed the £6m mark in fundraising for our charity, Flying Start. It’s only three years since we launched the programme with Comic Relief, so to raise so much so quickly is a tribute to customer generosity and the hard work of volunteers across the airline. I’ve visited a number of the charity’s projects and seen at first hand the beneficial effects for children facing extremely tough lives.

Sir Howard Davies’ interim report on potential new runways attracted enormous media coverage as the familiar options of Heathrow, Gatwick and the Thames Estuary were scrutinised. Most newspapers agree that ‘something must be done’, but what is less certain. Conscious of the unpopularity provoked by backing a specific scheme, most prefer to sit on the fence. It remains likely our politicians will follow suit. There’ll be no new runway without durable cross-party support. That looks as far away as ever.