Willie Walsh: UK Quarantine Raises Relaunch Doubts

The chief executive of British Airways’ parent group IAG has said the company will need to review its plans to relaunch flights after the British prime minister Boris Johnson revealed proposals to implement a 14-day quarantine period for passengers arriving into the UK by air.

Willie Walsh told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee that the announcement yesterday came as a “surprise” and that if the plans go ahead, the flag carrier’s capacity into and out of the UK would be “pretty minimal in that event.”

IAG announced last week that it was planning a “meaningful return to service in July” but Walsh told MPs that it would be “[reviewed] based on what the prime minister said yesterday”.

He added: “Despite the fact that there had been some rumours about this quarantine period, I don’t think anybody believed that the UK government would actually implement it, if they were serious about getting the economy moving again.”

Walsh went on to say that there was “nothing positive” in the address the prime minster gave yesterday and that the proposals would “definitely make [the situation] worse”.

British Airways
IAG, the parent company of British Airways, last week revealed plans for a "meaningful return to service in July". Heathrow Airport

The IAG chief also faced tough questions from MPs on the proposed job losses at British Airways after it was announced that up to 12,000 jobs could go as the company battled with the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impact on air travel.

Gavin Newlands, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North accused the group of prioritising inward investment in the business and equipment rather than its people. He cited examples such as the group’s decision to “order” 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and its intention to acquire Air Europa and widely reported interest in obtaining Austrian Airlines.

Walsh was quick to respond saying that IAG had not yet ordered the jets but had only signed a letter of intent and that there was still time to decide whether to convert it to a firm order.

He added: “I’m glad you’ve asked me the question and not believed what you’ve read in the newspaper…I’ve made it clear that if we proceed with the acquisition of Air Europa it will be an acquisition done at the Iberia level.

“We are not interested in acquiring Austrian or any other airline you may have read about,” he added.

Walsh went on to describe the suggestion that IAG was trying to use its relative strength to drive others out of business as “absolute rubbish”.

He added: “We are solely focused at this stage on taking the measures necessary to ensure that we can, in the short term, shore up our liquidity.”