Anthony Hilton: BAA reminds us of Railtrack debacles

When Railtrack's manage­ment panicked after the third serious rail crash in as many years and introduced what was in effect a 20 mph speed limit over much of the network, the late Sir Alastair Morton famously described the company as suffering from a 'corporate nervous breakdown'.

It was the kind of corporate collapse that one rarely sees - an event where management abandons all pretence at trying to run a normal business - acknowledging it is no longer in control and is henceforth going to allow events to govern themselves. 

Since Railtrack's collapse  there has been no corporate disaster on a similar scale. We see signs of it however in the recent behaviour of BAA, the owner and operator of most of Britain's major airports.

This company's abject failure to cope efficiently with the Government's tighter security at airports is comparable to Railtrack after the rail crashes, because just as the railway failed in its prime duty to provide the infrastructure to get people efficiently from A to B, so too did the airport operator.

When it forced the airlines to cancel a third of their flights, and made the remaining passengers wait hours longer than necessary, BAA was imposing the equivalent of Railtrack's infamous 20 mph limit - and  demonstrating unwittingly that it was no longer fit for purpose. It could not do the one thing it was there to do - provide an efficient mechanism to get on and off planes.

Even now BAA does not seem to realise what a hole it is in. Indeed, its  entire business model is under attack: the company wants people stuck in the airport  for hours so they will get bored and shop; the passenger wants to spend as little time there as possible.  It may  pay dearly for forgetting why customers use airports in the first place.

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