Monday 19 February 2018

'I don't buy all that bulls**t' about Richard Branson - IAG airline boss Willie Walsh

International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh. Photo: PA
International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh. Photo: PA

John Mulgrew

BRITISH Airways boss Willie Walsh has hit out at airline rivals, saying he doesn't admire Virgin boss Richard Branson and admits that the competition with rivals Ryanair is "brutal".

But while he has little time for Branson, he does admire fellow Irishman Michael O'Leary.

The 54-year-old Dublin-born IAG boss, and former long-serving pilot, was speaking after a talk at the Ulster University's Business School yesterday.

Mr Walsh wasn't shy about his strong dislike of fellow airline boss Branson, whom he said he had "no admiration" for.

"I don't buy all the bulls**t about him," he said.

In 2012, Mr Walsh wagered a "knee in the groin" in a bet with Sir Richard over the future of his Virgin brand.

But he does admire staunch rival Michael O'Leary, despite the competition with Ryanair.

Asked about fresh competition from rival Ryanair, which is now back in Belfast, he said "there's always concern when you are competing with Ryanair".

"But we compete with them a lot... we are well used to it," he added.

"There's never friendly competition with Ryanair, it's brutal."

When questioned about the controversial issue of building a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport, Mr Walsh said he's only backing a new runway "if the price is right".

He also reiterated calls to scrap the British government's "ridiculous" air passenger duty (APD), a tax levied on flights in the UK. "Just scrap it. I'm not one of these people who says reduce it. It distorts competition."

Mr Walsh also said he will "definitely" consider buying the long-delayed CSeries jets made by Bombardier, which has a presence in Belfast. And the chief of BA's parent group IAG, said he could bring more routes to Northern Ireland, and potentially new brands, such as Spain's flag carrier Iberia.

"We are particularly interested that the government is talking about a route incentive scheme. If an airline can get some financial incentive to operate a new route, it makes it easier.

"It's probably going to come with Iberia Express... it could be an option."

And asked whether Bombardier's new CSeries jets could be on the table for his multi-billion euro IAG, he said: "We will definitely look at it. And we have looked at it.

"We gave it serious consideration a couple of years ago - what went against it was its time of entry into service.

"The CS300, which is the aircraft we would have looked at, was coming on stream too late.

"I've seen the aircraft, and I've flown the simulator personally. The CS100 could be an option for us at London City Airport."

And speaking about Vueling, which pulled out of Belfast City Airport after less than a year, he said: "The model that Vueling has, they try a market, if the route doesn't work, they try somewhere else. It doesn't mean they don't come back."

He said IAG was "always looking at opportunities".

"We are not afraid if there is the right opportunity there."

The former Aer Lingus and British Airways chief executive also described Belfast as a "transformed" city. He spent 18 years a pilot with Aer Lingus, before joining the management ranks, and becoming chief in 2002, and later going on to head British Airways.

Irish Independent

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