Air Transport World

British Airways engineering to emphasize high-tech work.

Heathrow-London and Treforest-Wales--Being known as a jack-of-all-trades may be great for the self-esteem of an airline, but that is not the reputation Alistair Cumming, British Airways' engineering director, covets for his division. It costs the airline too much to handle every aspect of aircraft upkeep, from the major overhaul of airframes and engines down to the reupholstering of seats, he says. The wages of aviation mechanics being what they are, it makes more economic sense, in his view, to contract out the low-technology work and specialize in the high-tech areas where BA excels. Cumming is certain that a leaner engineering department will be able to attract enough high-tech work from other airlines to preserve the jobs of present shop employes.

This redirection of emphasis is but one of the changes Cumming has proposed for engineering. He has also reorganized the department, altered many of its procedures, upgraded training, brought management closer to shop employes, and is pushing computerization as a means of improving control of scheduling and materials.

Convincing investors

Cumming joined BA in January 1984. The airline was at long last beginning to see the end of the problems that plagued it since its birth in 1973-74 as the successor of long-haul British Overseas Airways Corp. and short/medium-haul British European Airways. As in many mergers, it had proved difficult to fully harmonize the two different, entrenched management and operating cultures, or to eliminate redundant or duplicated job positions. Nor was there any great urgency to do anything about it until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party took power and resolved to get the government out of the airline business. With privatization now just around the corner, BA will have to convince investors that it can run at a profit, and that last year's good showing was no fluke.

Much has been done in the last few years to slim down and streamline the airline, but Cumming found there was still more to do in engineering. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.