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The corridors of power...

How many times have you read the headline: 'British Airways crashes to record loss'? Or: 'BA soars to record profit.'

I’ve witnessed similar schizophrenia over BA’s workforce. First we hear the airline is planning to cut 10,000 jobs. Next, it’s creating 10,000 jobs.

The gyrations in jobs and profits are just down to the weird cycle of an international airline. It looks as though the ‘profit’ headline is the one currently in fashion, with predictions that BA’s results for 2004, out in May, will show an operating profit of £525m.

The strong performance marks a fine swansong for Rod Eddington, who steps down as chief executive in the autumn after five years.

With his engaging Aussie manner, Eddington has done a good job winning BA’s workforce and investors back on side. But I wonder what sort of reception awaits Willie Walsh, the former Aer Lingus chief exec who takes the controls at BA in September?

In the years after BA was privatised in 1987, the carrier was fronted by the rock-solid team of Lord King of Wartnaby as chairman and Sir Colin (now Lord) Marshall as chief executive.

BA hit turbulence in the mid 1990s when Bob Ayling, a BA lawyer, succeeded Marshall as chief exec. Perhaps Ayling was unlucky, but his stint will forever be associated with union unrest and follies such as repainting BA’s tailfins in ethnic colours.

Eddington took over in May 2000. Where Ayling called in the spin doctors to try and muzzle criticism, Eddington played it straight, never ducking the issues. It is also fair to say that, coming after such an unpopular chief executive, he was always going to look good by comparision.

Walsh will enjoy no such advantage. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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