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Struggle For Take-Off

The British Airways Story

 

Working as a reporter on the Financial Times in 1984-5, I enjoyed a roving brief as a writer of investigative features. Memorable topics included the business affairs of Robert Maxwell and the purchase of the Harrods department store by Mohammed Al-Fayed. None, though, was more dramatic than the privatisation of British Airways, a story that I covered in detail for many months.

At the heart of the tale was a high-stakes poker game between British Airways and a clutch of other major flag carriers on the one hand, and the entrepreneurial Freddie Laker, pioneer of the cut-price airline sector and founder of the Laker Skytrain, on the other. Given clearance by the Thatcher government to go ahead with its own privatisation, British Airways made an awkward discovery: effectively blocking the runway was a massive lawsuit lodged by Laker, blaming the state airline for the recent collapse of his Skytrain operation.

Laker gambled that British Airways would have to pay him off royally in order to proceed. The airline struggled for a year to persuade Laker that he had no case and should take a minimal pay-off. The ensuing stand-off was a remarkable episode in the history of the international airline industry.

I left the Financial Times in 1985 to join McKinsey & Co. With the benefit of a Compaq personal computer kindly lent me by McKinsey, I sat down to turn all my reporter’s notebooks into a narrative. The resulting book, Struggle for Take-Off, The Story of British Airways, was published by Coronet Books in 1986.

 

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Struggle For Take-Off