COME FLY WITH ME

Cruz plans to ex­pand Bri­tish Air­ways’ pres­ence in China and make the car­rier more ag­ile in a highly com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try What are the air­line’s plans for routes in China?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - Q & A WITH CEO -

Alex Cruz has a pas­sion for avi­a­tion that bor­ders on ob­ses­sion.

When asked if there was a place in China that par­tic­u­larly im­pressed him, the 51-yearold chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Bri­tish Air­ways replied: “Bei­jing Air­port.”

It was not a re­mark.

“Bei­jing Air­port is un­be­liev­able,” he went on. “The size of it, the way that it works and the way it is or­ga­nized. It’s very busy, but it works re­ally well.”

Cruz’s love af­fair with avi­a­tion goes back a long way.

After grad­u­at­ing from the Cox School of Busi­ness in Dal­las, he worked for var­i­ous air­lines be­fore he founded low­cost Span­ish car­rier Click­air in 2006. Three years later, it merged with Vuel­ing and Cruz be­came CEO.

Then in 2016, he took over at Bri­tain’s flag car­rier and pledged to make it an even bet­ter air­line.

“The op­por­tu­nity of com­ing to Bri­tish Air­ways was the per­fect evo­lu­tion,” he said.

BA merged with the Span­ish car­rier Ibe­ria in 2011, cre­at­ing the In­ter­na­tional Air­lines Group. IAG is now the third-largest air­line com­pany in Eu­rope and the sixth largest in the world, based on rev­enue.

With a fleet of more than 270 air­craft, BA deals with about 37 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year and em­ploys 40,000 staff, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s web­site. Smart tech­nol­ogy is at the heart of the busi­ness and it will help the car­rier be­come more ag­ile.

“Tech­nol­ogy is an ab­so­lute com­mit­ment of Bri­tish Air­ways to im­prove the pas­sen­gers’ ex­pe­ri­ence di­rectly, and we are con­stantly eval­u­at­ing new tech­nolo­gies,” Cruz said.

In a far-reach­ing in­ter­view, he talks about BA’s strat­egy in China, mod­ern­iz­ing the air­line’s fleet and his love of gad­gets. flip­pant

Why did BA launch a code­shar­ing pro­gram with China Eastern?

What we value the most is the in­for­ma­tion that we can share about each other’s mar­ket. We can tell them about the evo­lu­tion of the sec­tor in the United King­dom and how we see po­lit­i­cal events shap­ing up dur­ing the com­ing months and years ahead.

China Eastern can share their views on the Chi­nese mar­ket, not just about Bei­jing or Shang­hai, but be­yond those re­gions. That in­for­ma­tion is very use­ful.

We find our­selves with a very sta­ble Bei­jing operation, a grow­ing Shang­hai busi­ness with 10 flights per week, and two flights a day in Hong Kong.

Our com­mit­ment to China con­tin­ues. The Chi­nese team at Bri­tish Air­ways is the big­gest one for a sin­gle mar­ket out­side the UK. We are go­ing to look for op­por­tu­ni­ties, and we will hold dis­cus­sions with air­ports and cities across China. I hope this will trans­late into new routes.

Why should Chi­nese cus­tomers choose BA in­stead of other air­lines when fly­ing to Eu­rope?

Last year, we made a com­mit­ment to in­vest $500 mil­lion in our prod­ucts. The new cater­ing, soft fur­nish­ings in the cabin and new busi­ness class seats will make us the lead­ing air­line be­tween Eu­rope and China.

The big­gest fea­ture we have in­vested in is su­per-fast Wi-Fi. Bri­tish Air­ways will be the first air­line to have this when it’s in­stalled by 2019. You will be able to sit in your seat and con­tinue your WeChat con­ver­sa­tions . . . con­tinue shop­ping . . . con­tinue ev­ery­thing.

What are your plans for BA?

A lot of peo­ple ask if I’m go­ing to turn Bri­tish Air­ways into a low-cost car­rier. My re­ply is al­ways the same: “Ab­so­lutely not.” What I am try­ing to do is to bring my ex­pe­ri­ence of smaller oper­a­tions into play. A low-cost car­rier has to sur­vive a very com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment, just like Bri­tish Air­ways. In the end, we will need to be much more ag­ile.

What has been BA’s mar­ket per­for­mance in China com­pared to the rest of the world?

We are sat­is­fied with our routes in China and we will con­tinue to look for growth. We have had more dis­cus­sions with the gov­ern­ment about im­prov­ing our slot times. Also, in Shang­hai we have gone from seven flights to 10 flights a week. Over­all, our pres­ence in Asia is not huge.

2016 on­wards: Chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Bri­tish Air­ways

2009-16: Chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Vuel­ing Air­lines

2006-09: Found­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Click­air

2000-06: Var­i­ous po­si­tions at Sabre, Arthur D. Lit­tle, Al­nad Ltd and Ac­cen­ture

1995-2000: Var­i­ous po­si­tions at Amer­i­can Air­lines Ed­u­ca­tion: 1994: Busi­ness Man­age­ment & Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­gree from the Cox School of Busi­ness in Dal­las

1990: MSc from the Ohio State Univer­sity

1988: Bach­e­lor’s de­gree in in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing from Cen­tral Michi­gan Univer­sity Fam­ily: Mar­ried with four chil­dren

We have seen dur­ing the past two or three years a small de­cline in pas­sen­gers from the fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor in pre­mium travel. But it has been com­pen­sated by an in­crease in pre­mium leisure trav­el­ers.

This would be non-busi­ness trav­el­ers, who want to have a pre­mium ex­pe­ri­ence and will pay for it by buy­ing busi­ness class tick­ets. This is quite an in­ter­est­ing mar­ket for us in China.

What busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties do you think will be thrown up by the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive?

Ev­ery meet­ing that we have here with busi­nesses, ad­min­is­tra­tors, reg­u­la­tors and politi­cians cen­ter around tremen­dous op­por­tu­ni­ties. It is all about growth in the econ­omy, as well as in­vest­ment. So, we are re­as­sured that the ini­tia­tive is help­ing to sup­port and pro­mote avi­a­tion. This is an ini­tia­tive that will help open

I be­lieve there are great op­por­tu­ni­ties out there for Bri­tish Air­ways in the next five to 10 years. We will have new air­craft and we will con­tinue to de­velop in China. I be­lieve it will be a great pe­riod for the air­line . . . re­ally amaz­ing.

How has glob­al­iza­tion ben­e­fited your busi­ness?

We have man­aged the threat and taken ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties. We had to make the un­for­tu­nate, but nec­es­sary, de­ci­sion to pull out of Chengdu (in Sichuan province). Be­cause of our global reach, we have been able to de­ploy those four flights a week to an­other des­ti­na­tion.

Since we live in a glob­al­ized world, some re­gions and coun­tries will do bet­ter than oth­ers. We have to work around this, and use Lon­don as the cen­ter to re­de­ploy as­sets and ad­just to the dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

I re­ally liked Tian’an­men Square. I had the op­por­tu­nity to go into the main build­ing (The Great Hall of the Peo­ple). It was fan­tas­tic. It was very im­pres­sive. Also, Bei­jing Air­port is un­be­liev­able. In­cred­i­bly im­pres­sive.

What are your hob­bies?

My num­ber one “hobby” is my fam­ily. I am mar­ried and I have four chil­dren. For 10 years, I was com­mut­ing, so I didn’t see them very much. For the last year, we have all been liv­ing in the same city. That is why it’s my huge “hobby.”

I also love tech­nol­ogy and play with gad­gets. I want to un­der­stand what tech­nol­ogy is do­ing to our lives. I tend to adopt tech­nolo­gies that will af­fect the world we live in for years to come.

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