(Bloomberg) — British Airways pointed to human error as the cause for mass flight cancellations that grounded at least 75,000 passengers last month.
An engineer had disconnected a power supply at a data center near London’s Heathrow airport, causing a surge that resulted in major damage when it was reconnected, Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of parent IAG SA, told reporters in Mexico. The incident caused BA’s information technology systems to crash, causing hundreds of flights to be grounded over three days as the airline re-established its communications.
The engineer in question had been authorized to be on site, but not “to do what he did,” Walsh said on Monday, according to BBC. He added that an independent investigation into the problem would now be carried out. IAG confirmed the comments.
The outage estimated to have cost as much as 100 million euros ($112 million) put pressure on BA chief Alex Cruz, who has pushed to cut costs since taking charge a year ago. Walsh had earlier defended Cruz’s handling of the incident, saying it was “very unfair” to blame him. Still, the issue remains how a single technician could cause so much disruption, and why the airline’s backup systems failed.
British Airways is IAG’s biggest earnings contributor, and Cruz is on a mission to boost its profit margin amid stiff competition from discount carriers including EasyJet Plc and Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA by cutting legroom, charging for meals on short-haul flights and outsourcing IT functions to firms outside the U.K.
BA’s issue was another blow to the aviation industry, which has been plagued by passenger outrage, especially after the United Airlines dragging incident. Power issues contributed to operational problems at Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. in 2016, while Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG experienced outages earlier this year.