Willie Walsh delivers the first Lord Marshall Memorial Lecture

International Airlines Group head spoke about business in a changing world.

On Thursday 27 June, Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), delivered the first Lord Marshall Memorial Lecture, the final event of Business Week 2013.

Remembering Lord Marshall

Professor David Latchman CBE, Master of Birkbeck, began by welcoming guests, in particular Lady Marshall and her daughter. He paid tribute to Lord Marshall, who was Chairman of the Board of Governors at Birkbeck from 2003 – 2010, saying “there could be no finer Chairman than him” and recalling his highly skilled guidance of the College during his Chairmanship. Lord Marshall was the CEO and Chairman of British Airways (BA) between 1983 and 2004.

Willie Walsh then took to the podium and endorsed Professor Latchman’s comments, describing Lord Marshall as “an inspirational person”, “a people person” and “a hard act to follow”.

Responding to challenges within the aviation industry

IAG was formed in 2001 with the merger of BA and Iberia, and has since added BMI and Spanish low-cost airline Vueling to its portfolio.

Mr Walsh spoke of the challenges facing the aviation industry, including increasing fuel costs, CO2 emissions, political ‘interference’ and high taxation, and explained how the industry has responded to these.

Mr Walsh outlined the structural changes which have enabled the aviation industry to move from losses to profit in spite of increased oil prices and have made it far more resilient to future volatility of the oil market.

Aviation is the only industry which has come together to collectively set CO2 targets and Mr Walsh shared details of the action being taken by the industry to meet these targets.  This includes finding operational efficiencies, investing in new technologies and infrastructure and new economic measures.

Political decisions were also identified by Mr Walsh as creating challenges within the industry. Mr Walsh contended that the Coalition’s decision to cancel plans for a third runway at Heathrow will not have any impact on CO2 emissions globally, it simply means that other European hubs will absorb air traffic that could have benefited the UK economy. Air Passenger Duty and high costs and complicated application processes for visas were identified as further challenges for both the industry and the UK economy as a whole.

The lecture ended with a Q&A with the full-capacity audience, before drinks and canapés to round-off a very successful Business Week 2013.

A video of the lecture will be available shortly.