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BA cancels Heathrow flights after IT issues

Data centre hardware issues strike...

British Airways (BA) cancelled all short-haul flights until noon Saturday after IT issues that started on Friday evening, which the flagship airline said emphatically were not the result of a cybersecurity incident.

The Stack understands that an unspecified hardware failure is to blame.

While we could not confirm the incident was mainframe-related, the airline -- like many in the industry -- continues to run a range of mission-critical applications on several mainframes, including passenger revenue reconciliation software that supports the process of cross charging with BA’s partner and alliance airlines.

Owner IAG noted just this week that it is "reliant upon the resilience of its [IT] systems for key customer and business processes and is exposed to risks that relate to poor performance, obsolescence or failure of these systems," adding in its February 25 annual report that "the nature and pace of transformational change required by the Group’s airlines may result in disruption to operations as the legacy environment is addressed".

It added that it is working on a "number of initiatives to modernise its IT systems, whilst also delivering an ongoing efficiency programme and upgrading its digital capability, and customer proposition."

The airline has previously suffered several severe IT outages. One in 2017 was caused by an engineer disconnecting the power supply to a data centres, before reinstating it incorrectly. This led to a power surge that caused major damage to the servers the airline uses to run its online check-in, baggage handling and customer contact. BA later sued data centre manager CBRE over the incident -- estimated to have cost it some £58 million.

British Airways' technical issues: BA cancels flights

BA said in an emailed comment: "We are extremely sorry that due to the continuing technical issues we are facing we have regrettably had to cancel all short-haul flights from Heathrow today until midday.

"Customers due to travel later today should check their flight status on before coming to the airport as we anticipate further disruption during the day. Our long-haul services at Heathrow and all flights at Gatwick and London City Airport are due to operate as planned, but customers may experience some delays."

BA added: "Our website is working and customers can check-in online and at the airport. We are offering customers on cancelled services options including a full refund and all customers booked to travel on short-haul services from Heathrow today can opt to rebook to a later date for free if they choose. We will be contacting customers proactively. Our teams have been working hard through the night and will continue to do so to resolve the issue as soon as possible... We know we have let our customers down and we will do everything we can to make this up to them – but for now our focus is on getting as many customers and flights away as we can."

The company has sought to improve IT cost effectiveness in recent years amid huge pressures on the industry caused by the impact of the Covid pandemic. One case study by a BA IT supplier explicitly notes that the airline was looking to "increase cost effectiveness and introduce leaner, more efficient ways of working".

The BA outage comes a day after owner IAG reported full-year losses of €3.5 billion.

Its annual report showed that "property, IT and other costs" were down €24 million, or 3.1%, on 2020.

That figure included "exceptional charges for a settlement provision in relation to the theft of customer data at British Airways in 2018 and for legal costs relating to restructuring programmes undertaken in 2020. Excluding these charges, segment costs were up €4 million or 0.5%.  IAG CEO Luis Gallego noted: "We know that after the worst crisis in aviation’s history we must do things differently. Our model enables us to capture revenue and cost synergies while maximising efficiencies which means we are set up to return to profitability in 2022."

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