International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO Willie Walsh emphasized that IAG subsidiary British Airways’ (BA) IT system did not fail during the recent episode that caused widespread flight cancellations, and offered criticism of the media for how the incident was covered.

During a press conference at the IATA AGM in Cancun, Walsh, who is chairman of the IATA board of governors, was asked about the “computer meltdown” at BA and immediately responded, “It wasn’t a computer meltdown.” He suggested the media had mischaracterized the incident.

Power to a BA data center was improperly disconnected, he explained. The problem could have been solved “within a couple of hours,” Walsh said, but the power was restarted in an “uncontrolled” manner that caused serious damage to BA’s servers, resulting in all of BA’s systems shutting down and aircraft having to be grounded across its network.

“It was not a failure of IT,” Walsh said. “It was a failure of power.” He called the episode an “extremely rare event … There are incidents from time to time that are damaging to our reputation, but we recover from these.”

A BA spokesperson confirmed to ATW, “We are conducting an urgent investigation and it would be premature to comment on details before its conclusion. As we've said before, it was not an IT issue, it was a power issue. There was no data corruption or loss and IT outsourcing was not a factor.”

Walsh took issue again later in the same IATA press conference when a reporter said BA had failed to communicate effectively with the public when the systems shutdown occurred. “I don’t see it as a failure of communications,” Walsh said. He noted that the power problem meant “systems that BA relied on for communications were taken down,” but said BA compensated by using social media.

“BA did use social media quite a bit. It appears the traditional media doesn’t like social media,” Walsh said.

BA CEO Alex Cruz “was on Twitter, on YouTube on the day of the incident,” Walsh added. “To suggest there was no communication is untrue and unfair. Social media did enable BA to communicate with large numbers of people.”

Walsh said BA has hired an independent company to “conduct a full investigation” of the incident and will share the results of that investigation publicly.

IATA DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac, speaking at the same press conference, said “IT is probably a top priority just underneath safety” for most airline CEOs given how “critical” it is to modern airline operations.

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com