Bugbusters are go: BA bosses told to fly on millennium night

SENIOR executives at British Airways have been ordered to take to the air on New Year's Eve to prove that the millennium bug will not bring their planes crashing down.

BA's board agreed this month that the best way to convince passengers the airline was safe was if its top management were flying at the stroke of midnight.

At least 16 senior executives - including five members of the 11-strong board - will be flying either on business or on holiday during the crucial period.

Lord Marshall, BA's chairman, is expected to lead the way. The most prominent absentee will be Bob Ayling, the chief executive, who will remain firmly on the ground. As chairman of the New Millennium Experience, Ayling has the perfect excuse to avoid being in the air when the clocks strike midnight - he will be at the opening of the Millennium Dome with Tony Blair and the Queen.

The BA move follows growing public anxiety about the dangers of flying and the millennium bug. A Mori poll for ICL, the computer services, will this week show that at least 40% of people will refuse to fly over the new year. That proportion increases among computer specialists, who are more wary.

Even if the public is brave enough to follow BA's lead, passengers face delays and rerouting from computer glitches caused by the bug. An international pilots' group believes mainland China, South America and Africa could face disruption.

BA executives remain determined, however. "This is not a kamikaze operation," said one hopeful executive. "We may avoid some areas which may cause some trouble because air traffic control systems are looking doubtful, but I have every confidence in our planes."