Ayling, a lawyer, began his career as a solicitor in private practice before joining the Department of Trade and Industry in 1973. In 1985 he joined British Airways, initially as Legal Director, but went on to hold a series of senior management positions including that of Director of Marketing and Operations.
Ayling was Group Managing Director and then Chief Executive of British Airways from 1996 to 2000. A key policy of Ayling's time as CEO was the pursuit of a merger and establishment of a strategic alliance with American Airlines and BA’s investment in Iberia. In 1998 BA announced the establishment of its low-cost carrier, Go. Ayling was also the promoter of BA’s London Eye project for the Millennium. In 2000 he was replaced at BA by Rod Eddington.
Ayling was initially appointed a non-executive Director of Holidaybreak Plc, the specialist holiday and activity group, in February 2003, before becoming Chairman in June 2003. He retired from this role in April 2009 after serving two three-year terms.
- Biography Robert John Ayling, www.Debretts.com
- Article about Robert Ayling's role in BA management, 1993
- Article by Robert Ayling in 1997 while chief executive of British Airways
- "Ayling takes over at HolidayBreak", Telegraph, Published: 8:54AM GMT 2 Dec 2002.
- "DIRECTORATE CHANGE". Investegate. 2003-06-03. Retrieved 2014-06-22.
- "Holidaybreak: Annual Report and Financial Statements". Holidaybreak. 2010. Retrieved 2014-06-22.