Willie Walsh accepted his first annual bonus in three years as the boss of British Airways after the airline handed him a £440,000 sterling windfall last year.

Mr Walsh, a former CEO at Aer Lingus, picked up the cash and shares handout alongside a previously-revealed potential shares award worth over £1m under the group's long-term incentive scheme.

The bonuses took his total possible pay package for just nine months in 2010 to £2m when added to £551,000 in pro-rata salary between March and December, according to BA's annual report.

BA said his annual bonus came after he returned the group to profit last year and secured its merger with Spanish airline Iberia, which has since seen the creation of International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG).

The bonus was also based on his success in seeing through the transatlantic tie-up with American Airlines and Iberia, as well as improving industrial relations, the report showed.

Mr Walsh, who is now chief executive of IAG, turned down annual bonuses for two years after the carrier was hit by losses - slumping into the red by a record £401m in the year to March 2009. He also worked for free during July 2009, giving up £61,000 in salary.

'The bonus was based on the airline's financial results as it returned to profitability and made structural changes to its cost base and operational performance,' a company spokesman said.

'Willie also led the company in finalising the merger with Iberia and getting approval for the transatlantic joint business with American Airlines and Iberia. Everyone employed by BA received a bonus for the company's performance last year,' he added.

BA said it clawed its way out of the red with pre-tax profits of £157m for the nine months to December 31, against losses of £531m a year earlier. The improved performance saw it announce a bonus for staff of a week's pay, at a minimum of £500 each.

Today's annual report shows that former BA chief financial officer Keith Williams - who replaced Mr Walsh as chief executive of BA - picked up a £208,000 annual bonus.

Mr Williams was also awarded more than 280,000 shares in September under the long-term incentive scheme, although the payout is based on performance targets and will not vest until 2013.

Mr Walsh saw his salary rise from £735,000 to £825,000 when he moved up to head IAG following the merger. Mr Williams enjoyed a 43% rise from £440,000 to £630,000 a year after his promotion.