British Airways pilots will vote on whether to walk out over the airline’s plans to launch a subsidiary business, it was announced today.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said all of BA’s 3,200 pilots would be balloted on whether to strike over what they perceive to be a new two-tier system of quality when OpenSkies begins operations in June.
The union believes the launch of the offshoot, which will offer luxury seat flights from continental Europe to America but have lower operating costs than BA, could pave the way to pay and conditions at BA being challenged.
Balpa said the new company could have weaker safety standards and require pilots at OpenSkies to take further courses in order to transfer to BA. It wants to see a standard level of experience expected across the board with “open access” between jobs at the companies.
It is also using last week’s Boeing 777 crash at Heathrow airport to urge BA to abandon its plans – saying the fact that no one was hurt showed the need for highly experienced pilots adhering to the same standards.
BA has claimed that the safety standards will be the same at the new airline.
Balpa wants the pilots from the two airlines to work as a single body, with the same training and a single ranking system, under which seniority is linked to the number of years within the company.
Jim McAuslan, Balpa’s general secretary, said: “We hope the BA leadership will think again. This is not about money and it is not about safety. We have been prepared to accept that a service will need lower costs to build business and that Balpa would be able to crew the service to meet the BA business case. But we are not prepared to see the pilot body broken up in the way BA plans and are bemused as to why they will not use BA pilots.
“There are fears, borne out by BA’s intransigence, that BA’s real aim is to start an outsourcing programme that will eventually force down BA pilot conditions.”
The launch of OpenSkies was announced this month, taking advantage of new liberal rules governing the air travel market between Europe and the United States.
The airline, named after the treaty that permitted its creation, will allow BA to compete directly with European companies.
A BA spokesman said: “We are disappointed that Balpa has confirmed its intention to ballot its members for industrial action over our plans for our new subsidiary airline, OpenSkies. There is no change to the terms and conditions for BA pilots, which are among the best in the industry.
“We have told Balpa that we will offer secondments to BA pilots wishing to work for OpenSkies, with their pensions and seniority protected. We have asked Balpa to represent the pilots in the new airline.
“We have given Balpa assurances that OpenSkies will have no detrimental impact on BA pilots. We hope that these assurances will dissuade Balpa from initiating action that would cause disruption for customers and harm our business.”