British Airways, union extend talks to avert pilot strike

A British Airways passenger jet is pictured at London Heathrow Airport.
A British Airways passenger jet is pictured at London Heathrow Airport.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Airways will continue talks with pilot representatives next week in a bid to diffuse a pay dispute and avoid a walkout by its most crucial employees at the height of the summer travel season.

The British Airlines Pilots Association agreed to extend negotiations with the former British flag carrier, now a unit of IAG, after three days of meetings at the state-backed Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, it said in a statement on Friday (Aug 2).

"Balpa will not announce any industrial action dates at this time," the union said, adding that it is "still committed to finding a negotiated solution."

Balpa had said it would talk until the end of the week and give management a required two-week strike notice if it failed to secure a deal.

The parties resumed talks after a court threw out a BA bid to block the strike plans.

Crews have voted by a 93 per cent majority to approve industrial action, which the carrier has said could cost about £40 million (S$66 million) a day.

The labour conflict is reaching a climax with British Airways also facing pressure from a possible no-deal Brexit that could damp travel as Britons curb spending due to the weaker pound.

The carrier is "open and flexible" to finding a solution, it said as earlier talks were ongoing.

Any strike would come at the tail end of the peak season for European travel and could dent IAG earnings that are highly dependent on BA. The British carrier's lucrative long-haul routes helped lift the group's second-quarter operating profit 18 per cent - the best performance among leading European carriers.

Chief executive officer Willie Walsh said other IAG airlines, including Iberia and Vueling in Spain and Ireland's Aer Lingus, would help in the event of any labour strife at BA. It would also try to benefit from any reduction in capacity if strikes go ahead, he said.

"BA will do whatever they can do to assist the customers," Walsh said on a results call with analysts.

"The rest of the group will do what they can do to take advantage of the unfortunate situation and support and help BA in their efforts to look after customers."