Crucial talks aimed at averting a strike by British Airways pilots are due to begin, with the Easter travel plans of tens of thousands of families resting on a breakthrough in a row over jobs and conditions.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) warned that BA pilots could take their first industrial action in 30 years – and that this would effectively ground the airline worldwide.
The dispute centres on BA’s new subsidiary airline OpenSkies which will operate from mainland Europe to the United States.
Balpa has warned that BA plans to use lower paid pilots recruited from outside the company, a charge the airline has strongly denied.
Almost nine out of 10 of Balpa’s 3,000 members at BA backed industrial action amid claims by general secretary Jim McAuslan that lower paid OpenSkies salaries will be used to drive down pay and conditions elsewhere in the airline.
The talks are expected to last all this week. Meanwhile, Balpa called for a sixth terminal and third runway to be built at Heathrow to make sure the airport can cope with increased passenger numbers.
In its submission to the Government, the union said Heathrow was lagging behind Paris, which has four runways, and Amsterdam, with five.
“If the UK is going to be able to catch up with its nearby European neighbours and maintain a competitive airline industry then runway expansion in the South East is imperative, particularly at the UK’s premier airport London Heathrow,” it said.
Balpa said it was becoming frustrated by lobbyists and some politicians using aviation as an environmental “scapegoat” rather than looking at other causes of carbon dioxide emissions.
The submission followed two high profile protests last week, at Heathrow and Parliament, by campaigners against expanding Heathrow.