Virgin Atlantic is bracing itself for the first ever walk out by pilots in a dispute which could hit peak summer flights. The planned strike over pay by up to 750 pilots will hit key transatlantic routes and other long-haul destinations.
The first walkout by flight crew in the airline’s 27-year history could begin at the end of this month or the start of July. Weekend reports suggested there will be overwhelming support for strike action when a ballot organised by the British Airline Pilots Association closes tomorrow (Tuesday).
Any walkout by pilots, if the ballot returns a vote in favour, can only start after a one-week notice period. Pilots are angry at a 4% offer made to them by Sir Richard Branson’s carrier following three years of pay freezes, according to BALPA.
It was proposed that wages would rise by 4% this year and 3% for 2012 and 2013 – despite the current high inflation. Virgin’s chief executive Steve Ridgway was quoted as saying that pilots do not want to strike.
“Everybody is very clear that we need to reach an agreement. Both sides are very motivated to get a resolution and I know the pilots, I know they don’t want to go on strike,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of can we reach an agreement on what is right in the current market and what the company can afford. We hoped to have reached an agreement by now. All the rest of the company has reached an agreement, which is the first pay rise that anyone’s had for two years.”
BALPA General secretary Jim McAuslan said earlier this year that pilots in Virgin have not had a pay increase since 2008. “During the tough years pilots have made sacrifices to help the business on the basis that fair pay would return, but that hasn’t proved to be the case,” he said.