Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, has sent a defiant message to striking cabin crew, saying he will fight “for as long as it takes” to win the bitter battle.
Speaking at the International Air Transport Association annual summit in Berlin, Walsh gave his clearest signal yet that he is determined to break the union’s stranglehold on the struggling airline.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been brave enough in the past to stand up and say ‘No’,” he added.
He said: “We’re going to hold out for as long as it takes and we will continue to build up the amount of flying we’re doing.”
The UK flag carrier racked up a pre-tax loss of £531m in the year to March 31.
Walsh said: “It’s not about travel, that’s not the issue at the heart of the dispute. This is about ensuring British Airways has a cost base that’s on an equal footing with its competitors.
“We are in an industry that needs to change. We cannot ignore the inefficiency we see.”
The airline, which says it is losing £7million a day from the walkouts, today suffers its 21st day of strike action this year.
The latest five-day strike ends tomorrow. But BA says record numbers of cabin crew are now deciding to cross the picket line.
Despite the industrial action, the airline is managing to operate 80 percent of long-haul flights from Heathrow. No flights from Gatwick or City airport are affected.
Unite reacted angrily yesterday to Walsh’s remarks. A spokesman said: “Threats like this suggest BA’s management is getting even more macho. How on earth is this going to deliver a solution to this dispute?”
But the chief executive implied he might go further. Asked if he could picture a scenario where BA would start sacking striking workers, he said: “Let’s see what happens.”
The comments from Mr Walsh suggest an agreement with Unite, the union, remains a distant prospect and will increase fears that workers will be balloted for a new round of strikes that will disrupt summer holidays.