As part of a plan to concentrate on the "core" business, two-thirds of the new recruits will be pilots, cabin crew and customer services staff.
Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, denied allegations that he was trying to create a "virtual airline" and said the company envisaged employing more people at the turn of the century than it does today.
Union representatives point out, however, that many of the newcomers will be paid less than those being made redundant and that it is all part of a plan to cut costs by pounds 1bn.
Mr Ayling said the industry was becoming increasingly competitive and BA needed to respond to cultural differences, values and tastes and ensure that employees could respond effectively to customers.
"This recruitment drive is a demonstration that our change programme is not just a cost-cutting exercise, but a positive story about investment in people, new aircraft and services," he said.
George Ryde, national official for the airline industry at the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the company wanted to introduce "new starter" rates for recruits which would be substantially lower than the wages earned by those already at the airline.
BA employs 55,000 people - 45,700 in the United Kingdom - and is in the process of moving many of its services to Gatwick from Heathrow.Reuse content