The agreement, for an undisclosed figure, involves 500 British Airways staff based at Heathrow and Gatwick who operate the company's 7,300-strong fleet of runway vehicles and other specialist ground-based equipment. Ryder, which has its UK headquarters in Slough, is taking over the vehicle fleet and employees and has been granted a five-year operating contract at the two airports.
The decision to sell off Ground Fleet Services is part of British Airways' global efficiency drive to save pounds 1bn by 2000. It involves the loss of 5,000 jobs in activities such as administration, but the creation of 5,000 new jobs elsewhere.
British Airways said it had examined whether to "downsize" its ground fleet operations, but had concluded the sell-off "offered the best job security for the workforce".
Robert Ayling, chief executive, said: "Ryder has a strong reputation as a company that cares and develops its people. These attributes and its commitment for high standards of customer service were crucial factors in choosing it before other well-respected bidders."
Staff and unions were told about the sale at briefings yesterday.