Why I like the trade unions, by BA chief

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Having been exposed as a frequent luncher with Tony Blair, Robert Ayling, the chief executive of British Airways, is now cuddling up to the union movement.

Mr Ayling has put his name to promotional material published by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union. His imprimatur has been granted to an AEEU booklet issued to potential inward investors from the Far East and Europe, in an attempt to allay their fears about British trade unionism.

The BA chief enthuses: "We have worked with the AEEU for many years and over that time have developed positive relationships. The AEEU well understands the benefits flowing from business success and we are looking forward to working together on the difficult challenges now facing British Airways Engineering."

The engineers at BA, like many of the company's employees, are facing an uncertain future. Mr Ayling is considering hiving off the engineering interests into a separate company and inviting outside investors to take a share.

BA management is also courting the British Airline Pilots' Association. In the brave new world of aviation, flight crew are still considered essential to the operations of an airline. Mr Ayling, 50, who has held his post for just over a year, is not quite so close to the Transport and General Workers' Union, which represents baggage handlers, who may be regarded as dispensable.