BA 'will not back down' over cabin crew dispute

British Airways will not back down in the year-long cabin crew dispute and is ready to run a near-full service in the event of another strike, the airline's chief executive Willie Walsh said today.

He said it was "entirely" the fault of the cabin crew's union Unite that the dispute had dragged on for 12 months.

And he added that changes to working practices should have been tackled 10 years ago.

Addressing the annual convention of travel organisation Abta in Malta, Mr Walsh said: "In the past I have seen managers and businesses ignore issues and back down in the face of industrial action. We are not going to do that."

He said that should there be further industrial action BA hoped to be able to run a full service at Gatwick and London City airports and all its long-haul flights at Heathrow, with the only question being just how much of Heathrow's short-haul programme could operate.

Asked if it was "entirely the union's fault" that no settlement had been reached in the dispute, Mr Walsh replied: "Entirely."

Speaking about a possible Christmas strike, Mr Walsh said that Unite would have to go through a number of procedures before such a strike could be called.

He went on: "I don't believe it's the intention of Unite to do that (go through the procedures).

He said that while BA hoped to reach agreement, it was also planning "for all eventualities" and had a "very robust" contingency programme in place.

Mr Walsh said he was not being critical of previous BA managers but added: "We should have faced up to these challenges 10 years ago."

Mr Walsh also attacked aviation taxation that will see huge rises next month in the Air Passenger Duty (APD) airport departure taxes.

He said he was opposed to a per-plane tax- a plan the Government is considering in place of APD.

Mr Walsh said APD was "socially regressive and damaging, not only to aviation but also to the tourist industry" while the per-plane scheme would have a "more damaging effect on the environment and the economy".

He went on: "We must unite against these unfair and extortionate taxes."

Mr Walsh said BA's merger with Spanish carrier Iberia was likely to be concluded "by the turn of the year".

He went on: "We will maintain our brands. BA will be British and Iberia will be Spanish."

One of the advantages of the link-up would be the opening up to BA of the "rapidly-increasing South America market", Mr Walsh said.

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