British Airways to Launch a New Short-haul Airline at Gatwick After Reaching a Key Agreement with Trade Union Leaders on Pay and Conditions for Cab Crew

British Airways, which reached a major agreement regarding pay and conditions of cabin crew members with the trade union chiefs, will soon announce the launch its Gatwick-based short-haul carrier. 

Sunday’s Mail reports that BA and the Unite union reached an agreement late last week. Unite represents over 10,000 members of cabin crew, ground staff engineers, as well as other employees. 

Last hurdle for the launch of new airline was securing a deal to Unite. Unite has always been a fierce critic of BA during the pandemic. This means that BA will be able to hire staff before the launch of its first flight in April. 

Set for takeoff: British Airways finalised negotiations with the Unite union

Set for takeoff: British Airways finalised negotiations with the Unite union

On Friday, BA’s chief executive Sean Doyle stated that the plans to create a brand-new subsidiary under BA to fly short-haul flights at Gatwick were moving along well after receiving support from Unite. 

“While there are still some negotiations to be done, it seems likely that we’ll be able to fly the summer schedule. Doyle believes that talks with Gatwick’s ground handling staff will conclude soon. 

BA announced plans to launch a BA-branded Gatwick airline back in August. However, it stated that it could only do so if the cost base was competitive. Staff employed by the new business – dubbed ‘BA-Lite’ – will be asked to sign more flexible contracts, expected to include part-time or seasonal working. There are around 160 potential pilots to be employed by the airline. The company will also employ several hundred cabin crew members for short-haul European travel. 

Following weeks of intense negotiations, BA came to an agreement last month with Balpa, the pilots’ union. Balpa had previously pulled out of negotiations, jeopardizing the future for the airline. 

It is understood Unite’s negotiations with BA focused on pay and flying schedules to make sure cabin crew employed at Gatwick earn the same as staff in other parts of BA’s business. The basic pay for cabin crew is a base salary and variable compensation based on hours flown, as well as commissions on in-flight purchases. 

Oliver Richardson from Unite, an aviation officer said variable pay can amount to ‘tens to thousands of pounds’. He also stated that he wouldn’t like a Gatwick position where employees are asked to return to a short haul operation under radically less favorable terms. 

Relations between Unite and BA are still frosty after the airline cut around 10,000 jobs last year. Unite found the strategy “opportunistic” and criticised BA for plans to bring back former cabin crew members now that travel has picked up. They claim they have been rehired under’substantially lower terms and conditions. 

Union bosses acknowledge that BA’s short-haul airline will provide jobs in Gatwick as well as other sectors dependent on it, such catering, hotels and transportation. 

Gatwick is one of the hardest-hit aviation companies after a string of major airlines based at the airport – including BA, Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian – scrapped or scaled back flights during the pandemic. 

BA’s parent company, IAG, said on Friday that it would make a €3billion (£2.57billion) loss this year, after a €452million (£387million) loss for the three months to September. It followed a £1billion fundraise for BA last Monday. 

Even though international travel restrictions have been gradually lifted since May, the aviation industry is still suffering. Henry Smith of the Tory constituency in Crawley welcomed the move by BA last night. He added: “This is more evidence that the aviation industry and the local economy are beginning to recover from the damage caused the pandemic.”