British Airways pilots are to press for a single pilot corps from which to draw crews for the carrier's new transatlantic subsidiary carrier OpenSkies, following concerns that a two-tier crew structure will ultimately be detrimental to both operations.

The British Air Line Pilots' Association (BALPA) is to seek assurances from BA after its decision last week to announce details of the new carrier, five days ahead of scheduled talks with the union, apparently caught pilots' representatives by surprise.

"It hasn't helped relationships between us," says a source close to the situation, adding that pilots believe BA could split the crew corps to create a separate organisation. This has left pilots uncertain over the crewing of OpenSkies aircraft and whether a split would affect the seniority and career progression of BA mainline pilots if they switch to the new carrier.

OpenSkies will start services in June, from New York to either Paris or Brussels, using Boeing 757s transferred from BA's mainline fleet and reconfigured with 82 seats.

Neither BA nor BALPA are commenting on the content of their discussions. But BA has been recruiting externally for OpenSkies, and has yet to determine what proportion of OpenSkies' pilots will be sourced from mainline crews. There is concern among pilots that the composition of OpenSkies might result in less-experienced crews operating its services, putting the BA brand at risk, and that OpenSkies pay scales could even drag down those at BA mainline.

"Nobody has expressed any difficulty with the issue of different terms and conditions," says BA chief executive Willie Walsh. This is borne out by the source who says the talks are "not about money", adding: "We understand a fledgling airline needs a lower cost-base to take flight."

OpenSkies will offer three classes - business, premium-economy and economy - which will provide flexibility for expansion, says Walsh: "We looked at markets in Europe and found only a couple of destinations could support all-premium aircraft."

BA intends to expand the OpenSkies fleet to six aircraft by the end of 2009, by which time it will employ 300-350 personnel.

Source: Flight International