British Airways (BA) pilots are to be balloted for strike action by their union – the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) – over the planned relationship between the pilot workforces of the company’s mainline operation and its new OpenSkies subsidiary based in mainland Europe.

The union wants pilots in the new operation to be fully integrated into the existing seniority list, even if they are on different terms and conditions, and for current BA pilots to be able to transfer into OpenSkies.

In a statement issued today, BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan says: “We have been prepared to accept that a new service will need lower costs to build business and that BALPA would be able to crew the service to meet the BA business case, but we are not prepared to see the pilot body broken up in the way BA plans and are bemused as to why they will not use BA pilots.

“There are fears, borne out by BA's intransigence, that BA’s real aim is to start an outsourcing programme that will eventually force down BA pilot conditions.

“We believe there should be one pilot body for BA and its subsidiary so that there can be fair promotion opportunities, a cohesion of the pilot force which is so important in a safety critical industry and a safeguarding of BA's brand.

“OpenSkies is being set up with BA money, will fly BA planes and draw on the BA brand; and a brand is more than a tailfin, it is about its people and the BA pilot community is making a stand to protect that brand. This is a line in the sand.”

The union says it had planned to serve the ballot notice on BA on 17 January, following the breakdown of talks two days earlier, but delayed doing so following the crash of one of the airline’s Boeing 777s at Heathrow that day. It will now formally serve notice on 23 January.

BA says it is “disappointed” at the decision to ballot.