British Airways' chief executive Willie Walsh has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies, as the airline continues crisis talks with trade unions over plans to cut pay and jobs.
Mr Walsh has set a deadline of the end of June to agree plans to cut 2,000 of the company's 40,000 staff in an attempt to drag the recession-hit airline back into profit.
Four days of discussions with trade unions Unite, GMB and Balpa representing cabin crews, pilots and engineers started this week in attempt to avoid a strike.
Recession has left the airline industry “fighting for survival”, according to Mr Walsh.
“There needs to be urgency around the discussions we are having,” he said at the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (Iata) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
“I have talked about this industry being in a fight for survival and BA, as part of the industry, is in a fight for survival. There will not be an economic recovery that will be quick enough or strong enough to address the challenges. Our people understand that we have to take action.”
Mr Walsh says he is confident that the negotiations will not end in a strike. But ground handling workers represented by Unite have already rejected a pay cut.
And despite the expectation of huge pent-up demand for voluntary redundacy among cabin staff, Mr Walsh still refuses to rule out compulsory lay-offs.
“I would not rule that out,” he said.
“We will take whatever steps are necessary to see the business through this crisis. We are working together and, I would say, generally constructively so far. But we have significant challenges that must be addressed.”
The airline has been in talks with the unions representing its 13,000 cabin crew since January.
Similar arguments with cabin staff in 2007 only reached a settlement the day before a scheduled one-day walk-out, costing BA millions of pounds.
The aviation sector has been devastated by the combination of last year's soaring oil prices followed by collapsing passenger numbers.