Belfast Telegraph

Hope for BMI staff as Richard Branson fights merger

By Jamie Grierson

Airline employees in Belfast have been thrown a lifeline after Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic said it would appeal a European regulator's decision to approve the British Airways takeover of BMI.

Rationalisation after the deal could lead to 100 BMI staff at George Best Belfast City Airport losing their jobs.

Trade union leaders and BMI workers in Belfast are due to meet this week after BA said the local jobs would “form part of the consultations with wider BA staff”.

Virgin Atlantic said the deal will “cause serious competitive harm at Heathrow” and will place BA owner International Airlines Group (IAG) in a position of “total market dominance”.

Sir Richard (below), Virgin Atlantic president, said: “We will challenge every aspect of this process which, if allowed to stand, will undoubtedly damage the British airline industry for years to come.”

The £172.5m takeover was approved by the European Commission 35 days after the deal was announced on condition that IAG gives up 14 pairs of daily take-off and landing slots at Heathrow to boost competition in the sector.

The deal is set to lead to up to 1,200 job losses at BMI's head office at Castle Don

ington in Derbyshire and at regional airports, although BA said that without the acquisition, all 2,700 jobs at BMI could have been lost.

David McMurray of the Unite union said staff in Northern Ireland faced a worrying time.

“It certainly breeds fear, as people are worried about their mortgages and how they'll feed their families,” he said.

Previously, BA said it would keep the route between Belfast and Heathrow.

Sir Richard went on: “Competition regulation should protect the customer from monopoly situations where companies can set whatever prices they like and stop investing in their product. In these situations, the public suffers, the industry suffers and the country suffers.”

Virgin Atlantic will bid to operate all of the 12 remedy slots that BA has been forced to give up through the process, but said it alone is “completely inadequate” and called for more of BMI's slots to be released.

Sir Richard added: “This deal was agreed with lightning speed and we think the number of slots offered is derisory — representing less than a quarter of BMI's former network.

“We hope to overturn this decision on appeal and keep on taking the fight to BA so that the consumer ultimately wins.”

Factfile

BMI carried three million passengers in 2011, excluding its regional services and low-cost airline BMIbaby. It flew to 34 destinations in 25 countries and had 27 aircraft, employing 2,700 staff, before the job cut announcement last week. BA carried 32 million passengers last year and flies to 151 destinations in more than 70 countries. It has 239 aircraft and employs some 37,000 people.

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