BA planning to wet lease Qatar Airways aircraft as strike looms


British Airways (BA) is preparing for the longest strike yet in its dispute with some of its cabin crew as members of BA’s London-based “mixed fleet” group of flight attendants are planning to stop work from July 1-16.

The initial reason for the long-running dispute, salary levels, has actually largely been settled, according to the Unite union, which represents the striking staff. “The issue is now largely around sanctions that have been meted out to the people who went on strike,” Unite spokesperson Alex Flynn said.

These sanctions included withdrawal of travel concessions and other benefits, he said. “We had put forward a compromise, but that was refused,” he added. As a result, Unite now plans to take 1,400 cases of affected personnel to the UK’s employment tribunal system, which arbitrates between employers and staff in such disputes.

BA said June 27 that, as in previous disputes involving the cabin crew, it would ensure that all passengers got to their destinations, either on BA flights or on those of one of their partner airlines. Customers on “a very small number” of London Heathrow flights could find their long-haul flights being merged, said an airline spokesperson.

As during previous strikes, BA will be wet leasing capacity to help it cope with the disruption. Whereas in previous strikes this capacity has come from UK or European carriers, BA is this time considering leasing Airbus A320s and A321s from Qatar Airways.

This has triggered another protest from Unite. Pointing to what it described as Qatar Airways’ “inferior flight duty time limitations and rest requirements,” the union said in a statement that it had “warned that unless these had been ‘transitioned’ to meet EU requirements,” the wet lease would not be compliant.

Additionally, it said, it had warned “that if a bilateral international agreement between the EU and Qatar covering wet leasing does not exist, then approval for the lease would not comply and should be automatically refused.”

The union said it had written to UK regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on the matter.

A BA spokesperson told ATW: “As you might expect, we’ve not specified these planes. We’re looking at all options available to ensure our customers travel as planned.”

Qatar Airways, like BA, is a oneworld alliance member and the Arab carrier is the largest single shareholder in BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), with a 20.01% stake.

Qatar Airways also has aircraft sitting idle at present, due to its major diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.

In a statement June 27, the CAA said: “We are currently processing an application from British Airways to wet lease nine Qatar-registered aircraft. Under European regulations specific approval is required for an EU airline, such as British Airways, to wet lease aircraft from an airline based outside of Europe. The UK Department for Transport will approve or reject the application taking into account advice from the CAA. We can confirm we have so far received a number of comments on the application, which will be taken into consideration.”




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