(Updates with company’s comment in fifth paragraph.)
June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Pilots at Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the second-biggest long-haul carrier based at London’s Heathrow airport, have voted to go on strike in a dispute with the airline over pay.
About 97 percent of pilots voted in favor of strike action, with a 94 percent participation rate in the vote, the British Airlines Pilots Association said today in a statement on its website. The union, which represents about 85 percent of Virgin Atlantic’s 750 pilots, said it hadn’t yet set any strike dates so that Branson could intervene in the dispute.
“The size of the poll and the huge majority for action should send a clear message to Sir Richard Branson,” Balpa General Secretary Jim McAuslan said in the statement. “Pilots are prepared to strike. We have absolute resolve to secure a fair settlement.”
Pilots, who haven’t had a salary increase since 2008, rejected Virgin’s offer of a pay rise of 4 percent this year and by 3 percent next year and in 2013. The airline froze salaries in order to cut costs and help it survive a slump in demand for air travel in the wake of the global recession.
Virgin Atlantic said today that it made “an industry leading offer” to BALPA, and that once the union had properly explained the deal to its members a strike would be averted. The airline also said it has contingency plans in place that would minimize the impact on customers of any industrial action.
Virgin Atlantic had a net loss of 125.2 million pounds ($202 million) in the 12 months ended Feb. 28, 2010, the most recent period for which figures are available, versus a 36 million-pound profit a year earlier. Sales fell 11 percent to 1.98 billion pounds.
The airline’s CEO Steve Ridgway said in an interview June 15 that he was confident of averting a walkout and that the pilots didn’t want to go on strike. Balpa hasn’t carried out a strike at any airline in 32 years.
A series of strikes by flight attendants at Virgin’s Heathrow neighbor British Airways last year cost that airline about 150 million pounds.
--Editors: Chad Thomas, Chris Reiter
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