Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson has stepped in as pilots prepare to announce possible strike dates tomorrow (Tuesday) in a row over pay.
Sir Richard has refused to meet representatives from the pilots union BALPA because it “would only cause more publicity which would further damage the airline and I am not best placed to deal with the details of the negotiation”.
However, in an open letter to the airline’s flight crew, he said he would be happy to have a private meeting with as many pilots that are available “to answer your questions about the future of the airline”.
Sir Richard said he was “extremely sad” to see threats of strike action in the press.
These “negative comments will have already damaged the reputation of our airline and the trust our customers place in us - which we rely on so heavily. They have also played into the hands of our larger rivals,” he said.
“We are already losing business from this and are in danger of losing money again this year if the uncertainty of those travelling lasts much longer. Just look at what happened at BA over the last few years.
“We need to make sure that we never inflict such damage upon ourselves and our customers and to do so in this market place would be very dangerous.”
Sir Richard warned that unless BALPA withdraws its threat very soon it will leave an “indelible scar” on the carrier, “impact customers’ trust in us and damage the unique and friendly culture at Virgin Atlantic”.
He added: “It will affect jobs and it will make it very difficult for the company to afford the current offer on the table.”
The letter states: “In the last week I have spent a lot of time trying to understand whether the management team at the airline has treated everyone fairly and whether the company can afford to go further with its pay offer.
“The balancing act our chief operating officer and board have is that if we go further for one sector of the workforce, especially in these difficult times for everybody, we have to do the same for all sectors. And from looking at the figures it will mean asking the public to pay higher fares and in this difficult economic climate, we simply cannot do that at this time.
“The management have told me they are happy to share up to date corporate accounts with your union so they can understand the financial context from where the offer has been made. As shareholders we’ve also got to ensure the airline is strong enough to withstand the many challenges it faces in this constantly changing market.
“I have looked at the details of your offer and believe it is fair. From the company’s point of view possibly a little too fair. It is one of the best in the industry, along with many other commitments that offer real value to you. If you haven’t read it I would suggest you do.
“The COO has to balance the interest of everyone at Virgin Atlantic and I don’t envy his job especially as we’ve had three very tough years in a row. I believe over the last 27 years the team has got it about right. As a result, Virgin Atlantic has survived and jobs have been secure.”
Sir Richard revealed that he has taken no salary out of Virgin Atlantic since 2005. “Since Singapore Airlines bought into the company 10 years ago both of us have invested more money into the airline than we’ve taken out to deal with crises like 9/11 and to fund vital products and service innovation,” he added.
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