EasyJet has denied accusations it intends to use pilots’ sickness records as a key factor in its plans to cut more than 700 jobs.

Easyjet said general absenteeism could form part of its assessment but denied that sickness would be a key component.

Its rebuttal comes after pilots’ union Balpa claimed the airline was risking safety because unwell staff would go into work. The union said it was “unnecessary and wrong”.

The budget airline is planning 727 pilot redundancies as part of 4,500 job losses – the equivalent of 30% of its workforce. The company’s restructure proposals includes closing its hubs at Stansted, Southend and Newcastle airports.

Easyjet told BBC News it was still setting out formal proposals for talks with Balpa and said sickness might be a criteria but the focus would be on attendance and conduct.

In a statement, EasyJet said: “We would never put forward proposals which would compromise safety as we have an industry-leading safety culture, as Balpa acknowledges.

“Safety is our number one priority and we are focused on doing what is right for the long term health of the company and our people so we can protect jobs going forward.

“It is not true to say that sickness is a key component of the proposals. We have put forward a full range of criteria, including absence, for discussion with the union,” the airline.”

Brian Strutton, Balpa’s general secretary, said: “Flight safety is built on a culture of openness and not fear of repercussions. This is a well understood and fundamental tenet for everyone involved in ensuring our skies are safe.

“It is unnecessary and wrong that easyJet is intending to use sickness as a stick to beat its safety-critical staff. EasyJet has in the past rightly encouraged pilots to report in sick or fatigued if they are unfit to fly – that is in everyone’s best interest.”