Defusing strike threat was tough, admits Virgin Atlantic boss

Defusing strike threat was tough, admits Virgin Atlantic boss

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway today admitted negotiations to head off the threat of a strike by pilots this summer had been "tough".

He spoke after pilots union BALPA confirmed that flight crew had voted by 63% to accept a new pay offer on an 87% poll.

The three-day deal - which comes after a two year pay freeze for all employees at the airline - includes a profit share scheme, a programme to review pilot lifestyle, such as work rosters and downtime, and a commitment on improving the way management and pilots work together.

BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said: "Virgin Atlantic pilots voted overwhelmingly for strike action - 97% on a 94% - in June but given some improvement on pay, against very tough trading conditions, and commitments to improve lifestyle, they have now decided to settle this pay round with the future in mind.

"Now we need to work together – management and association – to get Virgin back to the airline it once was."

Ridgway, speaking as the airline revealed a return to the black in the last financial year with a pre-tax profit of £18.5 million, said: "They were tough negotiations. The final offer on the table was ahead of others in the industry and one which is affordable in the current climate."

He added that increased Air Passenger Duty, rising fuel prices and the fragile worldwide economy were still issues of concern despite the improved financial performance.

"We are still not out of the woods yet in terms of the global economy," said Ridgway, who admitted that the biggest challenge was encouraging travel in economy classes.

There no further update on possible new investors in Virgin Atlantic, with banking advisors still employed.

"Clearly we are a very important player in the UK market. We are the last of the independents, so we will have to see what happens," said Ridgway. "There is interest in the future of Virgin Atlantic but nothing we can talk about right now. If opportunities emerge, then so be it. There's nothing right now but the world is changing very fast."

Virgin has started recruiting staff again with 1,000 new employees joining as it brings in eight of 10 new Airbus A330s on order by the end of next year and prepares to launch a new route to Cancun following the start of Manchester-Las Vegas flights this year. Part of a £100 million investment plan includes new Club Houses at New York and Los Angeles.


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