British Airways 747 jumbo jets remain grounded as strike goes on


LONDON – A substantial part of British Airways PLC’s fleet of Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jets remained grounded Tuesday as a strike by cabin crew entered its second day.

With fewer flight attendants turning up for work due to the industrial action at London’s Heathrow Airport, the U.K. flag carrier has chosen not to operate some of its 49 747 aircraft, which require a higher minimum number of crew to operate than some other planes.

A 747 requires a minimum of 14 crew compared with a minimum of only eight on 777s, while the two aircraft can carry the same number of passengers, said a spokesman for British Airways. Depending on the model and seating configurations, the 777 can carry more than 350 passengers and the 747 more than 400. BA deploys 747s only on long-haul routes.

The majority of BA’s 747s still were flying, the spokesman said, while all 46 of the carrier’s 777s remained in service.

BA said it expects to fly 60,000 passengers Tuesday, the same number as Monday, the first day of a five-day strike. Other passengers may have rebooked to travel at later dates, will fly on planes leased by BA or will be switched to other carriers.

Normally, BA flies between 75,000 and 80,000 passengers a day world-wide at this time of year.

As part of its contingency planning to cope with the strike, BA has leased eight planes with crews from other airlines so that it can fly more passengers who have booked with BA. The leased aircraft are deployed on short-haul routes.

That figure is lower than the 23 aircraft that BA brought in from other airlines on “wet leases” during a previous strike in March, but a spokesman said that was because passenger numbers are higher at this time of year so there are fewer aircraft available to lease.

Despite the impact of the strikes, BA remained defiant. It took out full-page advertisements in U.K. daily newspapers listing the destinations that it was still serving. “The trade union Unite wants to ground British Airways,” the advert said. “It won’t.”

Unite, the union that represents BA’s cabin crew, said in a statement that BA had reduced its flight schedule during the strike to such an extent that even though it was running about 60% of its service it had more crew than it needed. The union added that the airline also had employed 24-hour shifts to provide flexibility so that it could replace crew with “scabs,” a derogatory term for workers who break strikes.

According to Unite, BA canceled 128 out of 330 scheduled flights from Heathrow Tuesday, comprising 26 long-haul and 102 short-haul departures. BA wouldn’t confirm those figures, saying only that it expected to operate 50% of short-haul flights and 60% of long-haul.

Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary, estimated that the first two days of the current strike and seven days of industrial action in March had cost BA about GBP63 million. “On what planet does it make sound business sense to spend shareholders’ and investors’ money this way?” he said. “Or to allow this instability to drag on?

“The solution lies with (BA Chief Executive) Willie Walsh. He must waste no further time or resources but instead work with us to settle this strike,” he added.

BA maintains that it is available for talks with unions. Mediation at conciliation service Acas at the weekend broke down after protesters disrupted negotiations and following revelations that a union leader participating in the meeting was providing updates on Twitter.

Unite pressed ahead with the first in a series of five-day strikes after the Court of Appeal last week lifted an injunction. Further strikes are set to begin May 30 and June 5.

A 15-month long dispute between BA and cabin crew centers on changes to working practices as the U.K. carrier attempts to restructure so it can return to profitability. One of those changes includes the reduction of cabin crew to 14 personnel from 15 on long-haul flights from Heathrow that saves the airline about GBP60 million a year.

BA Friday reported its pretax loss in the 12 months to March 31 widened to GBP531 million from GBP401 million in the same period a year ago as it suffered weak demand, especially in premium travel, which traditionally generates a significant part of it profit. However, it expects to break even in the current fiscal year.