November 23, 2009 12:42 am

Prospect of BA and Qantas link-up resurfaces

British Airways’ planned merger with Spain’s Iberia opens the way for BA to reconsider a tie-up with Qantas, according to Willie Walsh, the British carrier’s chief executive.

BA ditched talks with the Australian national carrier last year after the sides failed to agree terms.

But Mr Walsh said in an interview that the structure of the BA/Iberia deal, in which the two airlines keep their brands and home bases, was a template for tie-ups with other airlines and Qantas was a candidate.

“You could look again there,” he said, adding that there were no plans to do so at present and last year’s “quite negative” Australian political reaction to the BA/Qantas talks would be a “major hurdle”.

Mr Walsh, who says future deals were more likely in Europe, said: “The media reaction was much more negative than I had expected.

“Having spent time and effort debating the issue first time round, you’d want to be pretty sure that those hurdles were not going to be insurmountable.”

BA is facing the prospect of a holiday season strike. The Unite union is holding a ballot on industrial action over moves to cut the number of crew on some long-haul flights and could legally strike from December 21 if its members vote yes.

Mr Walsh is in no mood for a settlement like the one made when flight attendants were last about to strike. The latest dispute was “very, very different” from that of January 2007, when an 11th-hour compromise avert­ed a walk-out. That dispute was over grievances, including sick pay and onboard staffing levels.

Mr Walsh said that the new changes were vital to the future of BA, now facing its second consecutive year of losses.

“In 2007 I saw things that I wasn’t happy with,” Mr Walsh said. “I saw there was some merit in the arguments that were being made.” But no one should “look for parallels” this time around, he said.

“I implemented these changes because I believed it was the right thing for the business to do, I believed it was the responsible thing for management to do in the circumstances and I am absolutely committed to seeing them through.”

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