Pilot representatives from the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) have voiced concerns about British Airways’ (BA) use of aircraft and crews from Qatar Airways to fill gaps in BA’s schedule caused by a long-running industrial dispute at the UK national carrier.

Since late 2016, BA has been embroiled with some of its cabin crew in a row over pay and, recently, allegations of sanctions against strikers.

The latest bout of strike action by members of the Unite union is scheduled to last for nearly the entire month of July.

Throughout the dispute, BA has kept the great bulk of its schedule operating, but in recent weeks has brought in nine Airbus A320s from fellow oneworld alliance operator Qatar Airways to keep its timetable running.

Qatar Airways is understood to have spare capacity following its diplomatic rupture with several neighboring states, which has led to destinations in those states being barred to the Qatari airline.

ECA, which represents pilots from throughout the continent, said the lease of the Qatari aircraft “is being used by British Airways in order to undermine the lawful collective action of a group of BA flight attendants who are trying to improve their wages and working conditions. It is important to understand what is happening here,” ECA president Dirk Polloczek said.

“Under the arrangement, the Qatar crew will be employed under Qatar law and under Qatar employment contracts. There was no meaningful examination of the effect of the lease of the non-European Union aircraft and crew on the ability of BA’s flight attendants to exercise their lawful collective rights or on their employment conditions. Qatar receives massive state subsidies from its government,” he said.

“It is essential that the [European] Commission and the UK government assess the consistency of the lease with EU and UK laws and consider the effect of the lease on the employment rights of EU workers now and in the current legislative process dealing with this issue,” Polloczek said.

ALPA supported the ECA stance.

“This lease is completely inconsistent with the notion that government action should not benefit one party to a labor dispute,” ALPA said in a statement.

“If a US airline attempted to do the same, it would be denied, as US regulations require that an analysis be conducted to determine if the leasing of foreign aircraft by a US airline would give an advantage to a party in a labor dispute,” it said.

“ALPA opposes the use in the US market of any non-EU leased aircraft by an EU airline in order to undermine legal collective bargaining. We urge the EU and the United Kingdom to harmonize upward their leasing rules and require an analysis similar to that made by the United States.”

On June 30, the UK regulator, the CAA, said BA’s request to temporarily wet-lease the Qatar-registered aircraft had been approved by the UK Department for Transport.

“The decision to approve the application took into account the advice of the Civil Aviation Authority [CAA]. Under European regulations, specific approval is required for an EU airline to wet-lease aircraft from an airline based outside of Europe. The application was judged to meet all legal and regulatory requirements,” CAA said.

Alan Dron alandron@adepteditorial.com