British Airways brusquely rejected a suggestion yesterday that it may have to go bankrupt to clear its £1.4 billion pension deficit after its pilots' union threatened to strike if need be to defend their rights.
The British Airline Pilots Association, representing 2,800 of BA's 3,000 pilots, said it would fight any plans to make their members surrender any of their pension rights or pay for the deficit in the final salary pension scheme.
BALPA's general secretary, Jim McAuslan, has written to pilots warning that the situation has become "serious".
He said yesterday that BA should honour its "pledge" to continue paying the final salary scheme and not ask pilots to increase their contributions.
"We suspect the deficit has arisen because of deficiencies in other parts of the company," he declared.
"We are assembling a top team of accountants and advisers and will meet the company head on. We totally reject that pilots should pay for the deficit or any part of it.
"The team we have assembled will not accept anything BA says at face value and they will probe every statement.
"We will ensure that BA pays pilots the pensions they are owed. We will not fail to take any action necessary to ensure that."
This prompted David Duval chief actuary of the American-owned pensions specialists Aon Consulting to say BA can rid itself of the deficit only by declaring itself bankrupt.
"The only way to reduce it without harming the future investment in the company is through bankruptcy," Mr Duval said.
BA, which is in the middle of a delicate consultation with its 46,000 employees over the future of their pensions, promptly rejected the suggestion as "the most ridiculous proposal imaginable".
"This is not an option under consideration," a spokesman said.