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British Airways moved significantly closer to
finalizing its merger with Iberia yesterday after the United Kingdom flag
carrier announced it has reached agreement with the trustees of its two pension
schemes to address its $5.6 billion pensions deficit.
Iberia chairman Antonio Vazquez reiterated
earlier this month that his airline would walk away from the deal unless BA
addressed its gaping pensions hole, one of the United Kingdom's largest. BA
already has reached agreement on tackling the problem with its unions and, now
that the trustees are onboard, it will submit a full recovery plan to the U.K.
Pensions Regulator by June 30. Iberia has three months to decide whether it too
approves of the plan, which will see BA plug the deficit out of its own funds.
The agreement avoids closing either of the two
new schemes now, with BA continuing to contribute £330 million per year, rising
3 percent annually, until one of the schemes closes in 2023 and the other in 2026.
BA will make additional contributions in years where its cash balance exceeds
£1.8 billion, and existing employees will be allowed to make additional top-up
The one foreseeable barrier to the new BA
proposal is that the U.K. regulator wants all company pension deficits to be
eliminated over the next ten years, whereas the BA plan is for up to 16 years.
BA and Iberia announced on April 8 that they
hope to merge by the end of 2010 as International Airlines Group, serving 61.5
million passengers annually to 200 destinations.
Separately, the BA cabin crew union Unite said
Tuesday that it would hold a vote for a new strike unless the airline resolves
the dispute by June 29.