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British Airways boss warns airline faces winter fight for survival

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FILE PHOTO: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Split, Croatia
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By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - British Airways' boss said on Wednesday the company was doing everything possible to make it through the winter, highlighting the pressures it faces from the coronavirus crisis as he was grilled by lawmakers over plans to cut thousands of jobs.

Painting a bleak picture, BA CEO Alex Cruz said the airline was running at 25 to 30% of its normal flight schedule, and urged the government to bring in a COVID-19 testing regime to shorten 14-day quarantine rules and get people travelling again.

He said a fear of flying during the pandemic had destroyed any hope of a rapid return to normality as the traditionally weaker winter period looms.

"We're still fighting for our own survival," Cruz told a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday. "We are taking every measure possible to make sure we can actually make it through this winter."

The airline has been under attack from politicians for months over its job cut plans, but the pressure eased slightly on Wednesday when Huw Merriman, chairman of the parliamentary committee on transport, said BA's staff relations appeared to have improved.

BA has said it needs to cut up to 13,000 jobs, or about 30% of its workforce, because the COVID-19-hit travel market will take years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

The lawmakers have previously labelled BA a "national disgrace" for its treatment of employees and said it was seeking to drive huge change "under the cover of a pandemic".

Cruz told the committee BA had now reached an agreement in principle with its cabin crew union Unite, which needed approval in a ballot. If approved this would mean that what lawmakers described as the company's "fire and rehire" policies would be off the table.

Merriman said this was a "positive update".

During the crisis, BA has been bleeding 20 million pounds of cash per day, straining the finances of its parent company IAG <ICAG.L> which is in the process of raising 2.74 billion euros from shareholders.

Cruz said a return to flying had been hampered by the weekly changes to quarantine rules. A two-stage testing system, where passengers are tested on arrival and five days later could remove the need for 14-day quarantines, he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Estelle Shirbon and Jane Merriman)

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