The launch of British Airways’ new transatlantic subsidiary OpenSkies could trigger the first strike by BA pilots in 26 years.

Unveiled last week, the new airline is to fly between New York and either London or Paris from June.

A meeting between BA and pilots’ union Balpa on Monday was set to determine whether OpenSkies has a difficult or trouble-free birth, with the two sides entering talks poles apart.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh pointed out BA already operates a subsidiary operation with CityFlyer, which offers regional services from London City.

“This will be no different from CityFlyer,” said Walsh. “We have pilots flying out of London City on different terms and conditions to BA Mainline pilots. It is nothing new.”

He told Travel Weekly: “There is no dispute with our pilots. Any fears are unfounded.”

But Walsh conceded he intends OpenSkies pilots to be employed on different contracts and at different pay rates from BA’s 3,000 existing pilots. BA confirmed it is already recruiting pilots for the subsidiary.

A Balpa spokesman said: “We are way apart. BA wants a separate workforce for OpenSkies and we want to retain one pilot force to protect the professional standards and reputation of BA.”

Balpa argues BA CityFlyer is a small operation with different aircraft from the rest of the fleet. “OpenSkies will use the same aircraft as BA Mainline and fly similar routes across the Atlantic,” said the union spokesman.

Pilots were due to meet on Thursday to consider the outcome of Monday’s meeting. Sources suggest a strike ballot would be likely without substantial concessions from BA.