British Airways’ pilots will ballot to strike over the airline’s plans to set up a subsidiary to fly between continental Europe and the US.

BA unveiled the carrier, to be called OpenSkies, two weeks ago and it will begin flying between New York and Paris or Brussels in June.

The pilots object to BA’s insistence on having a separate pilot workforce for the subsidiary. BA chief executive Willie Walsh points out a similar arrangement exists at BA CityFlyer, which operates from London City airport.

But pilot’s union Balpa says 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 a union spokesman.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan insists the dispute is not about money. “We are not prepared to see the pilot body broken up in the way BA plans. There should be cohesion of the pilot force which is important in a safety-critical industry.”

Pilots had been due to discuss a strike ballot last Thursday, but delayed a decision following the crash-landing by a BA Boeing 777 at Heathrow. That led BA boss Willie Walsh to praise the courage and professionalism of the pilots.

The earliest date for any strike would be late February.