British Airways says it is prepared to return to talks with pilots who accused the airline of “bullying tactics” that will see passengers take the brunt of this week’s 48-hour strike.

Ahead of the beginning of today’s strike which has seen the carrier cancel 1,600 flights, pilot’s union Balpa claimed its demands amount to just £5 million more than BA’s 11.5% pay increase offer.

The union said the airline makes £2 billion profit annually and each strike day with cost it £40 million and claimed pilots took pay cuts during the financial crisis to help the company.

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Balpa claimed BA ignored an offer to join talks on Wednesday and a further offer to talk at consolation service ACAS on Friday was refused. This week’s strike is the first by pilots in BA’s history.

In a brief statement released on Sunday, BA said: “We remain ready and willing to return to talks with BALPA.”

A further statement from the airline said: “We understand the frustration and disruption Balpa’s strike action has caused our customers. After many months of trying to resolve the pay dispute, we are extremely sorry that it has come to this. “We remain ready and willing to return to talks with Balpa.”

“Unfortunately, with no detail from Balpa on which pilots would strike, we had no way of predicting how many would come to work or which aircraft they are qualified to fly, so we had no option but to cancel nearly 100% our flights.”

Talking to the BBC this morning chief executive Alex Cruz apologised for the “cynical actions” of the pilots which he said would backfire with the travelling public.

It was pointed out that BA pilots are paid on average £150,000 a year and that the 11.5% pay offer was “generous” and way above inflation.

Balpa said the strike is “a clear message to the company’s managers that they will not be fobbed off in their dispute over pay and benefits”.

After negotiations broke down, the union said its argument is with “the company’s highly paid management and not with passengers”.

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The union added: “British Airways would clearly rather inflict this bullying tactic on its staff and see its passengers take the brunt of the strike action inconvenience than engage with its employees to find a way forward.”

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “British Airways needs to wake up and realise its pilots are determined to be heard.

“They’ve previously taken big pay cuts to help the company through hard times. Now BA is making billions of pounds of profit, its pilots have made a fair, reasonable and affordable claim for pay and benefits.

“Balpa has consistently offered up chances for the company to negotiate a way forward. British Airways must now put the needs of its staff and passengers first and accept that its pilots will not be bullied or fobbed off.

“But the company’s leaders, who themselves are paid huge salaries and have generous benefits packages, won’t listen, are refusing to negotiate and are putting profits before the needs of passengers and staff.

“This strike will have cost the company considerably more than the investment needed to settle this dispute.

“It is time to get back to the negotiating table and put together a serious offer that will end this dispute.”

A further strike is scheduled to take place on September 27.