Airline chief Willie Walsh has warned “a number” of European carriers are poised to fail.

Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways parent International Airlines Group (IAG), said: “Quite a number of airlines on the periphery of Europe continue to struggle.

“We are going to see a number of airlines in Europe go out of business.

“You will see a number of airlines struggle through this winter. There is little value in acquiring these companies, so the next phase of consolidation will be carriers going out of business.”

Walsh declined to name any carriers, but said: “There are a lot of small airlines with very weak balance sheets and easyJet and Ryanair continue to apply pressure in short-haul markets.”

He added: “Alitalia is clearly struggling – although I’m not suggesting Alitalia might fail. The opportunity exists to turn the airline around.”

Walsh was speaking on BA’s inaugural flight from Heathrow to Chengdu in Sichuan, southwest China – the carrier’s first service beyond Beijing and Shanghai.

The IAG boss welcomed signs of economic recovery in the UK, but suggested the difficulties in Europe are not over.

He said: “I’m pleased there is more optimism, but I think there is still a long way to go.”

Walsh suggested “the worst is probably over” at BA-sister carrier Iberia, where thousands of jobs have been cut in an IAG-led restructuring.

He said: “There is some evidence the [economic] situation in Spain is stabilising. We’ve turned the corner, but there is still a lot to be done. We’re about half way through the programme of restructuring.”

Asked whether he was interested in acquiring Irish carrier Aer Lingus where he was formerly chief executive, Walsh said: “We’re not looking at Aer Lingus or any other European airline at the moment.”

He dismissed talk of other possible IAG acquisition targets, saying: “Nothing is happening at the moment.

“We looked closely at TAP Air Portugal but concluded we were not going to make a bid for the airline. TAP is not something we are interested in.”

However, Walsh added: “We are always looking and things do change.”