New twist in airline merger talks
Iberia has called in expert consultants to investigate BA's troubled pension scheme.
The British carrier, which is holding £3.8bn all-share merger talks with the Spanish airline, has a current deficit of about £1.74bn on its final salary scheme.
Pension consultants Mercer will report to Iberia late next month.
Their report will be studied by Iberia's directors along with a second report by, commissioned by both airlines, on a business plan for a merged carrier.
The move comes after just weeks after its ceo Fernando Conte expressed surprise that BA was also holding merger talks with another carrier, Qantas.
He said the BA-Iberia talks, which started in July, should take precedence.
The BA-Qantas talks have since collapsed, partly, according to one report, because of the BA pension deficit.
The move to employ specialist pension experts comes after Mr Conte admitted his airline was having trouble understanding the BA scheme and its deficit.
Iberia's own pension scheme has no such deficit.
The Spanish airline is understood to fear that any tie up with BA could land it with obligations regarding the British carrier's deficit.
The Spanish move makes the talks between the two sides ever more delicate.
BA had originally demanded a 65%/35% share of the new airline but Spanish interests are now asking for a figure of nearer 40% for Iberia.
While Mercer will report to Iberia next month, any new figure for the BA deficit will not be known for about a year.
The next three-yearly actuarial valuation of the BA scheme does not begin until the end of the airline's financial year on March 31, 2009 and will take several months to complete.