Aer Lingus has said that it would consider engaging with the IMPACT trade union if its pilots withdraw their threat to strike next week.

The union represents 480 pilots in Aer Lingus, as well as cabin crew and administrative staff.

IMPACT described the Aer Lingus statement as insincere, saying it did not even represent a conditional offer for negotiations.

Assistant General Secretary Michael Landers said the offer went 'nowhere near resolving' the issues at the centre of the pilots' dispute.

Mr Landers (left) said his members were open to negotiations without pre-conditions at any time, but insisted that if no agreement was reached by this time next week, his members would have to consider taking further industrial action.

Aer Lingus pilots are planning a two-day strike, claiming that a move to the airline's new base in Belfast will see pilots there employed on less favourable terms and conditions than those in Dublin.

The airline also said it has contingency plans to lease aircraft with crews to fly several thousand of its passengers to their destinations in the event of a strike.

The services will operate between Dublin and Heathrow, Manchester, Faro, Malaga and Amsterdam. Other limited services will also operate between Cork-Heathrow and Shannon-Heathrow.

Aer Lingus' commercial director Enda Corneille said the company had managed to lease aircraft which would accommodate around 8,000 of the some 50,000 passengers, who had been booked to travel on an Aer Lingus flight on the two days when pilots will stage a strike.

He said the company still hoped to source a limited transatlantic service and would have more details in the next 24-hours.

Govt asked to block Shannon move

Meanwhile, the newly formed west-coast lobby group, which is fighting Aer Lingus' plans to end the Shannon-Heathrow service, has called on the Government to back a Ryanair proposal to block the move.

The demand comes as senior Aer Lingus executives prepare to travel to the mid-west later this week to meet businessmen, industrialists and local politicians who are fighting to have the Heathrow service retained.

So far, there is no indication that the Government is going to intervene to force Aer Lingus into a U-turn.

But the Atlantic Connectivity Alliance who met for the first time last night in Dromoland Castle says the Government now has a clear opportunity to make a stand on the issue and reverse a decision that should never have been made by the company.

The Alliance, headed up by some of the mid-west's most influential industrialists, says it is about to launch a 'vigorous campaign' to save the vital Heathrow link.

Fine Gael is also supporting the Ryanair demand for a special shareholders' meeting to overturn the decision.

Clare TD and Spokesman Pat Breen said Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his ministers should abandon their summer holidays and the Cabinet should meet immediately to deal with what he called a crisis.

A Government spokesman said it had no comment to make on the demands.