Aer Lingus has said that it is prepared to engage with an expert panel appointed to investigate a pensions dispute, which has sparked the threat of industrial action next week.

However, it said it will only do so on a voluntary and non-binding basis, aimed at facilitating full and speedy implementation of a previous Labour Court recommendation on the issue.

In a statement to the stock exchange, the airline noted that over the past four years it has engaged in several initiatives in a bid to resolve the row.

It reiterated its view that the outcome of a previous Labour Court process remains the only basis upon which a fair and balanced outcome can be achieved.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar earlier called on SIPTU to call off its threatened strike at Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority over proposed cuts in the joint aviation pension scheme.

The union is scheduled to hold a four-hour stoppage at both companies on Friday 14 March as the busy St Patrick's weekend gets under way.

If SIPTU's stoppage goes ahead next week, it will cause chaos for thousands of passengers at one of the busiest times of the year.

Aer Lingus also confirmed that from tomorrow it will commence re-accommodating and rebooking customers in order to give certainty regarding their travel arrangements in the face of threatened industrial action.

SIPTU's pensions committee is to meet tomorrow to discuss the issue.

Earlier, the union said that as of now, it has no plans to call off its threatened action.

Following behind-the-scenes contacts over the weekend involving Congress, Ibec and Government departments, a high-level expert group was established to seek a solution to the long-running dispute.

The group is due to issue a preliminary report by the end of this month.

The panel is made up of Peter McLoone, former president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and General Secretary of IMPACT, Brendan McGinty former head of Industrial Relations at Ibec, accountant Eugene McMahon of Mazars, and Laura Gallagher of KPMG.

It has been established to carry out an "urgent investigation" into how a final resolution of the industrial relations issues can be secured.

In a joint statement on behalf of ICTU, Ibec, the Department of Transport and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, it is acknowledged that important areas of disagreement remain between the parties resulting in the current impasse.

The expert panel's brief includes discussions with "relevant stakeholders including management, the relevant trade unions, the LRC and the Labour Court".

However, as yet it is unclear whether they will consult with retirees now facing potential benefit cuts due to new legislation, or former employees who have not yet retired.

The statement urges the parties to engage constructively as a matter of urgency, warning that the potential consequences for them are stark should they fail to resolve their differences.

It said the Government, Ibec and congress believe a final effort should be made to resolve the dispute without recourse to industrial action, which would be very disruptive for the travelling public and could have very serious consequences for the companies concerned, their employees, members of the Irish Aviation Superannuation Scheme and for the economy.