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Pilots celebrate unlikely radical

The man who rallied pilots to form the UK’s first pilots’ union has been hailed as a radical hero in a new exhibition at the People’s History Museum in Manchester this month.

The decision to centre an exhibition on Eric Lane-Burslem, who founded The British Airline Pilots’ Association in 1937, was made after he featured on a list of 100 activists, militants and revolutionaries including Alan Turing, Dagenham Ford Machinists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

The display explains how Lane-Burslem, an airline pilot from a privileged background became an unlikely unionist through his determination to raise safety standards in British aviation, following an incident where he was made to fly when he felt unsafe to do so.

Back then, the first official mass meeting of BALPA saw 400 pilots turn out at a Croydon hotel. Now BALPA represents around 10,000 UK commercial pilots.

Pilots who represent BALPA members gathered in Manchester on the 1st of June to launch the exhibition and celebrate the ongoing commitment BALPA has to make every flight a safe flight.

BALPA’s Chairman, Brendan O’Neal, said: “Eric Lane-Burslem might not seem like your typical trade unionist, being a man from a financially-secure background and working in what was, at the time, seen as a very glamorous profession, you might think him an ‘unlikely radical’.

“But he has played a huge part in the safety standards we see today.

“If BALPA had not made its recommendations on various aspects of flight safety, and if the post-war accident rate were to be applied to today’s aviation traffic, there would be 4,000 fatal worldwide accidents a year, instead of the 23 of today.

“In starting BALPA he has contributed to that and it’s a fantastic legacy to leave. We want to celebrate that legacy with this exhibition.

“Of course, there is always more work to be done, and safety for the pilots we represent, and the travelling public we serve, is still at the core of everything we do to this day.”

The exhibition launch will also see general secretary, Jim McAuslan, stand down and pass the mantle to new general secretary, Brian Strutton.