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BALPA demonstrates knowledge and professionalism at the TUC

by Brian Strutton BALPA General Secretary

I attended the 148th annual TUC Congress in Brighton, along with the NEC’s Leo Nugent, to ensure our voice was heard among the other British unions. The TUC offers us the chance to meet other union reps and staff, make new contacts, discuss ideas and call on the TUC’s support on issues important to our members.

Call for greater safety in our skies

This year we put forward a motion calling for greater safety in our skies, which focused on the rising incidents of laser attacks on aircraft and near-misses with drones. We asked the TUC to support us in calling for increased legislation in both of these areas. Leo spoke on the issues to Congress.

We believe it is only a matter of time before a major accident is caused by a drone collision or a pilot being incapacitated by a laser strike unless something is done to prevent it. The increase in laser attacks on pilots and drones near-misses with planes at UK airports means we need the aviation authorities to show a greater commitment to improving regulation.

Figures show that reports of incidents involving drone near-misses with planes have increased from 29 in 2015 to 42 so far in 2016. Reports of laser attacks were recorded at 1,439 in 2015 with 55% of pilots saying they have experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months.

In his speech, Leo said:

“BALPA’s number one mission is to make every flight a safe flight. Over recent years two new significant threats have emerged and we need to deal with them.

“Firstly, lasers. Shining high-powered lasers at an aircraft is dangerous; it’s reckless; and it’s illegal. These attacks also usually occur during take-off or landing – the critical phases of flight when the pilot’s actions are sensitive and time-critical. BALPA has been campaigning for a long time for high-powered lasers to be treated as what they are – offensive weapons.

“The second emerging threat is drones. Drones are an exciting new development for aviation, and, indeed, we have opened BALPA membership to drone operators who will be growing in number in the coming years. But we need to make sure that drones do not pose a threat to aircraft. So far this year there have been 42 reports of near-misses involving drones.

“The Government will be introducing drone regulation in its Modern Transport Bill in the current parliamentary session. The TUC should work to influence this Bill to ensure that safety is the priority, so that the public are protected, and so we can all fully embrace the possibilities of drone technology, safe in the knowledge that the risk is minimised.”

Leo’s speech was well-received and the motion was carried by Congress.

Making the case for aviation growth

As well as putting forward your own motions, unions can propose amendments to other union’s motions. This year we requested amendments to the motion: ‘After Paris: climate change, just transition and climate jobs’ put forward by TSSA. In the motion, some of the requests included a stop to airport expansion and alternatives to short-haul flights (such as rail) to be encouraged.

Our amendments were rejected by TSSA so we each took to the floor to argue our cases. In my address to Congress, I highlighted that as trade unions, we shouldn’t be proposing action that could lead to a loss of jobs in other industries. While we supported many of TSSA’s points around climate change and making environmental commitments, we just simply cannot support a motion that could negatively affect pilot jobs.

We had the support of many other unions, including GMB, Unite and Prospect. After everyone had made their cases we went to the vote. The majority of Congress fell in favour of BALPA’s argument and TSSA’s motion was rejected.

BALPA and pilots had several positive mentions, including in Frances O’Grady’s keynote address, and I believe that throughout Congress we demonstrated that despite being one of the smaller unions in terms of membership numbers, our professional and knowledgeable approach is something to be admired and respected.