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Life as a tech rep

by Captain John Marriott

I’ve recently retired as a BALPA technical rep, something I had enjoyed doing for nearly my whole flying career. I suspect that BALPA members don’t fully know about the Association’s technical and flight safety work, which is something that is crucial to you all.

It all started in1990 when I joined the Air Traffic Study Group (ATSG). Then when I was a relatively bored copilot on the Boeing 747-400 I decided to utilise my ‘down time’ to study for an MSc in Air Safety Management. Fortunately I finished this just in time to start my Boeing 777 command/conversion course.

The subsequent qualification evoked the BALPA Head of Flight Safety at the time to invite me to sit on the BALPA Accident Investigation Group (AIG). After a couple of years attending the meetings and showing commitment, BALPA asked me if I would like to attend the Cranfield University accident investigators course.

As well as the Accident Investigation Group, I continued to sit on ever-increasing number of study groups, including Occupational Health and Safety (OHSG), Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or drones, Flight Data Monitoring, BA Technical Liaison Committee, and a number of IFALPA and European Cockpit Association groups. Make no mistake, it is hard work – many meetings, and almost constantly on standby to come in and assist members when required. I had to check my emails every day, even on holiday, otherwise they would build up to a totally unmanageable level.

The Chairman of the British Airways Company Council asked me to consider standing for election as a rep rather than being appointed. I replied that I wasn't an industrial type and thought it might be inappropriate, but he replied that I should write a manifesto stating that I was standing as a flight safety and technical rep. Apparently he thought I was working hard and he wanted to give me due BALPA flying credit for that work – I was really honoured (and somewhat surprised) to subsequently be elected.

Since that time I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to represent all BALPA pilots, especially when something untoward happens to them, and let’s face it, “there but for the grace of God go I”. In most cases I’ve actually found the AAIB, CAA and company management to be fair and of course importantly ‘just’. One of the first things I would say to a crew going into an interview was to be open and honest and I can honestly say in my experience it always works out well. It was fantastic to see any pilot who had been involved in some unfortunate incident or accident get through what must have been a very dark place and successfully get back to flying on the line. The just safety culture is in my experience working well, although I suspect this is not always the case in some corners of the world…

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in any incident please remember, there is no such thing as an ‘informal chat’. Always take a rep with you. I can say that my old company BA actively encourage this and it is certainly not seen by them derogatory.

Remember, BALPA doesn't only look after your industrial terms and conditions, it also strongly supports you in all technical and flight safety matters, many of which go unnoticed by our community but none the less are extremely important to you, the ultimate users.

I’m off now to do some light aircraft instructing, but I leave you with my final thought – I strongly recommend being a BALPA technical rep, it has been my honour, privilege and pleasure to have represented BALPA pilots for many years.