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Help in the helicopter sector

by Mick Brade National Officer

Our members in the helicopter sector, be that pilots or aircrewmen, are a vital part of BALPA, whom we are proud to represent. The helicopter sector – in particular the North Sea – has been through extremely tough times in the last couple of years.

Our support of North Sea members has helped stem some of the redundancies and through our negotiating we are pleased to say we have helped bring down the cost of re-training in fixed wing down by tens of thousands of pounds, and helped many members start new careers.

Here are just a few accounts from members we’ve supported in the helicopter sector.

Les Lovitt – aircrewman

I have been an aircrewman with Cobham Helicopter Services and its other guises as an instructor for almost 20 years, a member of BALPA for 17, a rep for over 12 years and Chairman of our Company Council for eight. Over the years, I have represented colleagues at disciplinary hearings or similar but never imagined I would need BALPA’s help myself.

In October 2016 I was the operating crewman on a training flight in Snowdonia. After about 25 minutes into the sortie we made an approach to a mountain feature to pick up a passenger. The idea was to go skids light and allow the passenger to embark. Unfortunately, it all went a bit ‘Pete Tong’ just as the skids came into contact with the ground.

The investigation is ongoing so I can’t comment in any detail, however, a catastrophic failure resulted in the aircraft being destroyed by fire. Luckily, we all walked away from it uninjured. In less than 10 minutes the photos of the incident were in the media. That happened at 1.30pm. I did not get off the mountain until late afternoon and by the time I had gone through the post-crash screening process and finally got home, it was 9pm.

My National Officer had seen the incident on the news, contacted BALPA head office, informed the powers that be and contacted my wife to offer any assistance, offering to drive up here to Anglesea if needed. For the next few weeks we remained in regular contact but he came into his own when I was asked to attend a military investigation. The BALPA legal team jumped into action offering advice and representation if required. Luckily for me it wasn’t, but just knowing that this level of service and response was available took the edge off the whole process.

If you are in any doubt as to becoming a member then just put yourself in my shoes, who would you turn to for professional advice and a sympathetic ear? It was the first time in 37 years of flying that I’ve ever needed it and, boy, was it welcome.


Neil Green*, helicopter pilot

When I first arrived on the North Sea I joined an employer that was very anti-union and the rumour was that if you joined BALPA you could kiss your chance of captaincy goodbye. I didn’t feel the need to join up during my time as a co-pilot but, despite me being well treated by my employer, it became apparent to me that if necessary, the captain would be sacrificed for the good of the company. So, come promotion time, one of my first actions was to sign up to BALPA.

It’s like any membership fee, it seems on the face of it that money could be better spent elsewhere. However, I have had the pleasant experience of utilising BALPA Financial Services (BFS). They did a full financial health check and the savings made in switching insurance policies have more than saved my monthly contributions. Coupled with the tax allowance BALPA has negotiated, the net effect is a ‘free’ service.

The salary levels enjoyed on the North Sea would never have been achieved without the considerable energies expended by BALPA. We are so much more together than as separate pilots.

I wasn’t really aware of the important contributions that BALPA made to flight safety until I was part of the helicopter safety committee. BALPA was instrumental in getting improvements in ATC coverage, and also getting parties together to help prove the concept of TCAS2 for helicopter operations.

BALPA has industry-wide experience at their fingertips and can help influence aviation policies for the better.

*name changed to protect identity


Steve Wood, helicopter pilot

I am a pilot with Specialist Aviation Services, where I have been employed as an Air Ambulance pilot for 10 years. I have been involved with BALPA for nearly 20 years and in the last eight years I have been on the Company Council, the last four as chairman.

With a passion for everything mechanical I was encouraged to get involved in BALPA’s Accident Investigation Group (AIG) alongside the Helicopter Advisory Committee (HAC).

The AIG meets four times a year at BALPA House and looks at all aspects of accident analysis and prevention. The group also specialises in dangerous goods and flight data issues. During meetings, AAIB bulletins are scrutinised, any trends discussed and learning points distributed throughout the membership.
I bring my helicopter knowledge to the group to ensure our industry is represented alongside fixed-wing. We also send a representative to the IFALPA security meetings, as well as the International Society of Air Safety Investigators (ISASI) meetings, to ensure British pilots are represented internationally.

It’s important for members that, as well as the significant trade union expertise BALPA provides, they’re involved in the wider discussions and decisions on the aviation industry. BALPA’s Flight Safety team supports many other technical groups of experienced pilots including, the Occupational Health and Safety Group (OHSG), Operational Aviation Medicine and the Pilots Advisory Group, to name just a few.

BALPA membership

These are just a few of the many situations where we’ve been able to provide support and expertise to our members. We’re always trying our best to ensure BALPA membership is good value for money (www.balpa.org/2016/12/06/making-balpa-membership-good-value/) and through established industrial negotiations, professional engagement, and robust legal representation, we aim to ensure that being a BALPA member is always a good investment.

Want to become a member? Click here to register online or call our membership department on 020 8476 4000.