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The state of the nation

by Brian Strutton BALPA General Secretary

With aviation decimated by the COVID-19 crisis, we are in a tough spot right now – for the industry, our elected reps, BALPA, airline managers and every pilot. It truly is unprecedented – there is no denying it.

This crisis has made everyone face tough choices. None of them are easy. In fact, some of the choices we’re facing now – both as individuals and as a community – may end up being the hardest we’ll ever have to make.


I wanted to reflect on the sheer breadth of the decisions before us, the weight of these decisions and their impact. Many of you have made or will be making a range of personal decisions. Do I want to stay in this airline that is changing beyond all recognition? Should I take voluntary redundancy or part-time work, or another mitigating measure that reps have negotiated? How do I even decide?

For those facing redundancy, will you try to stay in the industry or find a new career? Talk about a heart-breaking decision. For our trainee members – will you stay in training, or do you see no point, and cut your losses?

Challenges ahead

Our BALPA reps and officials face incredibly difficult challenges trying to respond. Should they negotiate, accepting the airlines’ requests for redundancies, or walk away? How much do we agree or disagree with the redundancy selection matrix? How do we fight against base closures?

As an Association, how will we ensure that we can carry on supporting you as our workload increases, but our income reduces?

The elected pilots on our NEC have to make hard choices to ensure BALPA remains viable. And our airline employers are looking at massive impacts on their operation and finances as recovery forecasts get pushed back further and further. An important choice for them is whether to choose to work with us to minimise the catastrophe, or use it as an opportunity to force terms and conditions changes. Too many have chosen the wrong path.

A choice for the Government was whether to support this industry – which was first in and will be last out of the crisis – or not. Well, the decision has clearly been made and they have chosen not to. Not only that, but they’ve also gone further in making choices that will worsen the recovery for aviation, such as the ever-changing and catastrophic quarantine policy. For those who saw my evidence to the Transport Select Committee or have seen our other media work, you will know that BALPA has been imploring the Government to help aviation avoid what I’ve termed a ‘death spiral’ and huge job losses. Even in behind-the-scenes discussions with ministers and officials, it is all too apparent that other transport sectors take priority over aviation.

Tough choices

No doubt there will be varying degrees of sympathy for those who have tough choices to make. I don’t think any of us will be sparing too much concern for the Government or for airlines, but I know that you will share with me enormous respect for the pilots who have selflessly taken decisions to help colleagues during this crisis, such as applying for voluntary redundancy or going part time.

I have seen the incredible pressure and strain our reps and staff have been under in this crisis. Each one is trying to do his or her best for our members under the worst possible circumstances. No-one welcomes having to sign agreements that will make colleagues redundant. No-one. And no-one should be under any illusion that it is easy. They know they will face criticism. They know there will be a backlash. They know that the decisions they take will mean making one group or other feel let down, yet they do it on behalf of the members as a whole.

Each of us needs to recognise the tough choices that others are facing. We need to support each other. I have seen plenty of that within this community. I have seen selflessness and touching concern for our colleagues’ welfare. And we need to be ready to ask for help when the choice before us looks simply too hard to make.

There is also plenty of anger around. That is completely understandable, but use it wisely, and direct it appropriately. And hope that the day will soon come when our choices become easier and our community happier. I am confident it will – I just don’t know when.

If this feature resonates with you, or you have any concerns, email balpa@balpa.org or call us on 020 8476 4000


This article was first published in the Autumn 2020 Edition of The Log magazine. For this and more articles on the future of aviation, information on navigating redundancy and all the usual features, download The Log app from your device app store.