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Remembering David Marshall


It is not always the case that you can say someone contributed to their profession right to the end of their life. Many people hang up their hat and enjoy retirement without a second thought for their former profession. But David John Marshall is one who can be applauded for his life-long dedication to piloting and to BALPA.

Many BALPA members will have crossed his path and since his passing many have spent time remembering. Be it as a pilot flying or in his years as a Rep and BALPA Chairman or in recent years when he was an important part of the Pilot Advisory Group and the BALPA Benevolent Fund, he touched many lives and many have fond memories of him.

He brought so much to BALPA and in this blog we thank him for his service and send our condolences to his family and friends. Below, some BALPA members and staff remember him. May he rest in peace.

A tribute by Jim McAuslan: Former BALPA General Secretary

“When I close my eyes and listen to Test Match Special I am sure I can hear David amongst the commenters. Measured, sonorous, reassuringly familiar – he had a voice made for the flight deck.  

He was certainly a reassuring man to have around the Federation, and one with strong beliefs and attitudes that would be at home in any trades union; which he showed when Bishop was escaping BMI.  

“But you would not know that from meeting him or discussing union affairs. In my time with David he was the epitome of discretion dealing with individuals who came to the Pilots Advisory Group (PAG) with ‘problems’ – financial, matrimonial, alcohol, lives falling apart. This quiet group of individuals (of which David was just so typical) filled a gap long before depression, rightly, started to be taken far more seriously by society.  

“Like his PAG colleagues David knew that the long distance solitary life of a pilot had plenty of downsides to the public perception of the glossy lifestyle – even when a pilot’s lifestyle was glossier than it is now. David quietly went about his calling and many lives were turned round by this reassuring presence and worldly advice. Bless you David for being one of the good guys.”

A tribute by Mel Jenkins: BALPA Member and friend of David Marshall

“I first met David when night-stopping in the Isle of Man in the early 1980s. We talked in the bar, found we had much in common, and this started a friendship that endured for over 40 years. We last met at his belated 80th birthday party in late August, and last spoke a few days before his sudden death on 9th September 2022.  

“He was a man who was highly principled with an innate sense of what was right: courageous too, when the need arose.

“At that time managers in British Midland, our employer, were a very tough bunch who ‘fired from the hip’ and meted out disciplinary action with scant regard for due process or the facts. The Pilots’ Local Council (Company Council in current parlance) was largely ineffective because it was under-resourced and poorly organised – not due to a lack of commitment on the part of its elected members. BALPA membership was extremely low and in consequence the views of the pilots were ignored. This was reflected in the pay structure and service agreements which were significantly below industry norms. 

“From this fragile base, David and a small band of like-minded individuals decided to dramatically alter the landscape of industrial negotiation in the company. Membership numbers were recognised as being an essential component for success and so a vigorous recruitment campaign was launched that took BALPA membership from less than 30% to well over 80%.  

“David was elected Chairman of the restructured PLC, and at last the BM pilots had an effective voice which the company management could no longer ignore. In character, the Chief Pilot refused to negotiate with David – because at that time he was a first officer – stating that, ‘I only talk to captains!’ However, under David’s leadership a number of significant skirmishes were fought, and although he and PLC members received dire threats from management, they failed to break his resolve, or that of his committee members. Ensuing pay negotiations produced a 25% pay rise and major improvements to agreements in other areas.  

“When Chairman of the BM PLC, David developed a close relationship with the BALPA secretariat and its’ wider pilot community, through membership of the Independent Companies’ Council, and later when elected to the NEC. For in the 1980s there existed a clear division between BA and the Independent sector.  

“Gradually, his leadership, management and negotiating skills were recognised and he was rewarded initially, by election to the post of Vice Chairman, and then when elected BALPA Chairman 2 years later. During his tenure he led teams that gave evidence to Parliamentary Committees, and worked hard to foster harmonious relationships within the Association as a whole, whilst raising awareness of the workplace difficulties endured by pilots in the independent sector.  

“As Chairman, he championed the cause of those members and their families who, through no fault of their making, were confronting life-changing events. Compassion was imprinted in David’s DNA and he developed an all-consuming interest in the work of the BALPA Benevolent Fund and the Pilots’ Advisory Group. He was active in both spheres at the time of his death. Over the last 30 years or so there have been countless individuals who have benefitted from David’s advocacy, wise counsel and tender care. What better legacy could anyone wish for? 

“BALPA sends its sympathies to David’s family. BALPA too mourns the loss of a stalwart ambassador.”


A tribute by Martin Drake: Former BALPA NEC Member

“To say that Dave will be sorely missed is an understatement of some proportion. Dave’s contribution to the BALPA family has been both lengthy and impressive. 

“Dave served BALPA on his Company Council and the National Executive becoming the association’s chairman. During these times the industry saw many changes The relaxing of the “inclusive Tour” regulations, the privatisation of British Airways, the sale of BA helicopters and the merging of BA and Caledonian Airways, to mention but a few. Whatever David’s position he was always available to lend an ear for persons concerns and offer a wise word or two to those who would listen. 

“During the years post his retirement from flying he spent his time pastorally assisting pilots by his work with the Pilots Advisory Group. Those who have found themselves in need of same sage advice have often been grateful for the interaction.  

“Dave did not just allow the PAG to idle along, he ensured that all the group members were appropriately trained and that all training was kept up to date, so that any help that was required could be given in the best way it possibly could. Dave also made connections between the PAG and professional organisations such that those seeking help could obtain it from the most appropriate source. 

“As the Chairman of the advisory group, Dave found himself sitting on the Flight Technical Committee, a strange place to be one might think. However, with the increasing attention to human factors in aviation Dave proved invaluable to the committee. He did this with the utmost of discretion. He never broke a confidence but was able to shine a light on real world aspects of human factors when applied to aviation. 

“Dave also spent many years as a trustee of the BALPA Benevolent Fund. It was to this task that David brought his vast experience. The BBF uses its funds to assist people in need and it will be remembered that David was always supportive of all our beneficiaries not only in a financial sense but also by making their lives better in many other ways. He always believed that a kind word and sometimes just knowing that there was someone who “had your back” could be just as important as financial help. 

“During his time with BALPA, David always had time for all. He would make sure that everyone was quite well. He would take the time to speak with every person present and it is doubtful if anyone can remember an occasion when he raised his voice or had a truly derogatory word about anything.  

“David passing is a great loss and he will be missed greatly but remembered fondly by all who knew him.”