Upfront with NZALPA President
NZALPA President Andrew Ridling
Christmas has come around very quickly this year, with the events that we were discussing last year now being inconsequential when compared with the COVID-19 pandemic and the destruction we have seen of our industry globally that we, as pilots and air traffic controllers, are proud to have chosen careers in.
My focus and that of the Association is squarely on the circumstances that our colleagues and families now find themselves in – a position that was unimaginable just six months ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our industry, our people and our families is the worst event that I have seen in my 30-years as a pilot. Commercial aviation has
been devastated and every industry stakeholder – from global airlines
and airports, to plane lessors and manufacturers, engineering firms and parts suppliers – have all felt its impact.
Aviation on a global scale has changed. To suggest that the industry will operate differently as we emerge from the COVID pandemic is an understatement. However, NZALPA’s core reason for being, and that of our Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers, will not change as a consequence of this pandemic – that of safety. Safety of our passengers. That is our core role in the industry we have chosen.
During the SARs pandemic, travel became unsafe but the world economy did not flat line; during the 2008 financial crisis, money became tight but flying was not a health risk. This year, however, our industry has been forced to deal with tandem outcomes. For the past two decades, globally airlines have experienced extensive growth. In 1998 airlines sold 1.46 Billion tickets, and by 2019 that number was 4.54 Billion. This year, all that growth has been undone. Plunging demand has led to IATA forecasting industry losses in 2020 to be more than US$85 Billion.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, NZALPA pilots have continued to fly through what can only be described as strict conditions of isolation and quarantine. Ensuring medical supplies are provided to the country, we have kept the key supply chains open for New Zealand’s exporters and made sure air travel routes are open to communities across the country.
We have also ensured those New Zealanders who wanted to return home have been able to do so. Naturally, the industry’s challenges have a direct impact on our business at NZALPA. NZALPA went into Christmas last year financially in a very advantageous position as a consequence of both the Board’s prudent fiscal decisions and careful financial management. This cushion, though, can only provide a dampening for so long. With the extensive downturn, NZALPA’s income has halved, resulting in a necessary change to our business structure and our activities. As a Board we have reviewed our operation and priorities, which has led to the downsizing of NZALPA. Over the last six months, we have said goodbye to some incredibly good people. Eliza Bradley, Melanie Mills, Pamela Hutton and Adam Nicholson have all decided to look for opportunities outside of the Air Traffic and Pilot family. David Reynolds left just prior to the pandemic. We have chosen not to replace any of these positions. That is just over a third of our people that have spent large parts of their lives working for our benefit, to which I need to say thank you to you all.
Change is inevitable after a crisis of this magnitude, and although hard to imagine from where we are looking at the moment, the industry will return to meet our expectations. There will be a “shake up” and the way we work will change – and in some ways that is a positive outcome.
The strategic direction of NZALPA this year was to be based on the concept of “Building Bridges” – developing relationships and partnerships was at the core of that strategic path. Those relationships and strategic partnerships extended into Government, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Air New Zealand and most of our employers. Fundamentally, NZALPA and our strategic partners are aligned in the direction we need to take this industry forward.
NZALPA has met with the Transport Minister and the Ministry of Transport on a regular basis to ensure our messages are being heard and advocated at the highest of governmental levels. Now that the election is over, a number of changes have occurred across ministerial portfolios, including in portfolios that directly impact NZALPA. We enjoyed a very good working partnership with the previous Transport Minister and his team. The Ministry also provided us the ability to advocate on changes prior to their implementation. We are very appreciative of the opportunity to provide such valuable insight and feedback. It is of utmost importance that we build on those relationships so that we can further influence and input and we look forward to working with the new Minister.
Prior to COVID, NZALPA supported the CAA through its internal difficulties. The Final Report of the Organisational Culture Review released in April focussed on behaviours within the CAA that equally could have been reflected across the industry generally – and certainly within some of the larger companies that employ our members. Enquires of this kind in such a small industry as aviation should spur all industry participants to reflect on their own operations and culture and the part we all play in this safety- centric business.
Our philosophies as an organisation are very much aligned with that of the regulator. Safety in New Zealand requires there to be a strong regulator that is well resourced, both financially and with talent. These requirements have taken on even greater importance as we emerge from the current pandemic. Ms Janice Fredric (CAA Chair) and the CAA board, along with Ms Shelley Turner (Acting CAA Director and Chief Executive) have embraced the industry’s concerns and issues identified last year. Having their leadership in these roles over the next few years will be critical to see New Zealand aviation safely prosper once again.
The largest player in the airline industry in New Zealand, and the largest employer of pilots, is Air New Zealand. COVID-19 has had an unparalleled impact on the company as all of its aircraft were grounded while the country went into lockdown. Then, as the country emerged, the airline grew back into some of its routes carrying international freight. Air New Zealand went from a company enjoying extensive profits and expansion to being a third of its size in time measured in weeks, through no making of its own.
The relationship that NZALPA has established with Air New Zealand through the Memorandum of Understanding implemented three years ago, as well as the strong leadership from both the CEO and Board Chair, have been instrumental in ensuring that NZALPA has been able to be part of the decision making processes. It is often forgotten that Greg Foran took over as CEO only nine weeks prior to the pandemic commencing. His leadership combined with that of Board Chair,
Dame Therese Walsh, have positioned Air New Zealand to be able to navigate this global catastrophe. We have a very strong domestic market, and combined with the freight routes that are currently being flown and the opening of a Trans-Tasman and Pacific island bubble, it will allow industry growth. This will allow us to plan a future for all those pilots that have taken furlough or accepted redundancy from the airline.
Unfortunately, members at the other end of the industry – our essential flight instructors – are going through tough times as we head into the Christmas season. Both L3Harris and Canterbury Aero Club have announced plans to make their pilots redundant and our advocacy and welfare teams have been working hard to support these members.
This sector of the industry has been desperate for the government to enable international cadets to enter the country safely, but this has to date fallen on deaf ears. This will be a huge loss to the economy and the industry.
At the end of every report we focus on our representatives. This year has been extraordinary. As the President, my role has been made so much easier by the exceptional people that I have been supported by. I have witnessed the hours of family time that have been lost by these individuals working tirelessly 12 hours per day, 7 days per week to get agreements and communications out to both members and employers. They have worked relentlessly on behalf of the membership at a great cost to themselves, while they and their families were being equally affected by COVID. At the same time, all our employee groups were under pressure as well as the organisation itself. It was immaterial what role individuals had been elected to – the job was essentially the same. I cannot thank each one of these individuals enough on behalf of the membership and myself:
• Vice President Capt. Kim George (until June 2020)
• Vice President S/O Mike McGuire (June 2020 – Present)
• Industrial Director Capt. Andrew McKeen
• IFALPA Director Capt. Tim Robinson
• ATC Director Mr Kelvin Vercoe
• Technical Director Capt. Hugh Faris
• Medical and Welfare Capt. Andrew Pender
• Secretary F/O James Jarvis
Behind the elected representatives is the support. That is provided by Dawn Handforth and her team. As mentioned earlier, this team has also been affected by the industry downturn. Those remaining have needed to pick up additional duties
in areas they were not used to. The entire staff team needs to be thanked for looking after every member through this most difficult time.
The overall driving factor that this pandemic has taught us is the value of our organisation, NZALPA. We are an organisation that continues to be member-driven and member-led. NZALPA is unlike other organisations in that we are owned and directed by our membership. In saying this, we need you to think about putting your hand up. Becoming involved in NZALPA is an honour and a privilege and it takes many different personalities to ensure the key results are achieved. Please think about it, as it is your and your colleague’s future that rely on this excellent organisation.
Finally, it is not missed or forgotten by anybody in NZALPA that extensive loss and hardship has been placed on a lot of our members especially over this Christmas and summer season. We are all aware of the number of members that have lost their jobs and careers because of COVID. I can only assure you and your families that our role as pilot and air traffic control leaders in this position is to ensure that there is a very good career for you and your families to return to. I don’t know when that will be – but history tells us that it will occur.
<< December 2020 General Manager's Note >>