Reflecting on another busy and successful NZALPA Annual Conference this year, it was significant and pleasing to see increased numbers of general aviation pilots taking the time to attend, swap experiences, and get more involved in discussing issues affecting the aviation industry as a whole.
Some of these were L3 Airline Academy members. Over the past few years this team has been working tirelessly, in their own time, to organise themselves in the face of a number of operational challenges. This month these talented and enthusiastic members have stepped closer to realising their first collective employment agreement – an achievement to be proud of. Bargaining now finally begins with their employer and we wish them every success.
Another group of members currently facing their own unique set of challenges are those pilots employed in the helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) sector. In reaction to the Primary Responses in Medical Emergencies (PRIME) review earlier this year, the Government has proposed a number of changes to the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO).
The review and the ensuing proposals will prove a major shake-up for the HEMS sector and those who serve within it. New initiatives include the consolidation of the 12 regions throughout New Zealand into just three regions; closure of three bases; and, over time, modernisation of the fleet to double-engine helicopters.
The Government maintains that these changes are intended to improve patient outcomes, safety (including better management of pilot fatigue), and provide greater value for money. To this end, a tender process is currently underway with operators bidding to secure the contracts for the three newly-configured regions.
It is appreciated that, as with every change, there will be both positive and negative consequences arising from final decisions. On the one hand, with the announced increased funding to upgrade equipment, there are opportunities to improve the service and safety of the operations; these are positive steps.
However, on the other, the pilots who fly these services are skilled professionals with significant local knowledge and during this period of change we need to ensure that they are supported, their working conditions are not undermined, and adequate health and safety and rostering provisions are contractually provided as to not jeopardise both crew and passengers.
As these recognised front-line professional pilots and crew are our ‘angels in the sky,’ saving lives every day, their needs must not be overlooked during changes and efficiency drives. Similar concerns are also felt by members of the public in provincial areas who fear a downgrade of coverage for their specific regions.
For NZALPA, our worry is that operators, in an effort to offer the most client-pleasing tender, will seek to drive down operating costs and conditions in what could become a rapid ‘race to the bottom’, ultimately putting the safety of crew and passengers at risk.
Given the national significance of these helicopter EMS service changes, NZALPA is engaging with HEMS pilots to ensure members’ operational safety, specialist knowledge and security of employment are not compromised or undermined as this transition is rolled out.
We’ll keep you posted on events and progress.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford has regained his responsibility over the Civil Aviation Authority. In May he lost that responsibility for using a mobile phone on a plane, in breach of the CAA rules. Twyford has been fined $500 for breaching CAA rules.
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