Guten Tag from Berlin.
It was a privilege to attend this year’s International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) 2019 Conference, held at the end of last month and hosted in Germany’s capital by Vereinigung Cockpit (VC). With the theme of “Building Bridges,” IFALPA President, Captain Ron Abel summed up the Conference theme;
"...on all issues, IFALPA's strength lies in our solidarity. IFALPA pilots recognise this – it’s clear from the way IFALPA Member Associations stand together across national boundaries, continents, and around the globe - in Unity."
The Conference began on a major issue for the pilot profession - single pilot and reduced crew operations. For several years now there has been a move to airlines and aircraft manufacturers looking for ways to make aircraft more autonomous and remove the need for a full pilot crew on board each flight.
It was made clear that, while IFALPA fully supports any developments that improve the current safety standards in commercial air transport, our enviable safety record and culture is based upon two properly rested, fully qualified, and well-trained pilots. It is imperative that any future evolution of this benchmark improves the safety and security level in any area, and does not degrade it. Because reduced crew operations carry significant additional risks over existing dual pilot operations, IFALPA believes that this will result in a serious reduction in flight safety.
It is therefore essential that these risks and safety shortfalls be fully addressed before the industry accepts changes to the standards which have built what is widely known as the safest transportation system in history.
The Global Pilots Symposium is always a major feature of the annual Conference, and this year it was centred on the sub-theme "Today for Tomorrow". Captain Abel acknowledged the number of “pilot leaders from all corners of the world…each of you play a key role in the future development of our industry.”
The IFALPA President believes our collective pilot leadership plays a crucial role in what sets us apart from every other global aviation organisation, namely our expert pilot volunteers. In the ensuing Leadership Panel, stories were of professional expertise in leading pilot groups and the daily challenges experienced. This included being in the spotlight as a pilot organiser, especially given the huge media focus on various global aviation events and industrial action of the last 12 months. Captain Evan Cullen said that for him this had been tough, and had been personal, “…it’s gone on a long time, but it comes with the job,” he said. Meanwhile, Captain Ilja Schulz poignantly remarked;
“I’ve always had a vision of a better future ahead for myself and my fellow pilots. If we can see this vision, and are not distracted from that path, then people start trusting you and believing in you, that’s what makes you a leader.”
Other major organisation challenges were identified as the the difficulties presented in dealing with Trans-National Airlines (TNA). These, of course, are airlines with bases in more than one country and implies that the pilots of a same company may have different working conditions and/or work under different national social laws and jurisdictions.
To meet the TNA challenge, IFALPA President Abel said there was a need for unity and leadership across our member leadership and organisations and warned that;
“No matter where you are in the world, make no mistake, a TNA will be part of your future. The question is not if, but when."
In the TNA Symposium Panel that followed, delegates were updated on established national union structures and preventing the pitting of one pilot group against another. In this case, the importance of transnational representation in the face of changing corporate structures was stressed as essential. As Panel Member, Captain Enda Ryan said;
"We need to understand what’s changed over the years with pilot groups. What’s changed is that airlines have become transnational. For us to be able to create frameworks to deal effectively with that, we need to catch up and become transnational…We need to provide a framework where the drive to the bottom is stopped. We need a bottom-up approach. We need pilots to stand up collectively and coordinate collectively.”
The Symposium was rounded off by the ‘Pilot Unity’ Panel and outlined work undertaken to strengthen pilot groups through organised, unified, and powerful leadership. The complexities of liberalisation and the associated risks of having a growing number of isolated pilot groups was discussed. When asked what unity means to him, one Panel Member defined it as;
"(Unity is) the leverage to negotiate. Unity is about making everyone understand that we as individuals will do better for pilots – we’ll be respected in our community. It means trusting each other, team work, trying collectively to achieve goals that will benefit us all.”
Meanwhile, a major talking point at the Conference was the current SAS industrial action. At the time of writing, around 70 per cent of SAS flights had been cancelled over several days by the jointly-owned Scandinavian airline, citing strikes by the SAS Pilot Group, which represents 95% of pilots across the region.
For me, IFALPA’s statement on the strikes underpins the bridge building and unity that was so prevalent throughout the Conference, and the constant need for all our organisations to continue to stand in solidarity with each other.
IFALPA believes that neither SAS pilots, nor any other pilot group, should accept deteriorating working conditions, unpredictable hours, and a lack of job security. IFALPA urges SAS Management to consider the gravity of the situation and reconsider their stance, not only for the sake of their workers but for that of the travelling public. IFALPA pledges its full support to all SAS pilots on strike in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and extends the hope that this unfortunate matter will draw to a swift and mutually satisfactory conclusion.
NZALPA is also unequivocal in its support and reminded me back home of another story detailed in this issue of Uplink. Resistant to replace their colleagues in Fiji while Fijian ATC colleagues undertook action, New Zealand’s ATC’s publicly stood in solidarity when management refused to re-enter negotiations about improving employment terms and working conditions. This is leadership.
Have a safe month.
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