Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter.

Upfront with NZALPA President Tim Robinson

Dear Members

We had a great response to last month’s inaugural Uplink Quarterly.  As well as being sent to members, it was distributed widely around the industry to stakeholders, including airline management, regulators and every Member of Parliament, Ministers, and the Prime Minister. 

Particularly popular was NZALPA’s victory with the Court of Appeal judgement ordering the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to reconsider his approval of the 90-metre safety area for an extended Wellington Airport runway. The CAA and Wellington International Airport Limited (WIAL) were also ordered to pay NZALPA’s costs for the litigation.  

Although not unexpected, we were very disappointed that WIAL will now spend even more of Wellington ratepayers’ money to fund the fight against a decision directing a safety review. This money could instead go towards an appropriate safety mechanism that our members, the travelling public, and the wider reputation of Wellington as a safe tourism destination would benefit from. This sentiment was further echoed in social media feedback throughout the Capital and further afield.

Now more taxpayer funds will also be spent with the subsequent announcement that the CAA Director is joining WIAL in seeking leave to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court.    

However, the NZALPA Board is unanimous in its commitment to continue this fight and to sustain the Court of Appeal judgement.   

Safety must take priority over commercial factors.   

Through national media, I reiterated our view that as commercial pilots and air traffic controllers, our members have themselves much to gain from an increase in flights landing and leaving from Wellington Airport, but not to the detriment of safety.   

Understandably, this appeal now means the Environment Court hearing of WIAL’s application for resource consents associated with the runway extension has been adjourned for the time being.    

Meanwhile, March’s Board meeting also included an update report on the High Performance Engagement (HPE) initiative within the Air New Zealand Group, considering what is working and where improvements are needed. 

From previous stories, members will recall that commitment to HPE and the use of rational problem-solving techniques such as interest-based problem solving (IBPS) can pay dividends for both employers and staff, and we have seen this within parts of the highly contentious US health sector and in our own industry, with successful outcomes at US carrier South West Airlines. 

The NZALPA leadership team is working with our Councils, and with our partners Air New Zealand and, more recently, Airways New Zealand to further explore the HPE culture, with an aim to increasing the successes that will ultimately benefit our members. We’ve had some success already with Air Nelson, Mt Cook and Air NZ Jet A320 pilots using interest-based problem solving, which is gaining traction and delivering results.  

However, industrial disagreements can still arise and, in addition, there’s still some misunderstanding about HPE by our own membership and within Air New Zealand and Airways management. 

To be clear, NZALPA is investing a significant amount of resource in HPE and using IBPS techniques because overwhelming evidence shows that collaborative engagement does actually work. It means moving away from traditional adversarial and position-based practices, in favour of interest-based, rational problem-solving processes where both parties understand each others’ interests and aim to work collaboratively to meet those interests.

However, it’s not easy and there have been frustrations for all parties, but we have to commit to the journey to try and reap the greater benefits – as does Air New Zealand and Airways.  Other unions, like E Tu, are also using rational problem-solving techniques such as IBPS successfully, but NZALPA needs to continue showing leadership in this area of engagement with our employers. It might not work in all situations and with all issues, and we always have the reassurance that other forums of engagement with our employers, mandated in our CEAs and within the Employment Relations Act, will continue to be available to us.

Finally, the annual International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) Conference will be held in Montreal next month. I was delighted to be asked to represent New Zealand and present on a specialist panel within the Conference’s Global Pilots’ Symposium.  The topic will be ‘atypical employment models’ in the aviation industry and, along with related issues associated with Open Skies policies and the burgeoning international travel market, is proving to be one of the greatest challenges to collective employment rights our agency has ever faced. 

European airline companies such as Norwegian Air International (NAI) are cherry picking from the most pro-employer jurisdictions around the world for staff terms and conditions, and entering into ‘Flags of Convenience’ arrangements where possible in order to challenge incumbent markets.  Meanwhile others are adopting ‘Pay to Fly’ models, where newly trained pilots actually pay the airline to allow them to fly commercial routes in order to gain the requisite flying hours needed for advancement. 

Even more worrying, original low-cost airline Ryanair continues to influence other competitor carriers to adopt its non-permanent employee model, with pilots operating as independent contractors only – something once just the hallmark of some charter companies. This model, fuelled by demand for cheap, frequent flights and massive competition, brings with it obvious fears for crew and passenger safety, as well as erosion of employee rights and increased stress and fatigue. A contracted pilot is responsible for nearly everything an airline would normally provide and support with, such as flight training and checking, transport, accommodation and essential administration.

These atypical business models are likely to become more pervasive and will also be a focus of our own NZALPA Conference in Christchurch in June. I’ll keep you posted on the international discussions.

Have a safe month.


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