Jim Duffy comment: Striking BA pilots need a trip back down to earth

My father would take me on a Sunday to the old Inchinnan Airport 40 years ago to watch the planes take off. It was his dream that one day I would be a pilot. He would ­marvel about how exciting the job must be. I guess he felt that it was what he would have wished if things had been different. Still, today many young men and women dream of being pilots and flying commercial jets around the world. A career that offers tremendous opportunities and, it would seem, bumper salaries. Especially if one can land a job with British Airways.

I cannot support the pilots holding a company to ransom for a slice of the profits, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.
I cannot support the pilots holding a company to ransom for a slice of the profits, says Duffy. Picture: contributed.

There is no doubt that it takes a certain level of intelligence and dedication to train and operate within the role of commercial pilot. A good understanding of mathematics, physics and the ability to combine ­aeronautics, navigation and communication with a touch of manual dexterity are all par for the course. So, this role should attract a very decent salary. It should attract top talent that can safely and responsibly take off and land these big jets with hundreds of human lives onboard. But, when these men and women of the sky hold a company to ransom for a slice of the profits, I’m sorry, I cannot support them.

The current industrial action by pilots at BA appears to make these professionals look greedy. With salaries reported to be at £167,000 plus extras, it does not seem appropriate nor reasonable to be demanding more and bringing this most prestigious of British carriers to its knees. Especially as it hurts passengers. One only needs to peruse social media to see how negatively BA passengers are reacting to the levels of disruption caused. For once, we should not be giving BA leadership a hard time.

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International Airlines Group (IAG) chief Willie Walsh is shrewd and well respected. A pilot himself, he has been at the helm of BA and now IAG for many years. He has built the travel group into a most profitable business that incorporates airlines including Iberia and Aer Lingus. It is a big corporate beast that is well managed, despite IT issues, and generates decent bottom line figures. In 2018 IAG reported pre-tax profits of €3.2 billion (£2.6bn), up 9.5 per cent on 2017. Solid results in anyone’s book. But, this does not entitle its pilots to bumper pay increases, many would argue.

The union representing the pilots, Balpa, rejected BA’s attempts to settle the on-going feud with a 11.5 per cent pay increase and a one-off lump sum. Balpa has stated that pilots have already made sacrifices in the past to help the airline in its growth. So, now they want to reap the benefits. But, as one of the most “plum” jobs on the ­planet, with what are already decent operating hours and perks, including First Class travel for them and their families, the BA pilots perhaps need a reality check. With the average salary in the UK hovering around £35,000, BA pilots are doing very well. ­Contrast this with BA cabin crew on a 777 working for the airline, who pocket about £25,000, and one can see where the pilots’ actions and requests appear out of kilter. Of course, in its 100th year, this is the first time BA pilots have resorted to literally grounding the airline. That is because for decades they have reportedly had the best salary increases, perks and bonuses in the industry, not to mention training and time off. And still they want more?

IAG needs to make big profits to invest in new technologies and ensure that when the bad times hit again, and they will, they have enough cash on the balance sheet. Driving a profitable business is exactly what Willie Walsh and BA CEO Alex Cruz are doing. The competition has never been more fierce. ­Everyone in the airline, I would suspect, is playing their part. It reminds me of an anecdote of Barack Obama bumped into a janitor when visiting Nasa. He enquired of the janitor what he did. The janitor replied: “I help put a man on the moon.” A whole team effort.

Perhaps BA pilots should think of the rest of the team, rather than their own self interest.

- Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.