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Is civil war brewing for British Airways pilots and union BALPA?

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When British Airways and pilot union BALPA announced an agreement to keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum, it made BALPA look like the grown up in the room.

Whilst Unite was posturing over cabin crew redundancies and refusing to negotiate, BALPA had apparently acheived something useful. Unite’s Len McCluskey ended up publicly begging Alex Cruz to give his members the same deal.

Pilots are unhappy with BALPAs deal with British Airways

And yet …..there are now rumours of internal strife between British Airways pilots and BALPA over what was agreed.

As we explained in this article, the BALPA deal involved a package of pay cuts, unpaid leave and contributions to fund a long term group of furloughed pilots. The overall impact was to reduce the number of compulsory redundancies from over 1,250 to a target of just over 200. In reality, the number of compulsory redundancies was higher – 250 – due to fewer requests than expected for voluntary severence.

Although the deal is done, the repercussions will rumble on for much longer.

Why are some pilots unhappy with the BALPA deal?

The problems appear to stem from two areas.

Firstly, there are allegations – which for legal reasons I must stress remain just that – that certain BALPA representatives shared information with British Airways. If true, this could mean that BALPA did not necessarily achieve the optimum deal possible. It is probably best that I leave this aspect of the story at that.

The second problem is more fundamental.

New recruits have accused BALPA of operating as an ‘old boys network’, primarily concerned with the welfare of long serving British Airways pilots. The remainder feel that they have been thrown under the bus.

How are the British Airways pilot fleets structured?

It is well known that British Airways cabin crew had two fleets – the low paid ‘Mixed Fleet’ hired in the last decade, and the legacy crew hired before that. ‘Mixed Fleet’ salaries start at around £16,000 before allowances, whilst legacy crew earn, at the very top end, up to £80,000 all-in.

British Airways pilots also operate on, broadly speaking, two sets of contractual terms.

When BA bought bmi British Midland, there was concern that it would be used to set up a low cost short haul carrier similar to Iberia Express. This would have had separate pilots and crew on poorer contracts than mainline staff.

To avoid this, BALPA agreed that all pilots hired from 2012 would be hired on new inferior terms.

Why do the new BA pilots feel unfairly treated?

BA pilots hired before 2012 are on a 24 year pay scale. From the day you joined, it would take 24 years to reach the maximum possible salary.

This changed in 2012. New entrants have to work for 34 years to achieve maximum pay.

There was some justification for this. The retirement age for pilots was lifted from 55 years to 65 years, so moving from a 24 year to a 34 year pay scale made sense.

The real winners, however, were the existing pilots. These staff were expected to hit peak earnings at around 50-55, just before enforced retirement. When the retirement age was pushed out to 65, they could look forward to an extra decade earning the maximum possible salary. This caused issues further down the chain, because with more pilots earning the maximum possible pay it left less money for the remainder.

Another issue has been the way pay rises have been applied. Pilot pay settlements have led to fixed percentage rises for both sets of contracts. This exacerbates the difference, since a 5% rise leads to a far greater increase in take home pay for someone earning many multiples of what a new entrant earns. The compounding effect of these increases over the years means that the gap between pilots on the two different contracts increases sharply over time.

New pilots have been given the short straw

If you read my older articles on BALPA’s deal with BA, you will know that there is a major element of ‘last in, first out’ about it. The redundancy settlement agreed with the airline was about preserving the jobs of long serving pilots at the expense of new recruits.

Logically – since pilots are on a fixed pay scale – this meant that those pilots who remain are the highest paid. It is possible more jobs could have been saved if redundancies had been split equally across high and low earners, not just low earners.

‘Last in, first out’ also fails to recognise the reality of pilot life today.

Many ‘lifer’ British Airways pilots had their training funded by the airline. Today, most pilots pay for their own training and run up personal debt of over £100,000. Redundancy will push many into financial hardship.

The furlough fund also seems biased against new recruits

The BALPA deal involves all pilots taking a 16% pay cut. Whilst 8% is a saving for British Airways, the remaining 8% will be deducted from pilot pay to fund over 300 pilots on long term furlough.

This seems altruistic. The logistics don’t work, however.

A post-2012 pilot is giving up 8% of their modest salary to allow an experienced pilot to sit at home for two years on up to 66% of their usual earnings. However, the pilot sat at home will be receiving more money than the post-2012 pilot who is still employed.

It is the equivalent, although less extreme, of Mixed Fleet cabin crew on £22,000 all-in being asked to hand over 8% of their pay so that, at the very top end, an £80,000 Customer Service Director from the legacy fleet can be furloughed for two years on a £53,000 salary.

Overall, the pain of redundancy falls disproportionately on:

those earning the lowest salaries

those on the 34 year pay scale vs the 24 year pay scale

those who paid £100,000+ for their training vs those whose training was funded by British Airways

those on contributory pensions vs those on generous final salary pension schemes

Conclusion – where now?

It isn’t clear where this story goes next. I am told that there are rumblings within the pilot community of a walk-out of post-2012 pilots from BALPA, which is seen as only representing the ‘old boys’ network. The fall out from the rumoured sharing of information with the airline by BALPA representatives is still to come.

What it does mean is that the story we believed – that BALPA, BA and the pilots had come together and found an agreement which was acceptable to all parties – was possibly not the whole truth.

Comments (135)

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  • Winchpete says:

    BALPA an ‘old boys network’. Perish the thought.

    • Dan says:

      Somewhat ignorant, I’m afraid.

      LIFO is in the pilots’ MOA – it’s part of their contract of employment. The new joiners are all aware of this. This is an industry where seniority rules for many good reasons.

      The 747 captain you want to get rid of, because of apparent perceived “fairness” of spreading the pain, will never be able to find other employment to replace their £170,000 salary. A new joiner on £30,000 can replace that income in other employment. Furthermore, unlike almost any other profession, if you move airline as a pilot you start at that new airline at the bottom of the seniority list and at the bottom paypoint. That’s why LIFO is the fairest way to sort out redundancies and is typical of just about every airline.

      This split within BALPA has more to do with a newer intake of more militant reps whose desire for strike action failed so spectactularly last September, and the older cadre of more pragmatic reps that, let’s not forget, saved 1,000 jobs from the initial S188 letters. The new reps would have acted like Unite – and look where that has got them.

      • Anon says:

        Could argue your comments are ignorant, Dan.

        The vast majority of junior pilots made CR at BA did not come directly from flight school. The average age across the 249 CR is above 30. Pilots have come from 10yrs LHS at easyJet/Ryanair/Jet2, or from other long/short haul backgrounds around the world. £30k does not represent the salary of the majority of new joiners. Replacing a £64,000 basic for a CR pilot in the current world is as difficult as finding a £200,000 basic for a captain. The difference is that the CR pilots don’t have a very established pension, are more likely to have decent mortgages, and have not had an almost-lifelong earning history of above £100k.

        The reality is sacking anyone causes huge shockwaves that will likely feel the same for anyone on any pay scale. Blaming older pilots doesn’t solve it, but pretending that junior pilots are simply fine because they’re (perceived as) young doesn’t wash either.

        What’s important to remember about seniority is that the junior will find it difficult to ever become even 20% as senior as the top at BA, because they get made CR or their airline goes bankrupt, and so they start at the bottom again.

        • Dan says:

          Why did those pilots leave the relative safety of LHS at LCCs to come to BA, which clearly has LIFO as part of the MOA?

          Of course CR is never good for anyone, but this crisis is unlike any other and LIFO is the fairest way to arranging CR – just as it is used in the USA.

          But you making out that the likes of 747 skippers have had life-long £100k+ careers is nonsense. Many had no job/a cabin crew job for years after the gulf war or 9/11. Many were on peanuts in the highlands and islands. It hasn’t been a rosey career for them.

          This crisis is immense. To reduce job losses from 1200 to 270 is pretty darn good going. To try and claim no job losses was ever possible is cloud cuckoo land stuff.

          • Anon says:

            I didn’t argue that LIFO was the wrong way of dealing with it. If there was a better way you’d imagine it would’ve been used. The point of my post was to show that LIFO isn’t a pain free solution.

            The comments I made were also to correct your inaccuracies, eg. Pilots who were sacked are young and on £30k with no history pre-BA.

            Asking why people leave low cost carriers to come to BA implies you have no clue what working for any low cost carrier is like. No argument that LIFO is clearly part of the MOA for every pilot, but generally speaking when an airline is making £2b profit you imagine it would be a safe time to join.

            Fair point from you about previous earnings for current skippers. I made no argument that top salaries weren’t earned or justified because that would be senseless.

          • Dan says:

            To Anon at 10:22 – I can’t seem to reply to your post below.

            I never argued that LIFO was painfree, but it is the fairest. Just like democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the least worst.

            I never said all CR pilots were FPPs – but those facing CR will find it easier to get closer to replacing their salaries than a 60 year old pp24 747 skipper can. And not all pp24 captains are mortgage free with all their kids through university either! Many of them have been utterly altruistic and taken VR to save junior guys and girls.

            I know what it’s like working for a LCC – the draw for BA is often longhaul because short haul at BA is worse than LCC flying! But leaving £100k+ LHS at easyJet or Ryanair for £60,000 at BA is a big gamble. I understand the crew that left Flybe, they were on borrowed time, but I’ve flown with quite a few ex-Jet2 crew that bemoan the lower salary and having to commute from the north. Why do it?!

            Glad we agree that pp24 skippers are worth their salary, even if some of our colleaguea on the other side of the door think they’re inflated. Compared to KLM, Air Francr, Lufthansa and the US3 and ME3 everyone working in the flight deck is underpaid.

          • Rob says:

            The pilot salary comments come from a document written by BA pilots which you have probably seen.

          • Phil henderson says:

            Just before I retired 5 years ago, Red Arrows red 1 joined the LGW operation as a first officer. How many of the £180,000 brigade could ever match this achievement? He may be redundant now as a 27ish pilot. Achievevers may be needed as trainers when the old guard is retired.

          • Clare says:

            Because, Dan, BA has never made a pilot redundant in the past. It was viewed by applications as a safe job for life. Many DEPs in the past decade have come from long-haul jobs in the Middle East, often after they were made redundant from their first jobs in the UK during the financial crisis. Many have been flying for more than a decade before coming to BA. I would argue that it’s this that needs fixing – airlines need to start abandoning seniority, and promote and award jobs on ability and experience. It’s simply not fair that a pilot who was sponsored by BA at flight school and has been with only BA for their entire career is safer and better paid than someone who has flown several different aircraft for a variety of carriers around the world, arguably increasing the value of the experience they bring.

      • TRSB says:

        Wow! And people think my generation is entitled, unbelievable!

        • Lady London says:

          @TRSB each generation has its own advantages and disadvantages. Next time you can fly as Red Arrow 1 let me know I’ll come to watch.

          Redundancy is never fair because there’s no single fair selection method and always hard on those who go. This one is a bad one because of the huge economic shock that has caused it so cushioning opportunities are limited. I think BALPA has done a very good job faced with the realities and ‘fair play’ to BA to listening and working with BALPA to save many pilots than they first thought.

          There was very little able to ve done to save cabin crew however I believe Unite failed their members in not trying to talk about flexibility to soften the blow for at least some cabin crew. I hope cabin crew will get together and dump Unite asap for another union that will at least make an effort and not waste their money on 1970’s-style old-school unhelpful media advertisements.

    • FinnM says:

      BALPA’s BA chair has resigned after admitting that several reps had been briefing BA on BALPA’s strategy and back up plans and that he had known since June. These reps have been suspended.
      Many v. senior pilots have called for their reinstatement??? Would you fly with them again?
      Most junior pilots see them as lackeys of the old school and deserve everything they get. Time for a new pilot union which looks after the interests of the newbies.

  • Chris L says:

    My guess would be that the insistence on using ‘last in first out’ comes from BALPA and not BA. We’ve seen BA take a different approach with cabin crew – they made all short haul CSDs redundant – the most senior and likely long-serving crew. LIFO doesn’t make sense for BA as they are forced to retain the most expensive pilots. If they ditched this policy they could come up with a much fairer approach.

    • Jonathan says:

      Pilots are a smaller group so despite the greater salaries the total pay bill will be substantially less. Cabin crew pay has also been a long term target for BA as it was so out of kilter with all their rivals so the axe was always going to be wielded more aggressively with them.

      • J says:

        Divide and rule is a very effective tactic. BA would also match Ryanair terms for pilots if they could get away with it. If the different unions for all of the different roles at BA took joined up action they could secure their future and the future of BA. Unfortunately under the UK’s very strict anti union laws this is illegal – which is why Euro/WW fleets are prevented from showing any solidarity with Mixed Fleet.

      • Rob says:

        I doubt it is substantially less. On a short haul flight the two in the cockpit will out-earn the crew combined. Even on a long-haul flight, the two upfront will be on over £200,000 (often over £300,000) between then which is the base salary of 14 Mixed Fleet.

        • Unknown says:

          PP1 FO basic: £63,343
          PP24 Captain basic: £195,000

          • dan says:

            Actually – let’s cut through the spin. £63,343 is for a longhaul DEP on January 2020 salary. You’ll have to take 16% off of that for January 2021 pay. However, FPP basic salary for an FO is just £28,391 as of January 2020.

            A little disingenuous to just use longhaul. It muddies the waters a little.

        • Dan says:

          Where are you getting your figurea from? Fulltime longhaul skippers are on £175,000, not £300,000 that you insinuate. Longhaul FO starting pay for a DEP is £59,000. There is a reason for the pay differential, they don’t do the same job!

          • Rhys says:

            You missed the words ‘between them’ in Rob’s comment!

          • Anon says:

            I don’t know if you work for the airline, but if you do, then it takes about 30 seconds to find out those figures I quoted are accurate.

          • Darren says:

            Dan think you missed quote was £300k “Between them”

          • Phil henderson says:

            Well I wouldn’t take long haul pay scales to risk loosing a normal life and increasing high altitude cancer life problems. Turned it down to stay on the ground once.

      • Nick says:

        It’s actually not… total pay for all pilots at BA is higher than total pay for all cabin crew at BA. Believe it or not. That shows the huge disparity.

        • Dan says:

          Darren – that would be true for a very senior longhaul crew. There are few FOs with that salary to bridge the gap with even pp24 captains. On shorthaul it’d be typical for the combined amount to be even less than half that figure.

          • Darren says:

            Dan, sure, by the sounds of it you know more about it than me, was simply pointing out that I think you’d misread the initial post.

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    Pilots are not the only ones to spend serious sums on their training. The person behind the night desk at your Holiday Inn has probably got £60k in debt from student loans for their degree in “Hospitality” !

    My generation were lucky: we got student fees paid for, we even got grants – yes, paid to go to uni! And we had great employment terms.

    Right across employment, younger people have worse terms, poorer pensions, lower wages – you name it.

    But the previous “recessions” have been over in no time, so many young people felt like it was fine running up huge debts based on future prospects.

    This recession will be different and harder, and – sadly – there will even be a few personal bankruptcies among those who never even had the faintest idea that their dream job might not be a job for life.

    This crisis will not just be a problem for pilots.

    • Tim says:

      Student debts are staggeringly different to pilot loans. Pilot loans are around 4% interest, payable over 10yrs and generally guaranteed against a parent’s house. The repayments equate to between £1k-1.5k a month regardless of earnings. You cannot miss payments or you lose your parent’s house. Student loans are *only* repayable above a certain wage and until a certain age. The pressure to pay flight loans for young pilots (who join BA from flight school on £30k, not the direct entry pilot pay of £64k) is huge.

      • the_real_a says:

        As part of the loan it is (or was) a requirement for comprehensive sickness and redundancy insurance. Loan companies are well aware of the boom and bust of airlines.

        • Anon says:

          Absolutely hasn’t been a requirement for at least the last 6 years. It’s secured against a house. They’re quite fine with you defaulting.

    • Dan says:

      You know many pilots also have degrees and student loans on top of their flying training loans?

    • Phil henderson says:

      People operating all modes of transport are bound to suffer over the next 10 to 15 years.
      We will be using a phone app to call for a self driving car to pick us and deliver us to wherever we want to go. MAYBE that’s our airport where an autonomous aiircraft takes us to our destination. (We will probably need a ground station to input some human control in the case of difficulties…but this will not be required as AI improves)
      Most car crashes and air crashes are human errors. Don’t choose to be a uber, taxi or bus driver?/HGV “cos it’s a dying future.
      Go for something where humans can use their joint flexibility and reasoning, that would take millions to replicate, in a robot.
      Police service is in demand now. (High speed traffic officers) or maths and physics teachers

    • Ian says:

      To be fair though. The average person behind the desk at the Holiday Inn is probably not earning enough to have to start paying back their student loan. A loan that is written off after x years if not paid back. They also did not ‘need’ the degree in hospitality to get the job at Holiday Inn.
      I suspect that the cost to become a pilot is not based on this sort of loan, but is a requirement to get the job.

  • Julie says:

    Are you not able to bring yourself to publish predominantly male, white, middle class, pilot salaries as an example ? Or are you also “old boy” too?
    I am legacy main crew after nearly 40 yrs, flying, 75% contract, on a basic under 29K and I updated my skills , as full time student, graduated with a HND – last summer, for which I now have a student loan debt!
    I’ll probably be selling my pension to pay my mortgage. At 58 ageism in the UK, is rife, the gender gap, is now worse, for women, in salary and pension terms, Oh and for 10 years contract increases were forbidden regardless, of circumstances ( health or caring) thus effecting my pension contributions. I’ve also run my own business.
    Quoting 80k salaries – that are now a minority example looks and sounds like seething resentment towards the role of cabin crew, some of whom due to the length of time they held their contracts,like myself.It was always my suspicion in 2010.
    Expecting to be first in the que at reception to get your room key when you have sat down, finished the cross word, eaten, lunch at leisure, and caught up with your iPad, whilst flying half way around the world when crew have been run off their feet, non stop is also part of the ingrained culture that exists in the airline industry “old school” pecking order..
    Still not Publishing pilots salaries when Legacy crew are fair game to attack?
    Perhaps as “over paid legacy cabin crew “ I should retire gracefully early or accept statutory redundancy is my fate, so once again a pilot can wear my uniform and do my job?
    Bet No one thought of that before???
    I knew when I was refused a diabetic meal on board, post 2010, whilst I continued to serve them to pilots and passengers just how much I was valued.

    • Rob says:

      I don’t have the pilot salary scales. If I did, I would publish it.

    • Phil henderson says:

      it is horrible when a company you have put so much of your care into treats you like a staff number and expendable. (I spent 3 years at Brunel and a further 3 years line and type training before I was qualified on the fleet at that time….all for £56,000 pa)
      Well I worked as as an avionics engineer for City Flyer at LGW..My salary and benefits were cut and red ringed with the B.A. HR comment.that “accept or you will never be retrained.”
      That’s when I realised that their p.r. image was a sham. B.A. is a profit machine and none of us matter. I do think that BA has overpaid some groups of staff and they need to become competitive in this new reality.

  • Mike White says:

    The pilot profession valuws experience first akd foremost. Next to your name is often put how many hours you have. This has never changed in the profession, even with anti-agist legislation. LIFO is therefore operationally logical for pilots, even if not economically sound. Which is why, I guess BALPA natively agreed this deal.
    However, what still sits in my gut is that there is a large slice if supply and demand here. BA has never had difficulty attracting pilots and this will continue. This creates a reality-checl of ‘take it or leave it’, which is no different to any other industey right now.
    My opinion, FWIW, is that the situation is going to get even worse before it gets better. BA needs a wholesale change of its business model and IMO it needs to revert to a full service airline. Post pandemic people will appreciate quality over mobility amd price. The LCO model will come under pressure but BA will definitely see and need lower volumes of flight and therefore pilots.

  • Andy S says:

    I feel Rob’s statement “Mixed Fleet’ salaries start at around £16,000 before allowances, whilst legacy crew earn, at the very top end, up to £80,000.” needs some perspective.

    The 16k figure would be junior mixed fleet, every time they fly they earn various allowances so in reality will always be earning more than 16k. The legacy crew 80k would be for a senior manager including all their allowances. Somebody 2 ranks higher, vastly more senior and on a completely different contract to the person a direct comparison is trying to be made.

    I’m not saying it’s right or fair but I don’t think the facts are clear when you first read the article

  • Unknown says:

    249 pilots made CR
    300 pilots into ‘CRS’ non-operational pool

    BA have taken 549 pilots off the books.

    The original idea of CRS pool was to put pilots without fleets (mostly 747 and LGW 320) into this pool, as it was seen as unfair to sack pilots who one day woke up without a fleet or base. Therefore the pool would see a wide range of pilots across all pay scales.

    Unfortunately, BALPA quietly negotiated to allow captains to bid for work in the right hand seat (FO seat) on full pay. This means that experienced captains (senior pilots) will now be displacing junior pilots into the CRS pool.

    So some flights you’re on soon may have two captains up front on full PP24 pay, as one of them displaced an FO into the CRS pool.

    CRS pay is either 33% or 66% of pilot pay scale basic. 33% if you bid for only specific seats (eg. Bid to fly 350 only). 66% if you bid for ALL fleets. Regardless, they all go into a 2yr paid non-operational pool and won’t fly anything unless demand returns.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks. Added some of this in.

    • Bagoly says:

      How does lack of certification on an aircraft type affect this?
      i.e. Are those who bid for all fleets limited to those who have been trained on all of them in the past? Or will BA make that training available? And if to be trained on a new aircraft type, what is the input obligation from a pilot? 100 hours? Any cash?

      • Anon says:

        Any pilot can fly any aircraft, so previous history on a type means nothing in a bid process. BA will prioritise bids for the shortest courses (at the moment). Eg. 380 to 350, or 777 to 787 is a few days course at BA. After that bids for different types are accepted in seniority order. The idea is that if you’re on a fleet that is subsequently oversubscribed because you either didn’t bid or weren’t successful in bidding, you end up in the non-operational pool.

        BA pays for all training and pilots are not bonded in pay, but have ‘type freezes’ which are between 4 and 8 years dependent on a few factors.

        For ‘BS’: CR = compulsory redundant.

    • BS says:

      Can you please explain what some of these acronyms are? CR for example – I’ve tried googling. It take away from much of your message if outsiders cannot understand it

      • BS says:

        I *think* CR = compulsory redundancies, but CRS??

        • insider says:

          I think CRS is something like ‘career retention scheme’. A pool of pilots who would be paid a held in a pool but not flying for a period of time, paid for by the salaries of those still flying. When flying picks up again, they would re-join the operational pilots

          • Rob says:

            Most will not fly again and BALPA accepts that. It is a 2-year run down to leaving.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Compulsory Redundancy

    • Dan says:

      But you didn’t mention BA has prioritised short courses. So a LGW A320 is likely to trump the 747 skipper at getting that LHR A320 P2 slot. BA don’t want pay protected skippers in the right hand seat and would rather have them in the pilot-funded CRS pool. So what you said isn’t entirely accurate.

    • Phil henderson says:

      my experience of two captains on the flight deck… maybe both 50 to 60 years old… is that this is a recipe.for potential conflict and reduction in crew acceptance regarding who is best suited for decision making (dominance and hormone disagreement. ..(testosterone).)a younger mind as a f.o. is less likely to be challenged and more considered by one captain who does not consider the junior as a dominance challenges?

  • Nick says:

    The ‘information sharing’ stuff is nothing more than a soviet-style purging of enemies – the 3 suspended reps made the ‘mistake‘ of saying in a meeting something that’s patently true but went against Union HQ’s constructed narrative, so they are paying the price by masters trying to settle old scores. The CC Chair resigned because it’s so blatantly unfair. Hopefully that will become obvious in time.

    A mass walkout for juniors is sadly unlikely. They all desperately want to, but there’s no alternative union to jump into, and they all take the pragmatic view that it’s better to be in a union than not in one. If someone set up a new union with the same support and protections, they’d be there in a heartbeat.

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