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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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  • Steve Coathup says:

    As a father of an FO just made redundant, he is coming to terms with a) his £80,000 bond not now being repaid by BA; b) his house near Gatwick now having to be rented out to pay his mortgage and having to live with mum and dad,c) looking for jobs like a Tesco delivery driver for the next 3 + years.
    I’m humbled by the lengths new pilots have offered to go to and avoid redundancies. Older pilots would do well to consider this and not dump on the newbies. I can’t see any sense of loyalty from this older group; they appear to be jobsworths who are only interested in maintaining their overestimated opinion of themselves. Anecdotally there are pilots who have said they will sit in the pool for 2 years for extra pension contributions, then retire whilst denying 1/2 jobs for the newbies. So much for community spirit!.

    • Brian says:

      Makes me sad seeing this. I simply do not understand how would it be “fairer” to save the jobs of the most “senior” pilots while sacrificing the junior pilots in face of a recession.

      Some readers argue that these junior pilot can start junior somewhere else – well which airline foresee themselves regaining their capacity in the next 2-3 years? This argument is effectively mute.

      On the other hand, the most senior pilots are just sitting on these enormous pay packages doing jobs that effectively a computer could do better, probably living in a house that will is simply not achievable by these junior pilots ever in their life time.

      I cannot see how this is “fair” by any means, in fact this is plain and simply unfair.

      • Riccatti says:

        None of those 1-3 million GBP housing is accessible to today’s professionals. Even senior.

        All went into buybacks or spending on marketing budgets (eg Google/FB pockets) to sustain sales levels and thus, bonuses for MDs/C-Suite only. There was no salary growth and cum inflation, entire middle class experienced loss of real income.

        The economic reality of the pie being largely eaten by those in 50-60es becomes to bite.

  • Dan says:

    They won’t have been on that kind of money for long. I’ve flown with plenty that have been through a divorce and lost half or more. Changes to NAPS means they’ve recently lost half their expected pension. Have you seen how expensive housing is in Maidenhead or Guildford? Even on £170k a modest 4 bed detached at £950,000 requires a mortgage! And putting kids through university isn’t cheap.

    Despite that 150 or so have been granted VR – many more were turned down by BA. I’ve still got 3 decades+ to go though!

    • Nick says:

      Who needs a ‘modest 4 bed detached’ house in an expensive area?! That’s exactly the sense of entitlement we’re talking about. And ‘putting kids through university’… the student system is designed so parents don’t have to pay much. Tuition fees are supposed to be paid by the students themselves after they graduate, not upfront by parents. Any who choose to do so don’t understand the system and only have themselves to blame.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        I don’t think anyone is saying they need it but that’s what they have 🙂

        Not sure what you mean about gaming the system on tuition fees as graduates will eventually pay them off if they get a higher earning job and, if they started studying after 2012, would have paid a horrendous amount of interest on the way. 5.4% accrued while studying and as much as RPI+3% while you’re are working and earning over £47k

        If they don’t get a decent job they’re just taxed for 30 years but which parent doesn’t have faith their child’s going to be a high flyer after uni 🙂

      • Dan says:

        Nick – it’s not a sense of entitlement. They’ve worked for it for years, they’re not saying they’re entitled. Why has this turned into bash a pilot fest? As equally ridiculously one could say it’s envy?

        Have a read of EASA FTLs regarding commuting distance. There’s a reason many need to live within 90 minutes of Heathrow. In addition, few pp24 pilots are full time – a full roster of 2 crew JFKs, Abujas, Lagos, Riyadhs etc is hard work, the extra time off for recovery is needed. So few are on the £175,000.

        But how many here criticising pilots have had their expected pension slashed in half a few years ago and plan on taking early retirement? LIFO is used the world over, in the USA it’s used completely without other factors. If pilots don’t like LIFO, which is in their BA contract, then there are a few LCC where simple single-fleet short haul flying is available. Or therr’s the Middle East where they just kick out expats.

        At the end of the day the VR and pay cuts have saved about 1000 junior CR. So credit where it is due to Balpa and pilots in general.

        • Susan says:

          LIFO is age discriminatory so outside of BA it is rarely used for redundancy selection in UK.
          My husband has 30 years service with BA (not a pilot) and we have to live within a reasonable commute. Maidenhead and Guildford are unaffordable for us. We have to accept that there are many other less desirable but affordable areas to live. And yes he too took a massive loss in his potential pension just the same as the pilots. There can be no entitlement – the reality is there are options that all BA staff have had to accept that would be different to their aspirations of a decade ago

          • Dan says:

            LIFO+ was used. Performance, disciplinaries and extra activities such as training were taken into consideration. With a seniority system, you can still be the most junior and 45 years old and half way up the list at 33. So it’d be very difficult to prove, especially with the added criteria, that it discriminates.

            As for entitlement, what are you talking about? Where is that coming from? Pilots have taken hefty pay cuts to protect 20% of the pilot workforce from being made redundant. Sounds altruistic to me, not entitled. If there’s entitlement at the airline it’d be from BASSA that has protected Worldwide and Eurofleet T&Cs at the expense of Mixed Fleet. But hey ho.

  • Beetle says:

    24 year pay structure verses a 34 year one. That’s 24 or 34 more unearned say rises than the rest of the BA staff and they feel hard done by . Give me a break!

  • Louie says:

    This is a really interesting article and I’ve learned a lot from the comments too. I had no idea that pilots were effectively locked into their employers and unable to transfer to other airlines at the same seniority level. Is this a worldwide thing? How does anyone justify it? It seems ridiculous to me.

  • Phil henderson says:

    Was also a pilot (ppl) and owned two aircraft. Have flown everything from Cessna twins to Electra 4 eng prop turbines to DC3’s and airbus a300’s. Citabria’s etc. So my conversations with the flight deck was “meaningful “. We worked problems together and depending on stores and spares availability, got them all away within estimate for 15 years.

    • Phil henderson says:

      Miss these girls and guys. They all deserve a better deal for all the dedication they gave BA. Working and bending discretion to maintain BA’s reputation. PHIL

  • Phil henderson says:

    Most people who want a full service carrier will be the well heeled. You can get rid of the BA drive to the bottom if that’s their new model. If you believe this then BA and the French/ UK govs. Need to develop the next generation of low orbit, hypersonic aircraft that can reach anywhere on the planet in 2 hrs. Billionairs will buy seats at a few £10000.
    But for Jo public we need to invent and develop e-aircraft. Electric aircraft with solar generating top surfaces on the wings and fuselage that store energy in batteries whilst on the ground/air in daylight. WE should consider using airport grassed areas for solar power generation . Aviation should work for a zero carbon future to entice the next and future generations to travel.

    • Rhys says:

      Aviation IS working towards a zero carbon future. Unfortunately flying is very energy intensive and battery tech just isn’t there yet!

  • Steve Coathup says:

    Re. LIFO I think most don’t realise that a) the MOA is not visible to new recruits. It is not in the documentation provided by BA at contract signature and
    b) the MOA and hence LIFO predate Equality Legislation which has deemed LIFO to be “indirect age discrimination”.
    It should not be used as anything more than a “tie-break” after other parameters have been used. So too would be FIFO.

  • Thomas says:

    As harsh as it may sound, no pilot is responsible for another (more junior) pilot. I can´t think of any industry which works like this. Consider this, in reality everybody over 50+ has a much harder time to find a new job than somebody at 30+. And I am not talking just aviation. No age bias is a myth. Besides, everybody who signs up with a seniority based airline knows how the system works.

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