Conservative politicians helped establish BALPA as the professional association of pilots determined to make flying safe for pilots and passengers. Today, BALPA is the voice of 10,000 pilots with more than 40 million flying hours between them. Pilot representatives enjoy good relations across the aviation industry with two exceptions, Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary, and the Government Aviation Minister, Simon Burns MP.
Almost three-quarters of BALPA pilots say they intend to vote Conservative in the next election and they cannot understand why Conservative Ministers won’t talk or listen to them.
It wasn’t always this way. The British Airline Pilots Association was formed in 1937 by pioneering pilots worried about the dangerous corners being cut in the early days of commercial aviation. After being forced by an autocratic manager to fly a plane known to ice up in bad weather and just escaping alive, Eric Lane Burslem got his pilot colleagues together to start making flying safer.
They were supported in this turbulent early period by leading Conservatives including Lord Amherst, Lord Chesham, ‘Bobby’ Perkins MP, Lord Brabazon, Captain Harold Balfour and the Duke of Hamilton.
Seventy-five years on, making every flight a safe flight continues to be the number one priority for pilots and BALPA is the non-political organisation they join to fight for this. Current Conservative leaders should listen more like their forefathers both to make better decisions in Government and stay in touch with the whole nation, not just a small part of it.
A timely example is the UK backing of unscientific laws cooked up by unelected EU officials that aim to ‘harmonise’ standard limits on pilot flying time, right across Europe. The UK Government is supporting the Brussels-led changes, which threaten to lower crucial British flight safety standards including the amount of time a pilot can have been awake while on duty, how long they can fly at night and many early starts they can do in a row.
The Government is placing its trust in the backing of the EU rules by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a regulator seen by pilots as too cosy with airlines.
Pilots are not alone in their concern. The Transport Select Committee and the scientific community have questioned the lack of scientific evidence behind the new EU rules, which allow a pilot to land a plane having been awake for 22 hours, which is like being four times over the legal alcohol limit for flying.
These EU cuts to UK flight safety are the number one concern of British pilots, who know there is no margin for error on flight safety as seemingly small risks can have catastrophic consequences. Pilots are more aware than anyone of the dangers of flying tired and after pilot fatigue was found to be a major factor in a recent crash in the US, they are strengthening their safety standards.
Meanwhile, in Britain pilots are bemused that a Government committed to repatriating decision-making powers from Brussels is handing over the right to insist on high standards of flight safety to unaccountable EU officials. The Dutch Parliament has rejected the EU rules, why not Britain?
Conservative politicians should be proud of the role they have played in making our skies the safest in Europe. They should listen to pilots and protect this legacy.
It is difficult for pilots to understand why a Government, made up of a political party most of them support, won’t listen to the concerns of some of the most trusted professionals in the country. And if Government ignores its natural supporters and the evidence they present, it raises the question of how well they listen to or represent working people in general?
Pilots do not want favours but they want their experience to be listened to. The checks and balances provided by a range of voices and experiences are an essential part of a healthy democracy and society. A Government closing their eyes and ears to the lives and fears of those working at the sharp end is a Government that will get it wrong.