This first appeared as a Comment in the 21 May issue of Flight International
Even with normal employment contracts, airline pilots have a different relationship with their employer than, say, office or factory workers.
The latter report to the same place each day and might actually meet and talk to their management. Pilots, however, interact with their airline increasingly through a laptop or tablet for all the information they need: personal roster, company and chief pilot’s diktats, and aeronautical information for the flight they are about to crew. At base they leave their cars in the operations block car park and breeze through “ops” for the sole purpose of meeting up with the other pilot and the cabin crew. Then it’s out to the aeroplane, and off they go for a multi-sector day, or a week in hotels.
That’s already an arm’s-length relationship. But if, as the airline, you require your pilots to be self-employed and to look after duty expenses and tax affairs, the relationship is more than distant – it’s out of sight.
Does that matter? Where the company shows no loyalty to its workers it cannot expect any in return, so the only human resources tool, since pecuniary rewards only come from high hours, is the disciplinary stick.
Does that matter? The system has been working at Ryanair, is increasingly being adopted by Norwegian Air Shuttle and is an idea that may spread. The danger is that if the model goes wrong it would affect safety, but the industry will not find that out until too late.