UK pilot unions in turf war

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Pilot representation in the UK is heading for a shake-up, with the relaunch today of the Independent Pilots Association (IPA), which marked the rebirth with a stinging attack on its long-established rival, the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA).

The IPA was founded in 1991 by BALPA members who felt they had received no support from their association when Air Europe collapsed.

According to its new general secretary, Tristan Loraine, a gradual drift towards IPA membership has recently been boosted by anger over BALPA's handling of a dispute at British Airways over crewing at its Open Skies subsidiary, and also at Virgin Atlantic Airways during a recent dispute over terms and conditions. Loraine is a former British Airways captain and was a member of BALPA's national executive committee.

Loraine said: "In recent times I have seen more and more issues not being dealt with as I believe a union should." He described the IPA as "a UK pilot association and union run by pilots for pilots", pointing out that it does not have a costly secretariat to support.

However, BALPA general secretary Jim McAuslan said that a recent poll of its membership carried out by a research company showed 55% of members have a positive opinion of the association against 45% that are "neutral" or negative.

Meanwhile, he said, an internal review of what happened in the Virgin dispute is ongoing, and a protracted legal tussle over the propriety of BALPA tactics regarding the Open Skies dispute with BA looks as if it is heading toward its final resolution. According to sources within BALPA, this could cost the union more than £1 million in reparations, making life difficult for the leadership because it has recently injected £1.6 million into its staff pension fund.

In the light of the poll findings, said McAuslan, BALPA is reviewing how it represents its membership, which responded to a poll question by suggesting the organisation behaves more as a professional association than as a trade union.

He added, however: "This isn't going to stop us trying to improve members' terms and conditions, but we will do it differently." BALPA is also, McAuslan explained, going to act less like a federation of airline councils and more like a single organisation.

Virgin pilots contacted by Flightglobal said they felt the BALPA leadership had not been listening to its members' wishes.