IATA has for the first time in a public forum demanded pilots play their part in lowering airline costs. In his address to the Annual General Meeting (AGM), director general Giovanni Bisignani said pilots must "not hide behind old work rules, such as seniority lists, which are out of touch with today's competitive world".

Noting that airlines have lost over 400,000 jobs in two years, and to applause from the floor, Bisignani said: "This industry needs flexibility and to reward performance, not age or seniority."

Delta Air Lines chief executive Leo Mullin said IATA's board felt it was time for the association to speak out on labour issues. "It really positions labour as part of the problem," he said. There has to be a "collective approach" to restructuring the cost base of carriers, with labour one area that was inside the control of the industry.

Dr Cheong Choong Cheong, who retired from his position of chief executive of Singapore Airlines after the AGM, said that Asian carriers have not been immune to labour problems as they seek co-operation over cost relief. "Some people are learning more slowly than others, like pilots," he said, to a mixture of laughter and applause. SIA is engaged in a mediation process with its pilots over unpaid leave and wage cuts.

For Cheong, labour restructuring means a "larger component of wages have to be variable", giving staff bonuses in good times and none in bad times. There also has to be more outsourcing, so "there is less fixed-cost components there all the time," he added.

Source: Airline Business