International Air Transport Association director general and chief executive Giovanni Bisignani has attacked airline pilots for out-of-touch work rules.

Speaking at the IATA annual meeting in Washington DC last week, he said a new approach was needed in airline labour relations.

"Pilots should not hide behind old work rules, such as seniority lists, which are out of touch with today's competitive world," he told an audience of chief executives and senior executives from 130 airlines. "This industry needs to reward performance, not age or seniority."

Bisignani's remarks - warmly received by the airlines - herald a drive by IATA to force changes on all fronts as the industry faces its worst-ever financial crisis. He is similarly outspoken on "outdated" government regulations that he says represent "the strongest obstacles to change"; on industry taxes and security fees; and on landing fees and air traffic service charges.

But the warning shot to the pilot community is new. "Labour costs cannot remain immune from the change in cost structure needed by the industry," Bisignani said. "This is an opportunity for our pilot colleagues to work with management to safeguard this industry."

US Air Line Pilots Association executive vice-president Michael Geer says pilot seniority has never been raised "by the guys in the trenches" during restructuring. "These remarks are a different colour on what we would call labour-bashing and the idea of senior workers not putting in their fair share and being a drag on productivity," he says. "That is not appropriate and does not apply to the airline industry, where the seniority system is good for industry, good for safety and brings value."

Source: Flight International