British Airline Pilots' Association

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BALPA logo.png
Full name British Airline Pilots' Association
Founded 27 June 1937
Members 10,000
Affiliation TUC
Key people Captain Brendan O'Neal, Chairman; Captain Paul Naylor, Vice-Chairman; Brian Strutton, General Secretary
Office location Middlesex, England
Country United Kingdom

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots.

BALPA represents over 75% of all professional fixed wing pilots and helicopter aircrew based in the UK[1] - as well as many working overseas. With a membership of over 10,000 professional flight crew,[2] the association holds the largest collective resource of pilot qualification and experience in the UK.[3]

BALPA is one of the founder members of IFALPA, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations, which co-ordinates the views and opinions of well over 100,000 flight crew around the globe.[4]

In Europe, BALPA is a founding member of ECA, the European Cockpit Association.[5]

BALPA also works with the Civil Aviation Authority, the Department for Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry and many other bodies where the voice of ‘the pilot' is needed.[6]


The National Executive Council (NEC) is the elected body that is responsible for the association. As well as generating policy and association strategy, the NEC ensures that the organization is run in an efficient, legal and responsible manner.[7]

BALPA is governed by an Annual Delegate Conference (ADC) made up of representatives of the Company Councils and a National Executive Committee composed of elected pilots.[8]


BALPA has recognition agreements with airlines in multiple sectors. BALPA members in each of these companies elect a Company Council that leads a community of members.

There are five sub-committees of the NEC; Organisation, Communication and External Affairs, Membership and Career Services, Industrial Relations and Safety and Security.


To qualify for Full Membership applicants must hold a current professional pilots licence or flight engineers licence issued by the UK or any of the JAA countries, be engaged in British commercial flying and be based in the UK or employed by a UK Company abroad. Alternatively members may qualify as a ground instructor or helicopter winchman employed in British commercial flying.[3]

There are also membership categories available for overseas, retired, military, unemployed and trainee pilots.[9]

Industrial Activity[edit]

BALPA campaigns on a wide variety of issues which affect pilots and the flying public. From the aircraft work environment through to security and safety, BALPA works with the industry and government to ensure that its members and the public are supported.

Air Passenger Duty[edit]

Air Passenger Duty (APD) is the UK Government tax that is charged on all passengers departing from a UK airport. BALPA is an active member of the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign, a coalition of more than 30 leading travel and aviation organisations including airlines, airports, trade associations and destinations who believe that APD is too high and is doing growing damage to jobs, growth and the UK economic recovery.


‘Casualisation’ and the use of contract labour is a growing issue in the aviation industry.[10] BALPA has been campaigning on this issue and have had success in formulating a New Entrant Contract that delivers significant improvements to those entering the profession in easyJet.[11] Driving casualisation out of the whole industry remains one of BALPA’s key priorities.[12]

As part of its campaign to combat the growing use of contingent workers in the aviation industry, BALPA commissioned the Labour Research Department (LRD) in 2012 to work with the union to produce a booklet focusing on the use of contingent workers in airlines where BALPA is recognised. The booklet highlights the legal framework – in particular the Agency Workers Regulations, which became law in October 2011.[13]

Flight Time Limitations[edit]

Flight Time Limitations exist to ensure the safe operation of commercial aircraft and to avoid the onset of pilot fatigue.[14] Pilot fatigue is a state of serious tiredness and exhaustion that reduces a pilots ability to operate safely. 15-20% of fatal accidents related to human errors have listed pilot fatigue as a contributing factor.[15] BALPA has continuously sought to protect high safety standards of Flight Time Limitations in the UK.


There was a brief pilots’ strike in 1924 about pay, conditions and a particularly abrasive manager, Major Woods Humphrey. However the trigger which led to the creation of BALPA in the late thirties was the irresponsible attitude of Imperial Airways towards safety issues and particularly the risk of airframe icing on one type. Eric Lane Burslem, eventually BALPA’s first chairman, briefed by the American pilots on how to set up a pilots’ association, worked with others to create an Organising Committee. This met on 18 May 1937 to draft the association rules which were put to a mass meeting of pilots on 27 June. Either of these dates could be regarded as the birthday of BALPA. Imperial Airways and Woods Humphries initiated a programme of intimidation including slander and sackings of BALPA members. Other airlines either stood on the sidelines but some were supportive.

Robert Perkins, a Conservative MP, supported the pilots and initiated a debate in Parliament which led to the formation of the Cadman Committee of Inquiry. Their report recommended massive changes in British commercial aviation, including airline mergers to create in 1939, British Overseas Airways Corporation, a new airline under new managers including its chairman Sir John Reith (founder of the BBC). Woods Humphrey was forced to resign.

During the Second World War there was little truly commercial flying. (Some BOAC pilots flew civilian registered Mosquito bombers collecting essential ball bearings from Sweden). A number of BALPA’s founders were killed on active service. However the association was not inactive and in 1943 it affiliated to the TUC and signed a memorandum of understanding with Canadian and American pilots leading eventually to the creation of the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA).

In 1944 the new BOAC pilots’ contract made them the first employees anywhere to receive an occupational pension. In 1946 BOAC was nationalised whilst British European Airways (BEA) and British South American Airways were set up by the Government. The same year BALPA joined in the creation of the National Joint Council for Civil Aviation.

Between 1947 and 1966 BALPA membership rose from one thousand plus to over three thousand. From 1946 until 1962 the much respected general secretary was Dennis Follows who eventually left the Association to become chairman of The Football Association and then chairman of the British Olympic Association.

The sixties were a troubled time with much pilot unrest. The association disaffiliated from the NJC in 1967 and in 1968 there were two strikes of BOAC pilots. During this period Mark Young, then with the Electrical Trades Union (and also on the trades union side of the NJC) had acted as an ‘honest broker’ between the two sides. After a period of giving informal help to BALPA during which he helped avoid a BEA pilots strike in 1972, he was formally appointed a general secretary in 1974.

BEA and BOAC were united under one board in 1972 and were merged with Cambrian Airways and Northeast Airways to form British Airways in 1974. During the ensuing fifteen or so years, under the wily leadership of Mark Young, BALPA members saw their real salaries and conditions increase substantially. This was especially true in BA and there was some resentment among non BA pilots who sometimes referred to BALPA as the ‘British Airways Pilot’s Association’ (although they too saw improvements).

In 1977 BALPA joined Europilote, a European wide association of pilots’ unions. As the political and regulatory structure of Europe changed it was felt that Europilote should change too. BALPA was one of the founder members of the European Cockpit Association (ECA) dedicated to ensuring that the pilots’ voice was clearly heard in Brussels. Perhaps the ECA’s most auspicious battle has been with the politicians and bureaucrats of Brussels over the issue of flight and duty-time limitations and BALPA’s input to this debate has been considerable.

When Mark Young died in 1991 the membership was above 5000. In 1992 Chris Darke was elected General Secretary and the balance between BA and non BA pilots within the association started to tilt away from BA as the non-BA airlines proliferated and BALPA membership in them increased.

A full BA strike was narrowly averted in 1996. In the late nineties and into the new century new low cost airlines expanded rapidly giving BALPA many problems in representing their pilots. In 2006 BALPA won a court case brought against it by Ryanair. The judge condemned Ryanair’s evidence to the Court and directed that the airline had to pay all the Association’s substantial costs. In 2000 Virgin Atlantic Airways became a BALPA airline.

As the membership passed seven thousand in 1997, Chris Darke was re-elected but he was voted out of office in 2002. After a period of some confusion Jim McAuslan was elected General Secretary in 2003.

BA had a further confrontation with its pilots in 2008 over the establishment of its new low cost airline in Europe and the BA pilots staged a protest march at Heathrow Airport. In 2008 BALPA membership passed ten thousand for the first time.[1]

Organisation in popular culture[edit]

BALPA was featured in the Monty Python's Flying Circus television episode "Déjà Vu" in which Eric Idle portrays the BALPA spokesman in the 'Flying Lessons' sketch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UK | Anti-terrorist cockpit doors 'dangerous'. BBC News (2001-10-31). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  2. ^ House of Lords - Science and Technology - Written Evidence. (2007-12-12). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  4. ^ IFALPA History Archived 2 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. (2001-09-11). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  5. ^ About ECA | European Cockpit Association (ECA). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  6. ^
  7. ^ National Executive Council. BALPA (2008-11-08). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  8. ^ Rules. BALPA. Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  9. ^ Membership. BALPA (2008-11-08). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  10. ^ ECA reflects on economic crisis implications for aviation | European Cockpit Association (ECA). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  11. ^ EasyJet agrees pilot recruitment terms with BALPA. (2013-06-07). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  12. ^ Casualisation - Breakthrough In Easyjet. BALPA (2008-11-08). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  13. ^ Casualisation. BALPA (2008-11-08). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  14. ^ Flight Time Limitations Archived 9 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine.. BALPA (2008-11-08). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.
  15. ^ Fatigue in Accidents | European Cockpit Association (ECA). Retrieved on 2013-07-18.

External links[edit]