Captain James O'Brien is the latest addition to BALPA's National Executive Council. We asked him what he sees as the big issues facing BALPA and the piloting profession.
1. Give us a brief introduction, and a bit about your background in aviation
I started in aviation via model aircraft. After building a large scale supercub it was becoming cheaper to consider a PPL. On investigation I went to Flight Training Europe. I was offered a job at BA Connect, and subsequently merged with Flybe in 2007. I have been a first officer/senior first officer on the Embraer 145 Twin Jet, and a captain on the Dash 8. I have been working in aviation for about 11 years now. I love my work, but it pains me to see my colleagues being taken advantage of.
2. How long have you been on the Company Council for, including your time as the chairman?
I joined the Company Council in September 2014. A year later, I put myself forwards as chairman, and was voted in by my Company Council colleagues. I have just been re-elected by my peers, and was also elected to the NEC.
3. What made you want to become a Company Council rep?
Honestly? I asked myself the same questions a lot of pilots do. What am I paying this money for? I had been very vocal online and via email to my previous Company Council. To avoid feeling like I was a hypocrite, I said to myself if I’m not happy then I have to go and do this myself. So I did. I believe this Company Council now has a voice of change, demonstrated by record engagement in Flybe.
4. What would you describe as your biggest achievement so far on the CC?
Removing a 10 year legacy pay divide within six months of being the chairman. An association is a fabulous thing, but when it comes down to pay, hours and holidays we are a trade union. I want people to remember and understand what that means. It’s easily forgotten these days in business.
5. Why did you want to stand for the NEC?
I want to bring my experiences from our recent pay negotiation in Flybe to the table so that we can continue to improve the support we give at a national level to all Company Councils. I also felt that it was important for a Flybe voice to be on the NEC so that our perspective can inform the Council’s work. It’s important that everyone knows that BALPA represents pilots across all types of airlines, not just the ‘legacy’ carriers, and having Flybe pilots on our NEC can helps show that. Lastly Flybe is hitting 900 hours a year for some pilots, and I want to work with the NEC and the Industrial Relations Sub-Committee (IRSC) to ensure that doesn’t continue.
6. What are the big issues facing BALPA and the profession that you want to focus on?
BALPA is facing major issues on fatigue, transnational airlines trying to circumvent unions and their ability to negotiate for the local pilots. I want to deal with terrible lifestyles in some airlines, mine as one of the front runners. I also want to address the issues faced by the association on membership. Why people don’t join, why people do join. But most importantly why this association matters. I believe that BALPA is a heavy weight, and perhaps is time to at least see some shadow boxing, or even a match or two. I can’t allow myself to sit on the sidelines anymore, I want everyone to know how powerful this fighter really is.
7. Why should pilots become BALPA members?
It is the only way that your future is truly in your hands. Non-members of the industry erode the abilities of this great association to negotiate ground breaking and life changing futures for pilots. If we cannot work as one, then we will never see what we truly deserve in this industry.