BALPA is the professional association and registered trade union established to represent the interests of all UK pilots
BALPA Member
Even though I had been a professional pilot and BALPA member for many years, I was, in truth, rather ignorant of the BALPA Benevolent Fund’s (BBF) existence until a chance conversation in May 2018. What I discovered was remarkable and, looking back, I wish I had known more about it many months earlier into my ‘situation’. 

Most of us think we have all bases covered…

The assistance that can be provided comes in many different forms – not just hard cash. Naturally, every pilot’s financial situation after ‘loss of medical’ – and their ability, or not, to absorb this shock – is unique. Indeed, with some generous ‘loss of licence’ schemes, medical insurance and any additional personal loss of income schemes, most of us think we have all bases covered. I am living proof, however, that it is possible to find yourself in a situation where there simply isn’t enough to make ends meet. 

I flew until I lost my medical in June 2012. In the run up to leaving, I had not considered that there would come a point in my life when I could run out of money. That would be just stupid. I was leaving with four years’ income transition (ITS) payments (not a lifetime pension) and, in my circumstances, I thought this was plenty of time to ‘reinvent’ my professional life. Who wouldn’t? 

Without dependants or any secondary source of income, though, I was always going to be responsible for my own financial fate. This may have been both a curse and a blessing. I did reinvent, and my finances looked safe long before the ITS payments came to an end in January 2017. The original issue had sort of disappeared, but there was the unwelcome creep of another set of physically debilitating circumstances. This had not been on my radar at all, and was my ‘gotcha’ moment, against which I was not insured. 

To cut a long story short, I was unable to function and found myself out of work again. By the middle of 2017, I was desperately in need of major surgery. I ended up paying for the surgery privately, on a credit card, because of the NHS waiting time. I was reassured that I had made the right decision when, after the surgery, the consultant told me I wouldn’t have made it if I had waited patiently in the queue on the NHS without an emergency arising – one that could have proved fatal. 

I felt desperate…

I was still left with a large, expensive debt, however, and the inability to apply for work for at least four to six months. I needed to get back to earning money. As someone with a mortgage, I was not entitled to any help from the state, other than £73 a week and a reduction in my council tax. No amount of ‘money saving expert’ tactics could eke that out to cover a £700 monthly mortgage payment and still eat. All the time, my debt was mounting up. I was trapped. Sleepless nights were played on repeat and I felt desperate. I often wondered, ‘how the hell did this happen to me?’ Fast forward to May 2018, when my mum died. 

Drowning in debt…

I had made a very successful recovery from the operation, was in the best health I had been in for 10 years, and I wanted my Class 1 back. Sadly, my finances were not in the same great shape. I was drowning in debt, grieving, and the only way out that I could see was to sell my house, start again, and rebuild my life at 52. 
…help was available…

At that point, I still had no idea that help was available from the BBF. It was a chance conversation with the wonderful Toni Girdler, BALPA Flight Safety and Secretary to the BBF, that started the ball rolling. Once that ball did start rolling, however, things happened very quickly. Before I knew where I was, I had a grant to reapply for my Class 1 and to cover urgent repairs to my car and so on. The fund also provided me with the services of a fully qualified financial adviser and, more recently, an accountant. 

We worked together over the year it took to get the medical back. They were brilliant – firm, but fair. They also offered me a solution to the expensive debt I was saddled with by swapping it to a 0% loan secured against my home, which I no longer had to sell immediately. This provided much-needed stability. With the Fund’s monetary support, plus provision of financial services and advice, I was able to achieve what I couldn’t have dreamed of at the worst of times – and I got my Class 1 back in April 2019. 

Thank you.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the chairman and all the trustees who have been involved at every stage – and especially Roger Davies , financial adviser to the BBF – for their patience and support over the past 16 months. I’d also like to thank Simon Collins-Dryer, accountant to the BBF , for his recent work with me, and – last but not least – Toni Girdler, for her invitation to apply to the fund . It is ‘absolutely for people like me’!


The BALPA Benevolent Fund is a registered charity. Its objective is to give financial support to those in need who are – or have been – engaged professionally in commercial aviation as pilots, flight engineers, helicopter winchmen or navigators , who are current or former employees of BALPA or any of its subsidiaries, and their families, plus anyone else dependent on them. 

We offer assistance with funding disability equipment, the cost of educational courses after loss of licence, and property repairs, and give support to those who have lost their licence for medical reasons. 
While we have to be prudent with the Fund’s money, we are keen to help where we can. Funding is provided by returns on capital investments or legacies, with dividends and donations used to assist deserving cases that meet the requirements of the Trust Deed. 

To apply for help, fill out the enquiry form on the BALPA website. We will then email you an application form so you can give the details required by the trustees to consider your request. Applications are dealt with in strictest confidence. The trustees and their financial advisers meet quarterly at BALPA head office.

Posted on 02 December 2019

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