Virgin Atlantic is heading into turbulence pilots are revving up for a potential strike later this year, demanding an end to the pandemic changes that aimed to rescue the airline from bankruptcy.
British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), the union representing the pilots, has raised “serious concerns” about pilot fatigue and wellbeing as 96 per cent of members have given their nod to be formally balloted for a strike.
When the Covid-19 storm hit, Virgin Atlantic slashed thousands of jobs across the company and introduced rostering changes that, according to unions, have taken a toll on pilots.
According to Balpa, 81 per cent of pilots turned up for the strike ballot, which Miranda Rackley, Balpa’s interim general secretary, said gives the union an “overwhelming mandate to pursue this dispute.”
She added: “It’s clear Virgin Atlantic pilots feel very strongly about this.
“BALPA prefers to address matters constructively through negotiation and industrial compromise and will only countenance industrial action as a last resort.
“We remain ready to commence negotiations to find an acceptable way forward and urge Virgin Atlantic to listen to its staff and put forward an acceptable offer that our members could support,” Rackley said.
The regulated maximum number of flying hours is 900 and the rostered average for Virgin Atlantic pilots is around 750 hours, City A.M. understands.
Virgin Atlantic has stressed the “paramount” importance of its staff’s health and wellbeing, claiming to operate “above industry standards”.
“We carefully analyse and manage working levels and fatigue levels to ensure the wellbeing of our pilots at all times,” a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said.
They added: “We look forward to engaging in healthy discussion with our pilots on the topics that matter to all of us.”
They said the Covid-era adjustments were “fundamental” to their survival and commitment to returning to profitability but the deal on working arrangements with pilots is set to expire in December.
A source close to Sunday Times, who first reported the story, said strike action “would not be constructive” as pay negotiations are imminent.
While the potential for strike action remains up in the air, the airline industry is still reeling from last year’s mayhem, as desperate flyers faced cancellations, disruptions and luggage issues due to staff shortages.
Last summer, Wizz Air boss József Váradi faced criticism for suggesting pilots should fly even when too tired and “take the extra mile” in order to stabilise rosters. He was accused of endangering passenger safety.