25 September 2006

Unhappy Pilots

ST Sep 25, 2006
SIA and pilots quarrel over pay once more
By Aviation Correspondent, Karamjit Kaur

THEY are at it again. Barely a year and a half after they mended fences, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its pilots' union are at loggerheads again, this time over salaries and benefits for flying the new Airbus 380 aircraft, expected to enter service next year.

SIA and the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S) - agreed last week to refer the dispute to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC), after six months of wrangling.

It is believed to be the first serious dispute since both sides inked a new collective agreement last year, providing increased annual leave, and introducing monthly and annual variable components into the pay packet.

That episode prompted Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew to step in, urging both sides to set aside their two decades of acrimony.

The Straits Times understands that the latest breakdown in labour relations has to do with whether pilots who will fly the new Airbus A380 super-jumbos should be paid more than a Boeing 747 pilot.

SIA has ordered 19 of the A380s and the airline will be the first to fly the new plane next year.

According to pilots interviewed, the general rule of thumb is, the bigger the plane, the higher the pay.

So a B747 captain, for example, starts at about $10,000 a month excluding allowances, compared to $9,300 for a B777 captain.

Alpa-S, which represents 1,600 pilots, is upset because SIA is proposing to pay the pilots less than what a Boeing 747 captain now makes, although the new aircraft is bigger and will carry more passengers.

SIA's A380s will have just under 480 seats - about 100 more than the existing B747s.

Sources said SIA is proposing that pilots flying the A380 get the same as B777 pilots. The gap between what the airline wants to pay its A380 pilots and what the union is asking for, is between $3,000 and $5,000.

Contacted by The Straits Times, both SIA and Alpa-S president Captain P. James confirmed the deadlock but neither would reveal details.

SIA's spokesman said: 'The company is seeking to have some differences with Alpa-S over proposed pay scales for A380 pilots adjudicated. We hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved quickly.

'As is always the case when we use these sort of dispute resolution processes, we do not intend to negotiate the differences in public.'

She added: 'To date, our discussions with Alpa-S have been constructive and have resolved some of the issues, but there are areas where we do not yet have common ground.'

Captain James confirmed that SIA had proposed a lower starting pay for A380 pilots compared to B747 pilots.

The airline is also seeking to revise rules that stipulate the number of rest days owed to a pilot after a flight, he said, without giving details.

According to SIA pilots, this currently depends on the destination rather than the type of aircraft.

So a pilot who flies from Singapore to London for example, gets two nights of rest in London and three days off when he gets back. On the third day, he can be recalled if necessary.

Captain James said: 'We do not see any need to introduce a new set of guidelines for the A380 since the rules already exist.'

He said: 'Since we cannot come to an agreement, both sides have jointly decided that we will go to the IAC.'

From the ST report, it seems that basically SIA wants its pilots to fly bigger planes and get less resting time, and still receive the same pay. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it.

Let's wait and see what happens next.

Technorati: ; ; .


Anonymous said...

Does flying bigger planes on the same route as smaller planes = bigger pay?

Is the work more? Are the planes harder to fly? Are the pilots difficult to train?

Actually there are other ways of looking at this. Eg, what is the difference in pay between pilots and management (esp senior management)? What is the international and regional market rate for pilots? What is the demand for A380 pilots? What are the allowances (which I heard has been cut too)? What is the financial performance of SIA for the past 3 years, and what is the proportion of its expenses being given to staff salaries? What is the near term outlook for SIA? Is there a difference in wages between non-Singaporean pilots and Singaporean pilots?

The newspaper article simply has not enough details.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

The article indicates that there is the norm for determining pilots' salaries:

"According to pilots interviewed, the general rule of thumb is, the bigger the plane, the higher the pay.

So a B747 captain, for example, starts at about $10,000 a month excluding allowances, compared to $9,300 for a B777 captain."

Since I am not a pilot, I invite pilots or other people working in the industry to comment.

My blog has a remarkably diverse readership. When I write about doctors, doctors appear and comment. When I write about scholars, scholars appear and comment. When I write about PRs and foreign talent, PRs and foreign talents appear and comment.

When I write about pilots ....

Heheh, let's see.

Btw, my understanding is that SIA pilots are not very well-paid compared to other pilots in the region. I have heard that on an overall basis (factoring in bonuses etc), even MAS pilots get a better deal than SIA pilots. Then again, this is what I hear from a sister of an SIA pilot, and she may not be altogether accurate.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that our MM will be called in again by SIA to 'crack' some skulls, the pilots' that is.

I'm no aviation expert, but having done some consulting work in transport economics, I do know that the A380s are heavier, needs a longer runway to land and take-off, and have probably one of the longest wingspans of commercial aircraft. That's why not all international airports can accommodate the A380.

I'd think you need pretty experienced pilots to fly the A380.

Anonymous said...

the Airbus carries more passengers, which means the airline earns more.

le radical galoisien said...

Less resting time is considerably dangerous, given what happened in the last major air disaster ....

Anonymous said...

As one of the world's most profitable airlines, SIA's pilot's pay is already way, way, way lesser than what other comparable airlines (e.g. Cathay, Emirates) are paying their pilots.

Anonymous said...

This will expose again that Singapore has no freedom of union again.

Alpha S which was one of Singapore's only few independent union was forced by the government to change its election rule so as to cause it to be divided and ruled by the PAP.

Other readers can share more historical context I guess.

No freedom of union
No freedom of assembly
No freedom of speech

Only freedom to say "Mee Siam Mai Ham"

Anonymous said...

Yes, the bigger the plane, the higher the pay. This is also an artifact from bygone days where the only pilots qualified to fly the biggies were extremely seasoned ones with decades of experience. There weren't many huge jumbo planes so airlines assigned the task to their most senior pilots. In the US, the hierarchy of going from an RJ puddle-jumper to a Boeing 747 is a lock-step progression of military precision.

This hierarchy is inherited when the only pilots came from the military, and commercial pilots were rare. It's hard to break 'tradition', and the pilot union is a heckuva strong and unified one.

For SIA to propose paying A380 pilots less than B747 is heresy!

Anonymous said...

Bit of course the Singapore Govt will help the employers over the workers. Can we afford to let SIA close down like all the other airlines and lay off thousands of jobs? It is a forgone conclusion.

Anonymous said...

i am simple minded. Since the gahmen are pay highly because of corruption, wouldn't the pilot be paid more if they are handling more lives?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I am wondering why didn't Alpa-S demanded that pilots of smaller planes like B747 and B777 get the same pay for flying the same routes? Or having the same flying time per month?

hehe. Alpa-S..... aren't you suppose to fight for the equality of all your members?

(well, maybe they did, but it is just not reported.)

So..... if the previous comment from "biased observer" is true, and only the senior pilots get to fly the larger planes, this translates to...... a seniority system........ and so..... seniority = more pay? Is this the logic of Alpa-S?

hehe. I see why the SIA/government wants to break the back of alpa-S if this is the logic. Hey, the government has been promoting the idea of variable wages and salary NOT based on seniority but on company and personal performance. So SIA may sees itself as just preventing the fat from settling in the new pilot category. ie, not linking salary to size of aircraft. (makes an odd kind of sense to me from a management point of view).

Oh, I disagree that A380 pilots should be paid less than B747 pilots. I think the basic pay should be the same, assuming the work and risks are the same.

And SGD10,000 for a B747 pilot? Sounds a tad bit low to me.....

Anonymous said...

Seems like the only people who deserve high and market-rated pay is the Gahmen. All others are forced to accept lower wages to keep Singapore competitive.

Anonymous said...

Equal pay is not what ALPA-S wants - ALPA-S follows the practices of the global pilot union, and that is the bigger the plane, the fatter the pay, and yes - the lucrative gigs go to pilots by seniority. There isn't a single airline that has broken that union practice.

Note that $10Kpm excludes allowances. They easily make triple that once allowances are factored in.

This 'spat' hasn't made it to PPRUNE.org yet from a quick skim I just did. PPRUNE is where pilots go to gossip, so curious watchers can go lurk there for nuggets.

Anonymous said...

Thought I would follow-up with a link from PPRUNE, how people/Singaporeans with commercial pilot licenses (CPL) are having a tough time getting through the interview process with SIA. Quite an interesting read.


SIA essentially has 2 key sources of pilots, the Air Force, and the SIA cadet academy. The latter only accepts Singapore citizens, I think PRs are now no longer eligible.

Anonymous said...

"Is there something hindering the mobility of SIA pilots to go to a better-paying airline? "

Sad to say, based on what I know, it is a race issue.......

Local pilots are mostly asians. As a whole, asian pilots are not welcomed by non-asian carriers. It is a glass ceiling. They have their own people to look after.

However, most local pilots are Chinese, and there is a possibility for them to go over to China or Taiwan carriers, maybe (?) even Cathy Pacific. I heard that they are keen on some of our pilots who are trained in the newest jets (like the A380) as SIA has the newest and best planes in the market. This would reduce their training cost.

This does give the local pilots some bargaining leverage when dealing with SIA. (if that is what sporescores is trying to imply). However, the employment opportunity is still limited. It is not like BA, Quantas, United etc are out poaching Singapore pilots. And SIA knows this.

(Before anyone complains about racial discrimination amongst the carriers, let me remind all that a bigger discrimination exist in ALL the carriers in the world -- ever see a female pilot?)

BTW, my info is a mix of pilot (1), stewards and stewardesses (a few) talking about their work.

Anonymous said...

Just curious as to why LKY had to poke his nose into the matter. Does he have a stake? Does he have the right?

I won't be surprised if cheaper foreign talents come into the picture. There's nothing to stop SIA from employing foreigners unless there is a law that restricts it's sources of labour.

If SIA is one of the more profitable airlines largely because of low wages, there really isn't anything great for the management to brag about. Just like how a transport company boosts its bottomline by abusing it's near monopoly position through fare hikes.

moomooman said...

The basic pay may be among the lowest but the overall package including allowances and bonuses and benefits bring the package slightly closer to the competitors.

If the difference is that great, no one will want to join SIA. You would want to think that these pilots are not stupid.

As for this Alpha S vs SIA, it's nothing new. It's called brinksmanship.

Even if SIA is to offer slightly higher basic for A380 than the 747, Alpha S will still say the difference is not great enuff. They might as well go lower and not give in to demands so easily. That is negotiation.

The problem is that there is no mathematical formula to derive such increase. Perhaps a formula based on weight of the airplane, number of passengers of the airplane etc, and not just "Rule of Thumb".

End of the day, Alpha S will get a basic for A380 that is higher than 747, but at a very much compromised figure that SIA would have been more than willing but would rather the court set it.

moomooman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

my friend just got into sia pilot training program and he's malaysian.so u might want to revise tht statement biased observer

Anonymous said...

Time to bring in the Old Man once again to negotiate and mediate.

I'm looking forward to future airline squabbles after he kicks the bucket. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

Anonymous said...

Regarding seniority vs performance-based pay, how should we judge the performance of pilots? By number of unsafe incidents? Avoidance of accidents? Most flights are uneventful, too few to make a meaning comparison.

So the natural yardstick is the number of flying hours, which is highly correlated with seniority.

And what exactly is wrong with paying pilots more to operate bigger planes? Nothing. SIA is just looking for excuses to trim costs. It's bewildering how they could treat their staff so callously in the chase for higher profits. Don't they see how it will hurt them in the long run?

Anyway, this topic has been discussed to death in the previous wage row back in 2004. So, Mr Wang, very smart of you to let your readers do the work for you leh. :)

Anonymous said...

I guess the company will not have problem hiring Foreign worker to fly their new planes. There are lot of European, Australian and American who will never get a chance to fly the big Jumbo like 777 or 747. They are hired based on their flying hours back home. After getting their licence and their flying hours on the big jet, they will leave for the greener pasture. So if there are supplies of pilots, why pay more? Basic law of demand and supply.

Anonymous said...

I think the new Chairman wants to earn his spurs by showing that he can also tame the air pilots ( he succeeded with the sea pilots at PSA ). The intro of the AB 380 gives him the window to start negotiations afresh but it is simply illogical to benchmark the starting pay with the B777 a much smaller aircraft. The prevailing rule of thumb to pay a pilot more for a bigger plane is crude but correct. After all with more passengers there is greater responsibility for more lives. plus the airline earns more. And the pilot has to undergo training before he can be accredited ( will he suffer a pay-cut durung training? ).

There is some truth in that the Asian ( read Singapore and Malysian pilots ) who are the majority have less bargaining power because the American, European and Australian airlines 'discriminate" against them. But SIA is treading on dangerous grounds by exploiting this card. After all there are many Chinese airlines expanding and they will be happy to hire SIA pilots.

Anonymous said...

A A380 carries 555 passengers, 33% more than a 747's 416 passengers. Therefore, A380 pilots should be paid 33% more. Therefore also, a fighter pilot who carries 1 passenger (himself) should be paid 99.8% less.

If you read between the lines, I agree with min-tsek's remarks that the article does not have enough details for the reader to be able to comment on who's right or wrong, but only come away with the conclusion that Alspa-S are 'troublemakers' once again.

Anonymous said...


1. How can you compare to fighter pilots - their role is not for commercial profit.

2. If by your own reasoning, "the article does not have enough details for the reader to be able to comment on who's right or wrong", then why do you conclude that "Alpa-S are 'troublemakers' once again".

Sorry lah, I don't really care about this SIA matter, but your comments really lack logic.