“Cry out against injustice” is the entry requirement for pilots

Authors: Wong Siu Woon, Michelle & Poon Man Hon

Jeremy Tam has 12 years’ experience in civil aviation. In 1999, he joined the cadet pilot programme. He said during the 13-month programme they have had almost 70 examinations. But high IQ is not a major criterion for a pilot. “The most important requirement is to dare express your views. Extroverted personality could help the work very much,” said Jeremy. People think that pilots have an easy job. In reality, a pilot needs to read a lot of reports and inspect the aircraft before takeoff. During flight, he or she has to pay full attention to information and weather changes. Landing is the biggest challenge to every pilot, because aircraft models, weight, wind direction, weather and even the airport altitude will affect the landing.

Jeremy said once a pregnant passenger was ready to give birth, so he must land the aircraft in Bangladesh immediately. "Although we have already noticed the ground, no one opened the gate when we arrived!" He lamented. Fortunately, the new mom was finally sent to the hospital. Has Jeremy faced any danger in his career? He categorically said “No”. "Because we have adequate training, I have never encountered a moment of danger." A good pilot should take preventive measures to avoid any danger.

In drama, handsome male pilots often date gorgeous female flight attendants. Does that often happen in the real world? Jeremy laughed. "If someone applies to be a pilot for dating flight attendants, just forget about it!” Since the 911 incident, security measures have been stepped up. Pilots have zero contact with flight attendants.

So is there any bitterness of being a pilot? Jeremy said a pilot faces a lot of pressure, every six months there is a simulation flight test, as well as an annual assessment of the actual flight. At the same time, national aviation regulations change frequently and pilots need to comply with those regulations. Fortunately, they enjoy standard working hours. According to the provisions of the Civil Aviation Department, the flight time must not exceed 100 hours per every 28 days and there is daily flight time limit too.

Jeremy is a member of Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association (AOA, Cathay Pacific Airways pilots' union) and a former exco member. The union was established in 1963 and has a current membership size of 1,800, over 70% of trade union density. Therefore, the union has strong bargaining power. For example, they can negotiate annual salary adjustment with the employer. In 2010, the union successfully got 10-13% pay rise within two years, which was much better than the average wage increase in Hong Kong. Moreover, exco members have three to five days of union leave. The union has signed many agreements with the employer and all these agreements cannot be unilaterally changed.

Jeremy believes member engagement is a key to success. “I mentioned that most of our pilots cry out against injustice. So if there is any unfair treatment, we are united which is our advantage for striving for our own rights." Jeremy stressed. The union is now fighting for a compensation for unpaid leave deduction, a review of accommodation allowance, as well as amendments to the Civil Aviation Department and Cathay Pacific’s flight hours provisions.

For the collective bargaining right, Jeremy thinks legislation is the only way to protection. He is outraged by the abolition of the collective bargaining law in 1997 by the Provisional Legislative Council. "Federation of Trade Unions (a pro-government and pro-Beijing trade union federation) said that the law was imperfect. Then why didn’t they amend it instead of abolishing it? "