A complaint over discrimination against local pilots at the Boeing Singapore Flight Services campus has led to an investigation by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) - at a time when efforts are being made to strengthen fair employment practices here.
MOM is looking into a complaint which alleges that the flight programme at the Boeing campus favours foreign pilot instructors over locals. According to Robin Thomas, who filed the complaint, there is a concerted effort to protect and promote foreign pilot instructors who are based outside Singapore.
A spokesman for Boeing in Singapore stated that the firm has found the allegation to be unsubstantiated after conducting a thorough internal investigation, but said that it is fully co-operating with MOM. MOM said that it was unable to comment on the case at this point, but confirmed that investigations are ongoing.
Mr Thomas is a seasoned retired pilot whose aviation career - which includes employers such as Singapore Airlines (SIA) - spans 46 years. During his career, he has also acted as an instructor pilot for several years for the Boeing 747 aircraft.
According to Mr Thomas, he began training with Boeing Singapore Flight Services on Feb 15 this year for a conversion course for the Boeing 787 aircraft. On March 20, he was told to discontinue the programme due to a lack of performance, he said.
He claimed that the training was conducted with "unnecessary harshness" with "little or no instructional guidance", in a deliberate attempt to undermine his confidence and ability.
"(The) staff is deliberately making it extremely difficult for Singapore nationals to be employed and qualified on the B787 fleet," Mr Thomas said. "They are systematically not training, and disqualifying Singaporean pilot instructors."
When contacted, a spokesman for US-based Boeing strongly denied this: "While this is a rigorous training programme designed to ensure the safety of the global air transport network, more than 90 per cent of the candidates pass these courses. Pilots who are diligent in the training have a high success rate regardless of national origin or past experience."
The flight services centre maintains a group of instructor pilot staff which includes full-time Boeing employees as well as contract instructors provided by a third party company, CCL Aviation. Both full- time and contract pilot instructors have to go through the same training and assessments before they can be certified as instructors.
Boeing, which declined to share a breakdown of the number of local and foreign pilot instructors it employs, said that Singaporeans are well represented as employees across the Boeing Singapore Flight Services campus.
Another veteran ex-SIA pilot, who spoke to BT on condition of anonymity, said that he did not make it past the interview round with Boeing Singapore Flight Services. "What I gathered is, they're trying to protect their turf," he said.
During his 45-year career with SIA, he flew aircraft such as the B747 and B757.
A former Boeing pilot instructor as well as an existing one that BT reached out to both declined to comment.
According to a CCL document dated 2014 seen by BT, contract instructors can earn S$700 per session for each full flight simulator instruction, with each simulator session lasting up to six hours. Non- Singapore-based instructor pilots are typically flown in on Business Class tickets and put up at hotels such as the Pan Pacific. BT understands that the period of stay can last from one to two months.
These instructors are also given S$125 per diem to cover food and other incidentals, which isn't extended to local instructors.
The local pilot BT spoke to added that he was told during the interview that former SIA pilots may encounter problems because the SIA procedures tend to differ a little from the Boeing training programme.
"SIA is the gold standard when it comes to training," he pointed out. "I would not think any one of our SIA instructors would have a problem."
But Boeing took issue with the allegation, stressing that SIA has a very high pilot training standard. "We completely reject any suggestion that Singapore Airlines flight training does not meet our standard," its spokesman added.
This article was first published on July 20, 2015.
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