'Newcomer' voted as pilots' union chief

'Newcomer' voted as pilots' union chief

PILOTS of the Singapore Airlines (SIA) group have picked a relative newcomer to the union over a veteran as their new chief.

At the end of vote-counting yesterday, Captain Ng Thim Fook, 53, garnered about 66 per cent of the vote to become president of the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore (Alpa-S).

The Airbus 380 pilot, who came onto the union scene just two years ago, faced off against Captain P. James, 58, who was Alpa-S president for two three-year terms until 2012.

About 1,900 SIA, SilkAir and SIA Cargo pilots from the union's three separate branches cast their votes over three weeks.

Capt Ng, who became head of the SIA branch in 2013, told The Straits Times yesterday that he is "humbled" by the strong backing and thankful for the guidance from "capable old hands" the last two years. He said: "I was never the likeliest candidate for office. I had to learn fast."

There is much to do, he added. "Many challenges lie ahead and we need to work with the company to resolve them."

While still profitable, SIA is navigating some of its most challenging times. Amid tough competition in the premium long-haul sector from rivals such as Cathay Pacific and Middle Eastern carriers Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, SIA has put the brakes on growing its flagship carrier for now.

This has led to a pilot surplus, resulting in various initiatives to mitigate the situation, for example, by cutting flying years.

SIA used to allow its 2,100 pilots to fly till the age of 65, but this was cut to 62 for first officers a year ago.

Captains can fly an extra year, but they must take unpaid leave for six months during the period.

After electing a new president, pilots will now vote for leaders to represent them in the union's three branches.

Urging pilots to vote wisely for a team that can work well together, Capt Ng said: "We cannot afford to be crippled by partisanship and pettiness which have been our Achilles heel in the past few years."

Capt Ng himself had entered the union scene following the dissolution of the SIA branch over personality clashes in 2013.

Current Alpa-S president, Captain Mok Hin Choon, 62, said: "With the huge mandate, Thim Fook should act decisively to set the tone for constructive and strong relationships with all interested stakeholders."


This article was first published on Apr 9, 2015.
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