SIA gives older pilots a month's extension

Singapore Airlines (SIA) will allow captains above the age of 62 to fly until the end of April instead of March, as earlier announced, following discussions with the pilots' union and the Manpower Ministry.

The one-month extension was given as talks over SIA's decision not to re-hire retiring pilots continue, airline spokesman Nicholas Ionides said.

Both sides are exploring more long-term options, including allowing captains to stay until they turn 64, with shorter flying hours, The Straits Times has learnt.

Another alternative is to have them take no-pay leave. No further details were available.

The Manpower Ministry was approached by SIA and the Air Line Pilots Association - Singapore to help resolve the matter.

Last month, SIA said it would stop offering re-employment to captains above the retirement age of 62. Those already on re-employment contracts - that allowed them to fly until they are 64 - would also have to leave by the end of March, the airline said.

The decision affected more than 90 captains, including the union president, Captain Mok Hin Choon.

At the time, SIA, which employs about 2,400 pilots, said the decision was necessitated by a manpower surplus that has persisted in the past few years and is not expected to change until March next year at least.

The excess manpower is due to network changes and a challenging business environment, and despite measures taken to alleviate the surplus, including voluntary no-pay leave and voluntary movements to subsidiaries.

The challenges have hit business, with operating profit at the parent carrier plunging by 33 per cent year-on-year to $87 million in the three months to Dec 31.

Various measures, including plans to launch a premium economy product in August, have been taken to boost yields and profits.

To counter a slowdown in the premium air travel market, SIA started long-haul budget carrier Scoot more than two years ago and has taken a bigger stake in short-haul airline Tigerair.

But it will take time for the benefits to be realised, industry analysts said, and, until then, SIA will continue to watch its expenses, including manpower costs.

When contacted yesterday, Capt Mok declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

The Straits Times, however, understands that if the dispute is not resolved, the union is likely to take the matter to the Industrial Arbitration Court.

This article was first published on February 28, 2015.
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