Pilots association boss Tim Robinson leaves the top job at a time when his group is getting louder, and as other pilots around the world get more vocal.
As Robinson steps down as president of the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association, pilots are involved with several safety issues: the association is challenging this country's regulator to accept an offer of help; it recently won a protracted legal case over the length of runway safety areas at Wellington Airport; and pilots in the United States are taking on Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.
After four years in the role, Robinson says that's a big part of the mission.
"Our ability to influence and advocate to the regulator and our employers has been a big part of the job. We've improved our expertise and utility in that area," he says.
The Boeing 777 first officer says the association has worked hard on gaining the trust and respect of the industry and the travelling public.
Founded in 1945, the association is the union representing more than 2200 New Zealand pilots and air traffic controllers.
Robinson, 51, says the group spent about $200,000 of its members' money fighting a high profile campaign to ensure the safest runway end safety area (Resa) of 240m would be applied to the proposed runway extension at Wellington Airport.
"We're not anti-development. We support growth but we want to see the maximum safety," says Robinson, who flies for Air New Zealand.
Wellington Airport is going back to the drawing board and will take on new international standards before re-submitting an application next year.
He says the court victory set legal precedents and was looked at around the world by other pilots' groups.
The association collects just over $3.5 million in fees from its members, 1751 of whom are airline pilots.
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In the US, pilots are increasingly active on 737 MAX issues, taking Boeing to court following two crashes that killed 346 people and led to a number of investigations into design flaws with the plane — and questions about what the manufacturer and the FAA knew about them.
A lawsuit filed against Boeing late last week marks the first class action lodged by pilots qualified to fly the MAX, who have alleged that Boeing's decisions have caused them to suffer monetary loss and mental distress since the jet's suspension.
The originating plaintiff, known as Pilot X — who has chosen to remain anonymous for "fear of reprisal from Boeing and discrimination from Boeing customers" — seeks damages for themselves and more than 400 colleagues who work for the same airline.
Robinson says his organisation also has concerns about the plane — flown here briefly by Fiji Airways before what appears to be a grounding that will last until later this year. It is also concerned about the FAA.
"I think my underlying view is I do have had some concerns about how they've handled the MAX issues. I just wonder if things had got a little bit cosy. I think it's been a wakeup call about whether they can fulfil."
He says trust and confidence in the administration has been eroded.
New Zealand pilots are also worried about this country's safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, where concerns have been raised about resourcing areas of its work and claims of a poor work culture.
"Clearly there are still resourcing issues. I speculate there's culture issues within the CAA and they have silo issues within their different inspectorates."
The association wants a thorough investigation into the authority and has offered its expertise to help with any inquiry.
Robinson says the association continues to be "very vigilant" about problems Air New Zealand has had with its Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, an issue which started hitting the airline badly 18 months ago.
The association's Peer Assistance and Human Intervention Motivation Study (Hims) programme, which helps pilots and air traffic controllers with substance abuse problems, continues to be developed.
The programme is based on the idea that substance dependence is a treatable medical condition. It is modelled on well-established overseas programmes which have assisted thousands of pilots to get back to work.
Robinson says the programme is industry-leading and has received recognition from government and international peers.
He also outlines details of the development of the association's professional standards programme.
This allows trained volunteers who act as "peer interveners" to try to resolve conflict between members on the flight deck or in air traffic control or radar centres, before they get out of hand and end up being a disciplinary matter.
He says there are about 10 incidents a year with crew fallout.
"Like a lot of industries we pride ourselves on our professionalism, our work ethic, on our training, but one area we've had difficulty with over the years is the human interaction — the human factors, crew resource management."
If there is a breakdown between crew and no volunteer on board, there are set rules laid down by airlines to implement until an aircraft touches down.
"We've got some processes and protocols that are set down by our employer on how to maintain communication and professionalism even if there is a breakdown or disconnect," says Robinson.
"Most of our industry employers are now signed up to these programmes. As they reach critical mass, they will become even more embedded in our day-to-day workplace environments."
Changing industrial landscape
Robinson leaves at a time when negotiations in most pilots' group agreements have been settled or are making progress towards being settled.
Most pilots work for Air New Zealand, which has worked with unions to introduce High Performance Engagement (HPE), a negotiating system aimed at ending traditional, antagonistic bargaining.
"We've gone from the days in the 1990s where it was very adversarial and a 'we'll see you in court' to a position where you can raise any issue with them."
He says the association and the airline don't always see eye to eye.
"We are on the same page with senior leadership right up to the chief executive but one area they could work harder on is making sure that culture and collaborative approach goes right down to our direct managers. Some of that HPE hasn't really sunk right down to them."
The airline has grown rapidly and association members understand that growth is good for them. The airline has been better at communicating its commercial aims.
However, there remains friction within the association between younger pilots and older ones.
More flying of wide-body planes across the Tasman has brought to a head the issue of those aged over 65 continuing to fly.
Robinson says that issue has not been finally resolved.
He says he will continue to fly Pacific Rim routes although he can take an Airbus A320 command and is eyeing a Dreamliner seat as Air New Zealand adds more of the planes to its fleet.
He is being replaced by current industrial director Andrew Ridling who has been president of the association previously.