British Air Line Pilots' Association Calls On Tighter Rules On Virtual Airlines


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British Air Line Pilots' Association Calls On Tighter Rules On Virtual Airlines

By Shane Nolan

May 9, 2011 - The British Air Line Pilots' Association (BALPA) represents well over 75% of all the fixed wing pilots and helicopter aircrew based in the UK calls on tighter rules on so called "virtual airlines" are needed, according to the airline pilots union, BALPA. 

Virtual airlines sell tickets for routes they have contracted to other companies who supply the pilots and aircraft. BALPA’s demand follows an accident at Cork airport on February 10th 2011 in which six people were killed. 

The Manx 2 flight from Belfast crashed in thick fog on its third attempt to land. A preliminary report by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit has established that the pilots were inexperienced and broke aviation rules in the way they attempted to land the plane. 

But Manx 2, an Isle of Man based company, has now rejected all demands for compensation from injured passengers and families of the deceased, claiming that in law it is a "ticket provider" and that the service was actually run by Flightline, a Spanish airline that BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts has established is now facing regulatory action over "discrepancies" discovered during safety checks. 

BALPA’s General Secretary, Jim McAuslan told the programme that he was increasingly concerned about such arrangements. "The day’s going to come – and the public should realise it - when you get onto an aircraft, that you need to ask yourself some serious questions. How is this airline operating? Who’s in the front of the aircraft? How is this aircraft maintained? Government and regulator need to step in to stop this drift into a virtual world of aviation". 

A passenger on board the plane, Mark Dickens, said that he had no idea he was travelling with a small Spanish airline. "Certainly the ticket that I bought, the plane that I got on, the guy behind the check in desk, the in-flight magazine, everything suggested that I was flying with Manx 2", he told Face the Facts. "I assumed they were an airline like Aer Lingus, Easyjet or Ryanair." 

Face the Facts has discovered that Manx 2 has boasted in past publicity material that it was able to run flights when other airlines were grounded by bad weather. It has also described itself as "a local airline for the Isle of Man".

Tim Jeans, the former managing director of Monarch Airlines, says there is "a lack of transparency" about the company. "If you look on their website, there is no sense at all that this is an airline that actually isn’t. Certainly the disclaimers on tickets and publicity material should perhaps be stronger".


The Irish investigation into the crash at Cork is now focusing on why the plane did not divert to an airport clear of fog. Instead, it made two aborted landings and then circled the airport for fifteen minutes before making a third and fatal attempt. But survivor Mark Dickens has told Face the Facts that the Spanish captain informed passengers during the flight that his plan was to wait for the weather to improve and land at Cork. 

Flightline, meanwhile, is in danger of losing its air operator’s certificate after the Spanish civil aviation authority discovered "discrepancies" during inspections". An appearance before the European Commission’s Air Safety Committee last month led to a promise by the Barcelona based airline that it would "revise" its procedures over "pilot selection", come up with a "Corrective Action Plan" to address immediate safety concerns, and change its company manual to include guidance on using alternative aerodromes. 

A full report into the circumstances of the crash by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit is expected next year. Manx 2 told the BBC that it will wait until then before commenting further. Flightline refused to comment. Manx 2 abandoned the Belfast to Cork route two weeks after the accident.

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