Almost four year ago, I wrote an entry “Flying the Coop” in which I observed:
A recent news item says that more pilots have been leaving the country for greener pastures overseas. Philippine Airlines, Inc. (PAL) has lost about 20% of its pilots over the last three years and more are about to fly the coop. This is an alarming development in our continuing brain drain. Even our best trained and highest compensated professionals are packing their bags. A desperate policy resolution from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration limiting the number of pilots who can work for international airlines has failed to stem the tide.
Things have apparently gotten worse since. Over the weekend, at least 23 international and domestic PAL flights have been cancelled due to the fact that there were no pilots to fly PAL planes. Eight more flights were cancelled today.
Apparently, a critical number of PAL’s A320 Airbus pilots resigned and immediately left for more lucrative posts overseas, without giving sufficient notice or allowing for enough time to bring replacements on board. This prompted PAL management to threaten legal action against the fleeing aviators, citing flagrant violations of their training and employment contracts. Unfortunately, going to court won’t solve PAL’s woes. The judicial process will just drag on without addressing the fundamental reality that PAL cannot compete with the wages and perks being offered by other airlines in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. Market forces are at work here which will not bend to PAL’s will.
A restrictive employment covenant in their employment contracts may prevent some of these aviators and other skilled workers from transferring to competitors abroad. This is a common enough clause in contracts for so-called “mission critical” workers, or those who are considered integral to an industry’s sustainability. But this will not solve the problem. PAL cannot seek judicial enforcement of every agreement that may be breached by its pilots. And under settled cases, the employer has the burden of proving that the restriction is valid and reasonable and does not impose an “undue burden” on the employee. It can be convincingly argued that working in the Philippines constitutes an undue burden.
Sadly, this goes beyond mere inconvenience and embarrassment. It’s a major setback for the air travel and tourism industries. And it actually places the flying public in grave danger as PAL and other airlines might be tempted to allow underqualified or raw pilots to handle its planes.
This trend has grave implications, not the least of which is its effect on domestic air travel safety. With our best pilots and flight engineers gone, can the airlines ensure that the riding public is given a safe ride ? We foresee turbulence ahead for the airline industry.