Airline pilots’ union “aghast” and “furious” at £2bn cycling and walking spend

Online backlash as BALPA asks government where cash is for the aviation industry – though active travel spend was committed before pandemic

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) says its members will be “aghast and frankly furious” at the government for having “found” £2 billion for cycling and walking at a time when, it says, the country’s airline sector is “in a death spiral.” The money for active, in fact, is not new and had already been set aside by the government in February.

The tirade was made in response to Saturday’s announcement by transport secretary Grant Shapps, that the government was making £250 million available for emergency funding for pop-up infrastructure for cycling and walking in England, outside London.

> Government announces £250m emergency active travel fund as part of £2bn investment

That cash is part of £2 billion funding set aside for cycling and walking over the next five years which the government had committed prior to the coronavirus pandemic – a BALPA, which described the cash for active travel as having been “found” seems to have missed.

BALPA General Secretary Brian Sutton said: “The aviation sector is already facing 23,000 job cuts, with the potential for many more in the weeks and months to come.

“The government’s proposed 14 day quarantine proposal for incoming international travellers will put even more pressure on the industry for the foreseeable future, and dispute repeated promises, we’ve seen not a single penny in dedicated, bespoke support for airlines.
 
“Given all this, British pilots will be absolutely aghast and frankly furious at £2bn being found for ‘walking and cycling’ [his inverted commas, not ours – Ed] when the airline industry, which is so vital to the UK economy, is dying before our eyes,” he added.
 
“When will the government recognise that the British airline business is in a death spiral and intervene to support this vital industry and stop the jobs cull?”

BALPA acts as the professional association and registered trade union for all UK pilots, with more than 10,000 pilots recognised by 23 different companies.

But replies to its tweet linking to that statement show that not all members share that view.

One, Peter Smith – Twitter name,  @Pinarello_ Pete –  posted: “I am going to stick my head above the parapet. I am an airline pilot, a BALPA member, a BC [British Cycling] coach and married to the Cycling & Walking Champion on our county council.

“I am ‘aghast and frankly furious’ by this ill thought out rant by my association. I have told them as much too.”

Another pilot who has been a member of BALPA for more than 30 years said he was in support of investment in active travel – and was told by the organisation that they supported it too, although that is far from the impression one might get from their original tweet and statement.

Other replies to BALPA’s tweet highlighted the heavy subsidies the aviation industry already receives from the government, the environmental damage that the sector causes, and questioned why it had chosen to base its attack on the money set aside for active travel rather the much greater amounts the government plans to spend on roads over the next five years.

In the House of Commons this afternoon, the transport secretary confirmed that the government is in discussions with airlines, airport operators and ground support operations, but was unable to reveal any details as yet for reasons of confidentiality.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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