Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Airline pilots pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew during state funeral procession

SINGAPORE - Pilots from the Airline Pilots Association Singapore (Alpa-S) saluted in the rain as the cortege of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed by on Sunday afternoon.

About 200 pilots and their family members had lined up near the NTUC building in Shenton Way to pay their respects to Singapore's first prime minister.

They had used their off day to pay respects during the state funeral procession.

Bearing umbrellas, they opted not to take shelter in the nearby building even as the rain intensified.

The pilots were led by Captain Tan Peng Koon, the honorary secretary of Alpa-S, which is made up of pilots from Singapore Airlines (SIA), SilkAir and SIA Cargo.

Alpa-S had run-ins with Mr Lee in the past, as they drew his ire after clashing with SIA over wages and other things.

In its previous incarnation as the Singapore Airlines Pilots Association (Siapa), the pilots' union staged an unofficial work-to-rule in 1980, pressing their demands for a 30 per cent rise in basic salaries among other things.

Mr Lee stepped in 10 days later. On Dec 1 that year, he summoned the Siapa officials and threatened to ground SIA, sack all the pilots and build a new national carrier unless all flight operations returned to normal and the airline's image restored.

During a 65-minute closed-door meeting at the Istana with 10 pilots, he told them bluntly that they ought to have their heads examined by a psychiatrist for trying to undermine Singapore's industrial relations, built on cooperation among workers, the trade unions and the Government.

Mr Lee, then Prime Minister, sternly told the pilots that he did not want to do them in, but he "won't allow anyone to do Singapore in".

In 2003, Mr Lee spoke at a public forum and warned SIA management and pilots that there would be "broken heads" if tensions over wages continued to escalate.