A military helicopter
Wage error row costs Army heavily as 15 experienced pilots quit Reuters

A row about repaying overpaid wages has led to 15 of the British Army's most experienced helicopter pilots quitting, after they were told to return wages paid to them between 2007-2013.

The 15 pilots reportedly cited the demand for repayment of the money as their primary reason behind their decision to quit. The issue was found to be one of the factors behind some other resignations too. However, the Army denied having any knowledge if there were any resignations linked to the overpayments since 2014.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that about 210 pilots, some of whom were retired from the Army, received wage overpayments totaling £829,000 ($1.2m) between 2007-2013 as a result of administrative errors, BBC News reported. On raising queries regarding their respective scales, some pilots were told that the payments were correct.

The mistake is said to have occurred because the rates vary for every pilot based on his length of service and job position. A series of documents published on the Ministry of Defence website reveal that administrators had "inconsistently interpreted" the pay policy and guidelines over a period of "many years" and doubts raised over the policies dates back to 2002. The guidelines and rules for calculating the pay of pilots were described in the documents as "complicated and contradictory".

In a June 2014 letter sent by the Army to Ministry of Defence officials, the Army had written that it was "firmly of the view" that the overpayments be written off for the pilots and the instructors, citing "compelling" operational reasons. The Army had also cautioned against "significant risks" that the departure of experienced pilots and senior instructors posed "to air safety and the longer term costs of training replacements".

Training a pilot costs the Army around £3.5m and takes four years, while training an instructor costs £8.5m.

A spokeswoman for the Army said that they have apologized to the affected pilots and instructors and have also explained the circumstances of the overpayments to them. "In accordance with standard government practice, arrangements have been made to revert their pay to the correct levels and all affected personnel are now receiving the correct pay," the spokeswoman added.