‘Work-Arounds’ Simply Aren’t Good Enough

By Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA President

Following the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, I always feel a renewed appreciation for the value of ALPA’s aviation security work. At ALPA’s remembrance ceremony this year, which was held for the first time at ALPA’s new building in McLean, Va., I quoted a Brazilian martial artist who once said, “Anger brought me to jiu jitsu, but love made me stay.”

Many of us recall the anger we felt that day. However, ALPA pilots quickly opened the aperture beyond our own pain and loss to help others. We’re now doing everything possible to make certain that such an attack never happens again.

Then as now, our work in aviation security—and our entire pilot-partisan agenda—depends on ALPA pilots’ unity. Together, we’re working with enormous energy to strengthen the Known Crewmember® program (KCM) with the goal of maximizing its contribution to risk-predictive security while ensuring that KCM is reliable and efficient for our members.

Thanks to our unity, ALPA achieved a significant win when a temporary hold was placed on the implementation of KCM uniform policy changes that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Airlines for America announced in late August. Following the policy’s suspension, ALPA led a collaborative effort by the regulator, airlines, and labor to develop an alternative solution that would eliminate the need for the uniform requirement and enhance, rather than weaken, aviation security.

We succeeded in creating a solution that was far more secure than the initial policy, but I’m aware that some eligible members still experience frustrations while using KCM. I take this situation very seriously. Together with Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president, Air Safety Organization leaders, and our staff, I’ve communicated constantly with the highest levels of the U.S government to address these issues and I’m confident we’ll reach a solution.

In more security work, ALPA is raising the volume on Capitol Hill regarding the FAA’s requirement in the 2018 FAA reauthorization to issue a rule mandating the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on all newly manufactured passenger aircraft. 

As Capt. Fox noted in September testimony before the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee, rather than issuing the order as Congress directed, the FAA has bowed to special interests and created an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee that has requested more study. ALPA members know secondary flight deck barriers already protect U.S. airliners; a proven standard was established at the FAA’s request in 2009. No more study is needed.

The absence of secondary flight deck barriers aboard aircraft is just one example of how a lack of government follow-through is more often requiring “work-arounds” that affect pilots’ ability to perform our jobs as safely and efficiently as possible.

While the FAA recently issued new procedures for opening the flight deck door, the process would be far more secure and efficient were secondary flight deck barriers in place. And it’s important to remember that the work-arounds needed to secure the flight deck on passenger aircraft are no less burdensome for cargo pilots, whose aircraft are not equipped with a hardened flight deck door or door bulkhead and whose passengers often include animal handlers carrying tranquilizers.

This issue of work-arounds due to policy inaction adding complexity to airline pilots’ jobs, detracting from our ability to react nimbly to the unexpected, and forcing us to accept increased risk also applies to NextGen.

In September testimony before the U.S. Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee, I underscored for lawmakers that a significant proportion of U.S. aircraft lack the equipment needed to use NextGen procedures. As a result, pilots and air traffic controllers are forced to develop and implement work-arounds to allow us to operate outdated equipment in today’s airspace.

Making the most of NextGen now and as we integrate new uses such as commercial space means our industry needs baseline requirements for equipping aircraft with the technology to support modern procedures as well as stable and reliable funding for NextGen.

For ALPA, our commitment to a secure, safe, and efficient air transportation system is unequivocal. Rather than requiring a work-around, ALPA pilots expect the highest levels of safety and security to be the standard.