Ready for the Comeback

By Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA President

 The importance of a strong supply of qualified and trained airline pilots has perhaps never been more apparent than today, as passengers take to the skies in a predictable return to flying following the darkest days of the pandemic.

Thanks in part to ALPA pilots’ advocacy, Congress planned for this very moment, providing airlines with $63 billion in federal aid to make certain they would be ready. Despite this help from American taxpayers, which was on a scale that no other industry received, some U.S. airlines have still clearly failed to plan for economic comeback.

Troublingly, their representatives have resorted to distorting the facts about pilot supply in a desperate bid to distract passengers from the truth about their mismanagement and a flatly unacceptable 65 percent increase in flight delays and cancellations.

The numbers leave no doubt that today, many U.S. airlines have more pilots, carry less net debt, and operate at greater domestic capacity levels than in 2019. Yet, airline representatives continue to spread mistruths about pilot supply and advocate for regulation rollbacks that would compromise the safety of the flying public. ALPA simply will not bend on safety, nor will we abide any weakening of first officer qualification and training requirements that have proven to reduce fatalities by 99.8 percent since they were put in place.

While we have plenty of airline pilots to meet today’s needs, we will need even more qualified aviators in the future. Our union’s goal is to inspire all young people to see themselves as pilots. ALPA is equally dedicated to helping create an accessible, inclusive profession for all who are interested. In fact, we have a plan designed to help break down barriers, forge new opportunity, and build a strong pipeline of qualified aviators in the future, while protecting the high level of safety that makes the U.S. air transportation system the world standard.

In our plan, ALPA is calling on the government to align federal funding and support for pilot academic education and training with that of other highly skilled professions. We are also insisting on an inclusive workplace for pilots. For example, we are leading the fight to promote inclusive, gender-neutral language in our collectively bargained agreements and throughout the industry, including at the FAA’s Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee, and we successfully advocated to change the FAA’s use of “notice to airmen” to “notice to air missions.”

As the world’s largest nongovernmental aviation safety organization, ALPA also brings enormous expertise to bear on ensuring the safety of pilots in their workplace. At the recent Cargo Associations Summit, ALPA leaders discussed the challenges faced by pilots who fly freight. While challenges persist, we know that progress is possible because of our achievement in the 2018 FAA reauthorization requiring that the United States harmonize with the improved International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions for shipping lithium batteries by air.

Our union also recognizes that collectively bargained contracts, which provide enforceable terms of compensation, working conditions, and job security, as well as a proactive safety culture, play a fundamental role in attracting new aviators to our profession and new pilots to ALPA.

Like individuals in other professional careers, airline pilots must also be properly supported when facing illness, stress, and distraction. For this reason, ALPA’s pilot assistance at every level—national, master executive council, and local council—is there to help ensure that pilots are mentally and physically prepared to perform their jobs. As ALPA’s president, I am also making certain our union does more than ever to provide ALPA members with support throughout retirement.

Across the airline industry, pilots are recognizing more than ever the value of ALPA representation throughout their flying careers—as well as strong union support throughout their retirement.