From the Hill: ALPA Leaders Testify on NextGen, FAA Delays in Implementing Legislated Safety Measures

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

ALPA leaders presented testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in late September, providing Members of Congress with the airline-pilot perspective on critical air transportation issues including the status of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) and full implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

On September 24, Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, addressed the Aviation and Space Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in a hearing titled “Improving Air Traffic Control for the American People: Examining the Current System.”

“As the United States works to meet growing passenger and freight transportation demands, as well as integrate new users such as commercial spaceflight and remotely piloted vehicles, air traffic control modernization will be critical,” said DePete. He called for support of the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019 to provide long-term, stable financing for NextGen projects. DePete also asked legislators to authorize use of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to bank FAA activities in the case of future government shutdowns.

“NextGen has increased situational awareness and provided tools to help pilots make safe decisions through performance-based navigation, data communication, and ADS-B implementation,” DePete noted. However, he acknowledged the system’s potential isn’t being fully realized—in part because many airliners aren’t properly equipped to take advantage of its updated procedures. “As a result, pilots and air traffic controllers are forced to use ‘work-arounds’ that allow them to operate aircraft with outdated equipment in today’s complex system,” he said.

“Let me be clear, ALPA strongly supports NextGen. For more than a decade, we’ve collaborated with the regulator, airlines, and other stakeholders to ensure this modernization work is performed to the highest standards and incorporates frontline pilots’ perspectives,” remarked DePete. He acknowledged the many benefits of this modernization effort, adding that “Airline pilots, air traffic controllers, and commercial spacecraft operators would all benefit from improved ATC services.”

Two days later, Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president and national safety coordinator, testified before the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation. At a House hearing titled “Implementing the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization of 2018,” Fox blasted the FAA for its failure to meet a crucial deadline for advancing aviation safety and security.

“In the reauthorization, Congress called for the FAA to issue a rule mandating [secondary flight deck] barriers for all newly manufactured passenger aircraft by Oct. 5, 2019,” he remarked. “Rather than issuing the order as Congress intended, the FAA has bowed to a blatant stall tactic promoted by special interests and created an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee that has now requested more study,” he added, observing that this decision has further delayed, “this much-needed aviation safety and security enhancement.”

Fox asserted, “Secondary flight deck barriers are already protecting U.S. airliners. I know because I’ve flown the Boeing 757 equipped with these security devices. The standard established at FAA’s request in 2009 is effective. No more study is needed.”

Another item passed in the legislation also waiting final implementation is the automatic acceptance of voluntary safety reports obtained through the Aviation Safety Action Program. “Right now, weeks can pass before these reports are reviewed,” Fox said. “Requiring their automatic acceptance means safety information will be reviewed more quickly—potentially preventing accidents.”

Fox also called for an update to the FAA’s requirement for airline pilots to wear oxygen masks above certain altitudes. “Currently, if one pilot leaves the flight deck while above Flight Level 250, the other must wear his or her mask,” he noted, adding that the International Civil Aviation Organization provided updated guidance, setting a revised altitude standard of above Flight Level 410. The FAA needs to comply.

Fox concluded, “Congress clearly had the interests of the traveling public at heart in passing this FAA reauthorization—others should follow your lead and implement it as intended. We know that, for our passengers, crews, and shippers, every day of delay is one too many.” He declared, “It’s time to implement the law.”

This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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