ALPA Produces Wins in Landmark Aviation Safety Law
By ALPA Government Affairs Staff
ALPA secured major legislative wins when President Donald Trump signed the FAA reauthorization bill (P.L. 115–254) into law on Oct. 5, 2018. After more than three years and six extensions to prevent an agency shutdown, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the ALPA-endorsed Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018. The legislation authorizes the FAA for five years, through Sept. 30, 2023.
The FAA authorization measure contains no less than 25 ALPA-requested statutory and regulatory changes that cover a myriad of pilot priorities setting safety-forward federal policy. Significantly, the law also does not contain any provision that ALPA opposed.
What the FAA reauthorization bill does not contain
The legislation does not include
- Rollbacks or changes to safety regulations, including first officer training and qualification regulations. These regulations were enacted in 2013 and have led to the safest period in aviation history—with zero passenger airline deaths attributable to pilot training since passage of the regulations. Some in the industry had worked to weaken first officer training and qualification requirements in a misguided attempt to lower pilot wages and benefits. An early version of a bill in the Senate would have allowed for a reduction in requirements to obtain an ATP. ALPA’s ongoing education and outreach to Congress and the public changed the outcome by convincing House and Senate negotiators that such a provision would be a “poison pill” issue for the bill.
- A House-passed provision supporting a program to eliminate pilots from cargo airliners. This provision, part of a separate bill known as the FLIGHT R&D Act, was added by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee without a hearing, markup, or debate in any congressional forum. The proposal would have authorized a new program and funding for research, development, and implementation of single-pilot or remote-piloting cargo operations in commercial aviation. ALPA launched a Call to Action in opposition to the provision that resulted in more than 5,000 communications to Congress in just 48 hours. Ultimately, Members of Congress responded to the will of their constituents and removed this dangerous language from the final bill.
- A push toward installing cameras in the cockpit. This is a particularly big win for pilots considering that this idea has been advanced in recent years on trains and has been an NTSB priority. ALPA advised Congress that video-recording devices in the cockpit aren’t a prudent use of safety resources. In fact, these cameras could weaken safety by causing a rush to judgment based on video instead of sound investigative principles.
- Additional mental health screening requirements for pilots, though the subject was considered as the bill was pending after the Germanwings Flight 9525 tragedy in 2015 and the more recent Horizon Air incident at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.
- Changes to the FAR Part 121 mandatory pilot retirement age. Any movement of pilot retirement age will take an act of Congress, and no bill has been introduced or any discussion taken place in the halls of Congress related to pilot retirement age. ALPA opposes any change in retirement age per policy adopted by the Association’s Board of Directors.
- Changes to foreign ownership and control laws or cabotage rules, despite bills pending in the House designed to weaken these standards.
- Changes to labor law, including those proposed by mainline airlines that would have prevented flight crews from accessing state wage and scheduling laws like Kin Care in California. The airlines’ trade association attempted to preempt these laws in favor of a lower national standard. Working with ALPA’s Legal and Representation Departments, ALPA’s Government Affairs staff countered this behind-the-scenes play and successfully stopped the provision.
ALPA’s solid defense allowed the Association to devote resources to achieving pilot-partisan advances in the bill as well.
Pro-pilot changes included in the new law
Secondary cockpit barriers
P.L. 115–254 directs the FAA to mandate the installation of physically installed secondary cockpit barriers on all newly manufactured passenger airliners. This is the first step toward ensuring that an airline’s entire fleet is equipped with these effective security measures. This provision, statutorily cited as the “Saracini Aviation Safety Act of 2018,” is an ALPA victory years in the making and is a result of the more than 6,800 Calls to Action sent by ALPA members to their elected officials and tireless advocacy as a memorial to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, and to ensure safety and security going forward.
Lithium cells and batteries
Lithium cell and battery regulations will be harmonized with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) technical instructions. This change will upgrade domestic rules for carrying these hazardous materials. ALPA has advocated for stricter standards for the safe air transport of lithium batteries in the U.S. and international arena for several years, and this provision is an important step forward.
Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)
The law repeals Section 366 of the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation that restricted the FAA from regulating UAS modelers or hobbyists. In place of this exemption, the FAA has been directed to create new regulations specifically for hobbyists. These new rules will help ensure that UAS stay away from commercial aircraft in the national airspace system.
Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) reporting
ASAP reports will now be automatically accepted and may only be excluded by a vote from the Event Review Committee. The safety benefit of voluntarily reported incident information from frontline employees and airlines will be realized immediately at all carriers.
Undeclared hazardous materials
ALPA has long advocated for stricter scrutiny of and more public education about hazardous materials shipped as air cargo. The FAA bill includes provisions to support and expand the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s undeclared hazardous materials educational campaign, “Check the Box.” The campaign educates the public and trains industry employees about hazardous materials and how to properly package, mark, and label such materials for secure handling and safe air transport.
The FAA will also harmonize air mask rules with ICAO’s regulations, changing the altitude required for pilots to wear a mask in the cockpit from FL250 to FL410. This change will be an operational and safety improvement for line pilots.
Human Intervention Motivation Study (HIMS) program
Section 544 authorizes the HIMS program by name for the first time in its history. ALPA’s direct advocacy has sustained the program since the 1960s through the congressional appropriations process. Going forward, the FAA will be tasked with fully supporting the program and helping other modes of transportation learn from the program’s successes.
The bill affirms, via a sense of Congress resolution, that the aircraft’s pilot-in-command is the final authority and directly responsible for the flight.
Women in aviation
Thanks to the bill, bringing more women into the aviation field will now be a federal priority. A new Women in Aviation Advisory Board will be formed in the coming months and will include a pilot stakeholder representative. The board will be tasked with evaluating the challenges faced by young women and girls who may consider becoming professional aviators and make recommendations to the FAA for overcoming these challenges. ALPA has been invested in bringing the best and the brightest into the profession for many years, and this provision supports the work of ALPA’s Education Committee and the Association’s strategic plan goals for the future of the profession.
Aircraft air quality
The FAA has been directed to provide educational materials on how to respond to incidents involving smoke and fumes. Additionally, the bill requires issuing guidance on how to report these incidents, a study by the Airliner Cabin Environment Center of Excellence on bleed air, health effects, and technologies and techniques to provide accurate warning and prevention. These new mandates will lead to health and safety improvements for passengers and crewmembers.
Essential Air Service
Despite calls from some to defund the program, the Essential Air Service has been reauthorized and its budget will increase over the next several years. The bill also commissions a study on possible reform of the program, including effects on local communities and access to air service for those communities. Continuing the availability of air service to communities throughout the United States to connect the public to points across the globe is an ALPA priority.
Pacific island airports
Section 117 of the bill reauthorizes grant eligibility for airports in the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau through Fiscal Year 2023. This ensures continued access to critical emergency airfields on transpacific routes.
Transportation Security Administration reauthorization
As part of the FAA reauthorization, the legislation incorporated a package of policy updates as a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reauthorization measure.
The final bill incorporates H.R. 1309, the TSA Administrator Modernization Act of 2017, to affirm the TSA as a component of the Department of Homeland Security and establishes a five-year term for the TSA administrator. This will provide continuity to the administrator role, like that of the FAA administrator.
Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program
The law harmonizes firearms training with Federal Air Marshal Service training and supports additional firearms training facilities throughout the U.S. to provide recurrent and requalifying training. This section also forbids the TSA from establishing medical or physical standards for a pilot seeking to become an FFDO that are more stringent than standards for issuance of an FAA airman certificate under Part 67 of title 14 CFR.
Airport perimeter and access control security
The TSA will update the Transportation Sector Security Risk Assessment and conduct a systemwide assessment of airport access control points and airport perimeter security, including all-cargo airports and areas.
ALPA Advocacy Moves Congress
Direct pilot engagement with Congress helped move ALPA’s FAA agenda. Pilots participating in Calls to Action during 2017 and 2018:
Letters were sent on protecting first officer qualifications
Letters were sent on single-pilot operations
Letters were sent on secondary cockpit barriers
Average rate of participation by ALPA master executive councils
Direct connections were made between Congress and ALPA members in 2018, a first in the history of ALPA Calls to Action
Calls to Action on single-pilot operations were sent by participants in 48 hours, also a record
ALPA Strategic Communications Campaign Critical to Successful Advocacy
With significant resources from ALPA’s Major Contingency Fund, the Association was able to execute a multifaceted, coordinated campaign to “Keep Flying Safe” and to stop a proposal by Congress to eliminate pilots from the cockpit. One component of the campaign was paid and earned media messaging targeting legislators in Washington, D.C., and home states and districts of ALPA members. From ads in The Washington Post to microtargeted social media messaging, the public was able to amplify ALPA’s “Trained for Life” public-awareness campaign so that federal decision-makers heard from pilot experts and constituents.