ALPA to FAA and Industry: We Must Work Together to Ensure Safety and Restore Public Confidence
By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president, top right, participates in an FAA-hosted meeting with government and industry leaders.
In a virtual town hall meeting on May 14, the FAA hosted government and industry leaders to address the unprecedented challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The town hall consisted of two industry panels, with the first featuring senior airline executives who discussed the importance of safety management systems to ensure safety during this turbulent time. The second featured Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president and national safety coordinator, and representatives from mainline, regional, and cargo operators; air traffic controllers; and the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization who examined best practices in response to observed safety issues/concerns, metrics to monitor operational health, changes implemented in response to the pandemic that have altered normal operations, and initiatives under way to prepare for resuming normal operations.
Speaking on behalf of airline pilots, Fox said, “Our pilots are concerned about their health and the health of their families.... This [pandemic] has collectively changed the industry, and the sooner we all realize that, the better we’re all going to be.”
He noted that the International Civil Aviation Organization recently published new health guidance and the public-health corridor concept—a clean crew, a clean aircraft, and clean airport facilities. “That’s where we’re going to have to go to ensure a layered approach to mitigate the risks as best as possible. One way to do that is to have a standard that can hold people accountable and allow for enforcement when found to not be in compliance. That is the best way to restore the public confidence in our industry,” asserted Fox. He observed that any plan must include government-mandated health standards and airline compliance with the FAA’s Safety Alert for Operators guidelines and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Canada, and Transport Canada.
Several panelists referred to internal employee-reporting programs similar to ALPA’s DART program, and Fox remarked, “It’s time to put together a task force that can delve into specifics and provide real-time examples to get the cleaning gear and processes in place to build a health safety network. It’s important that we move fast because we have more than 50 percent of our aircraft parked. We can use those to conduct training with employees who are going to do the cleaning and teach them how to best use the products.”
During the discussion, all participants agreed that collaboration between industry and government is needed to develop a solid plan that keeps passengers safe and healthy as they return to air travel. “It’s important that we work quickly and together to get this work done,” said Fox, offering to pursue this work under the purview of the Flight Standards Transparency, Performance, Accountability, and Efficiency Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which he cochairs with the FAA, as the successful and timely introduction of the public-health corridor concept has been instrumental in improving the overall health of the industry.
In closing, Fox noted, “We need to involve all stakeholders to determine the best way forward in order to restore public confidence in our aviation system—and I think we can and will do that, as we have in the past. We’re the gold standard in this, and we can do what it takes to lead the world in this.”
Protecting the Health of Airline Pilots
On May 11, the FAA issued Safety Alert for Operators 20009 in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that provided updated interim occupational health and safety guidance for air carriers and crews in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, reports of some air carriers’ noncompliance continue to concern ALPA.
The Association and its members continue to call on the FAA to mandate that airlines comply with CDC and FAA guidelines related to aircraft and flight deck cleaning and disinfecting, personal protective equipment (PPE) for flight crews, and employee notification of test-positive cases in the workplace. In addition, ALPA has asked Congress to specifically direct the FAA to
- require the use of facial coverings for all airline passengers and crews, except when on the flight deck.
- ensure that airlines provide pilots with PPE while on the flight deck.
- clarify that airline pilots, as essential workers, should have access to priority COVID-19 testing.