ALPA’s Executive Board Reflects on Recent Industry Challenges, Acts on Business/Policy Decisions
By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
ALPA conducted its 130th regular Executive Board meeting May 18–19, as the Association’s national officers, executive vice presidents, and master executive council (MEC) chairs heard aviation industry presentations, deliberated on resolutions, and reviewed the union’s strategic planning process. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wane, the board met in person at the Association’s McLean, Va., offices.
Following a roll call and a report from the Credentials Committee, the four national officers provided reports, outlining the union’s priorities, activities, and accomplishments since this governing body last convened in October 2021.
“ALPA is pulling no punches in calling out those airlines that received billions in American taxpayer support to be ready to fly but have instead failed to train and requalify their workforce,” remarked Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, during his presentation. Citing three installments of the historic payroll support program to participating U.S.-based airlines and the sizable increase in recent flight cancellations and delays at some carriers, he observed, “Company managements have deliberately put pilots and other workers on the shelf and held off on training to save money. Now, it’s passengers who are paying the price.”
DePete noted that numerous airlines have circulated misinformation about a “pilot shortage” in the United States in an effort to relax safety-related first officer qualification standards to broaden the pool of potential airline pilot candidates. “The plain truth is that airline managements should take responsibility for their business decisions to cut or reduce service to less-profitable markets. Instead, they’re making excuses that aren’t supported in fact or, far worse, calling for regulation rollbacks that would threaten safety,” he remarked.
In the remainder of his report, DePete outlined ALPA Canada’s recent efforts, which helped prompt the Canadian government to reopen its borders. He highlighted current pilot collective bargaining campaigns at Alaska, Delta, and PAL Airlines along with new contract gains achieved by Air Transat, Air Wisconsin, Envoy Air, Piedmont, and United. DePete also touched on the union’s support for the safe integration of new and expanding users of the national airspace system.
“I know these times have been, and continue to be, turbulent, but there are smoother and clearer skies ahead on our Association’s flight path,” said Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA’s first vice president and national safety coordinator. “As I look at everyone present in this room, I feel confident and safe in knowing all the work that our pilot representatives, volunteers, and staff continue to do will keep this Association in a position of strength.”
In his address, Fox discussed recent international challenges to U.S. aviation, the incredible progress the union’s Air Safety Organization is making, and the continued growth of ALPA-PAC. He acknowledged ALPA’s successful efforts to address Waltzing Matilda Aviation, a U.S. carrier initially seeking approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct service as a U.S. carrier from a Canadian base, while avoiding using American workers. Fox talked about the Association’s ongoing efforts to mitigate risks to radar altimeters resulting from 5G wireless deployment in the C-band. He also noted that, so far in 2022, ALPA-PAC has received contributions from more than 11,500 ALPA members.
Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary, covered a host of topics including a report on recent Professional Development Group (PDG) activities, Information Technology Advisory Committee projects, and plans for the Association’s biennial Board of Directors (BOD) meeting this fall. He highlighted ALPA’s Leadership Training Conference in February, the Membership and Veterans Affairs Seminar in March, and countless university and primary and secondary school visits made by Education Committee pilot volunteers. Among the many pilots who support PDG activities, Couette acknowledged F/O Andrew Ross (United), who was recently appointed to the FAA’s Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force.
Underscoring just some of ALPA’s recent IT improvements, Couette commented, “We’ve reconfigured the member call center routing strategy to improve the workflow and sequencing of insurance-related calls for better response time to our members. There’s a new insurance enrollment portal, which should be completed this summer. We’re also updating the ALPA mobile app to include new ALPA-PAC and Call to Action features.” In addition, he talked about upcoming national officer and executive vice president elections that will be conducted at the 49th regular BOD meeting in October.
During his presentation, Capt. Joseph Genovese, ALPA’s vice president–finance/treasurer, remarked, “This meeting is a shining example of why face-to-face human interaction is significant. For those of you keeping count, we have six—yes, six—new pilot groups since our last Executive Board when we were all together in person. It’s an impressive statement about ALPA and our organizing team that we were able to add a half dozen new pilot groups during an unrelenting pandemic.”
He also discussed the Association’s financial position, noting, “Just like last year, continued improvements in the airline industry are expected to drive more revenue during the rest of the year, while the simple act of getting back to holding meetings at ALPA will also drive up expenses.” Genovese observed that while the Association may be tracking just slightly above budgeted dues for this year, it’s important to realize that the union’s 2022 budget is greater than the amount allocated for last year in anticipation of a stronger industry. He also highlighted two group Medicare Advantage plans for retired members, which ALPA introduced in 2021. Both plans include Part D prescription drug coverage and are available nationally.
The Executive Board meeting agenda featured three aviation industry speakers, who shared insights on the current state of airline representation and operational safety. “Labor solidarity knows no borders and so must our collaboration,” said DePete in introducing Capt. Jaime Hernandez Sierra, a Colombian pilot for Avianca and the president of the Asociación Colombiana de Aviadores Civiles (ACDAC) pilots’ union.
Hernandez Sierra was among the 94 pilots fired for legitimate union activities who eventually regained their jobs. In 2017, the pilots conducted a 51-day strike. During his presentation, Hernandez Sierra acknowledged using the 1985 United MEC strike manual to help direct this campaign.
In 2020, the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia addressed Avianca management’s egregious behavior, requiring the carrier to pay 500 million pesos to ACDAC for damages resulting from the airline’s antiunion conduct. In October 2020, ACDAC signed a four-year collective bargaining agreement with management after negotiating, on and off, for 11 years.
“In the name of all the Colombian pilots, thank you so much,” proclaimed Hernandez Sierra, expressing his gratitude to the many ALPA pilots who offered a helping hand. Throughout this negotiations campaign and the corresponding management antiunion tactics, pilot reps from ALPA and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) traveled to Bogotá, Colombia, where the airline is based, and provided resources and assistance. “This is your victory! We want you to feel proud like we do,” he said.
Executive Board members also heard from Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB, who remarked on the various priorities her organization shares with ALPA. “We’re continuing to fight alongside you on many issues,” she asserted, talking about recent developments in single-pilot operations, new aircraft fuel sources, and the long-standing “cargo carveout”—the all-cargo pilot exclusion in the airline pilot fatigue rules implemented in 2011. Homendy commented, “We’re very focused on getting rid of that exemption, and hopefully we can continue to push that as we start looking at FAA reauthorization.”
She also talked at length about the potential risks associated with shipping lithium batteries. For years, ALPA has been pressing the International Civil Aviation Organization, through the union’s affiliation with IFALPA, to advance measures to mitigate these concerns. As outlined in ALPA’s white paper “Safely Transporting Lithium Batteries by Air,” one example includes implementing tougher packaging restrictions and quantity limits for lithium batteries.
Homendy also discussed the safe integration of new entrants into the national airspace where ALPA members fly, including commercial space operations. “We’ve had commercial space authority since an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the FAA in the late 1980s, and our most recent one was signed in 2004. At that time, human commercial spaceflight wasn’t anticipated.” She noted that ongoing efforts to revise commercial space authority language have been in the works since 2014. “The current draft still has [former NTSB Chair] Debbie Hersman’s name on it.”
Homendy thanked ALPA for its continued support to authorize her agency to investigate commercial space accidents and incidents.
Another guest speaker was Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department—a coalition of 37 member unions that provides a voice for U.S. transportation workers. “In all areas of transportation, but especially when it comes to aviation, because we’re able to focus on safety and worker rights, and really personalize these issues and make sure we emphasize how important they are to every single person who uses our aviation system, we’re able to win the day,” he asserted.
Regan added, “We’re going to take that same fight moving into the FAA reauthorization [discussions] moving forward, because we’ve already seen people start to debate the 1,500-hour [first officer qualification] rule. We’re always going to have the fight over flags-of-convenience airlines and other atypical employment models that are coming into our shores.” The next round of FAA reauthorization is expected to be legislated in 2023.
Regan noted that he’s more optimistic about the future of the labor movement than he’s been in quite some time. Motivated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, hordes of workers are seeking union representation in their workplaces. “I think we’re going to start to see a shift back toward people who recognize that talking about safety, and talking about fair workplace rules, and talking about proper oversight are not partisan issues,” he observed. “These are fundamental issues that make everybody safe.”
In another segment during the meeting’s plenary session, subject-matter experts Capt. Bill Secord (FedEx Express) and Capt. Al Gaspari (United) briefed the board on efforts around the world to promote reduced-crew operations. Secord attended this year’s Singapore Airshow and reported on the development of autonomous aerial vehicles to support new urban air mobility markets. These air taxis would operate from strategically placed vertiports with a goal of making them fully autonomous when regulations permit.
Secord also talked about ongoing efforts within major aircraft manufacturers to provide airline flight decks with additional automation to justify one pilot on the flight deck. The initial focus of this effort is on cargo operations with passenger operations to follow. He encouraged his fellow members to contribute to ALPA-PAC as the best protection for their profession and a means of ensuring that pilots remain part of any dialogue examining these potential changes.
Gaspari, who also serves as IFALPA’s Professional & Government Affairs Committee executive vice president, noted that he was part of a federation contingent that met with Airbus officials to discuss new developments in automation and reduced-crew operations. Airbus refers to this focus as extended minimum crew operations (eMCO), part of its DragonFly project, with an end goal of eventually offering autonomous flight. DePete recently formed the Presidential Committee Against Reduced Crew Operations to further study this issue for the Association. He appointed Capt. Russ Sklenka, ALPA’s executive administrator, to chair the group.
While the technology isn’t available yet, Gaspari acknowledged that the aircraft manufacturer is making progress. He anticipates that the Airbus strategy will begin with a recommendation to revisit flight-time/duty-time standards at the global level, followed by a proposal for both eMCO and minimum qualification standards. Gaspari emphasized that pilots must continue to be engaged in this process to be aware of its latest developments.
Also during plenary, Executive Board members received a review of ALPA’s strategic planning process and how delegates at the upcoming BOD meeting will develop and approve new language. Plus, they deliberated on 10 resolutions, including the approval of Major Contingency Fund grants to pilot groups at Alaska, Delta, and FedEx Express who are engaged in late-stage contract negotiations.
Another resolution before the board affirmed the Association’s support for the Age 65 pilot retirement law (P.L. 110-135) and the FAA’s FAR 121.383(e). Executive Board members also acted on several ASO policy changes, including a resolution enabling retired members who previously served as Pilot Assistance subject-matter experts to continue supporting this ASO structure, subject to certain terms and conditions. In addition, the group discussed the feasibility of a concurrent ALPA-wide informational picket to take place around this coming Labor Day.
The next Executive Board meeting will be held in mid-September.