Reestablishing Jumpseating as a Safety, Security Priority

Pilot Commentary

By Capt. Rich Odbert (FedEx Express), Chair, ALPA Aviation Jumpseat

ALPA celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Jumpseat Forum at this year’s Air Safety Week , with presentations highlighting the status of North American cockpit jumpseating, the group’s current project list, and the latest challenges associated with maintaining this important pilot privilege. The many topics covered at this and previous forums serve as a veritable checklist of ALPA’s accomplishments in working with government and other aviation industry stakeholders to uphold pilot-in-command (PIC) authority and advance flight deck access for authorized cockpit crewmembers.

Immediately following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, off-line cockpit jumpseating was barred. ALPA’s then National Jumpseat Committee (NJC) was engaging with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and ARINC, Inc. (the application developer) to restore cockpit access by making changes to the Cockpit Access Security System (CASS), which allows airline gate agents to quickly verify employment to determine whether an airline pilot is authorized to request access to another airline’s cockpit jumpseat. These changes were a tremendous step forward in reasserting the PIC in the decision-making process.

While CASS was instrumental in reestablishing domestic off-line jumpseating, it had an unintended consequence. Gate agents could independently access this information, so sometimes the PIC wasn’t included in jumpseat decision-making. As a result, the NJC subsequently launched the “No Pilot Left Behind” and “Make the Walk” initiatives to reinforce the PIC’s responsibility for authorizing the jumpseat.

Today, CASS processes up to 6,000 daily jumpseat requests, with totals increasing to approximately 7,500 over holidays. ALPA continues to press for international off-line jumpseating, working closely with the TSA and Customs and Border Protection to ensure that IT capabilities are adequate and that any foreign concerns are addressed. In the interim, some carriers with reciprocal jumpseat arrangements allow pilots to occupy seats in the passenger cabin.

We’re also working with our Canadian members to reintroduce off-line jumpseating. A recent exemption to CAR 705.27 was approved, providing the PIC with some discretion in offering the cockpit jumpseat to pilots from other airlines. While ALPA welcomes this process, the Association is developing a Canadian version of CASS (CAN-CASS) to further facilitate off-line access.

CASS was used to help create the Known Crewmember® program, enabling TSA security officers to screen pilots and flight attendants using airline data to positively verify identity and employment status. More than 100 million Known Crewmember screenings have been conducted since the program’s inception in 2011.

Within the last few years, the Aviation Jumpseat Group, formerly the NJC, was integrated into ALPA’s Air Safety Organization. The Association recognizes the meta-leadership benefits of including Aviation Jumpseat together with safety, security, and pilot assistance. In doing so, ALPA affirmed the value of maintaining PIC authority as a proactive safety measure and that an additional pilot on the flight deck enhances both operational safety and security.

Over the last 10 years, ALPA pilot jumpseat reps have been developing and refining a host of communications tools to better educate all Canadian and U.S. airline pilots about jumpseating regulations, policies, and protocols. ALPA’s Jumpseat Guide outlines the captain’s role and boarding priorities for the flight deck. The union’s jumpseat website serves as a repository for individual airline jumpseat policies, the mobile app ensures that this and other information is easily accessible, and ALPA’s “Jumpseat Etiquette? Yes, Please” video helps pilots better understand the jumpseating process while reinforcing that it’s a privilege and must be treated as such.

I’m proud to report that much has evolved in the jumpseating world in the last 10 years, but we must ensure that some things don’t change. It’s vital that the PIC continues to be responsible for, and have the final authority on, all matters related to the aircraft. He or she must continue to oversee the safety of passengers, cargo, and other crewmembers and serve as the final arbiter regarding admission to the flight deck. As airline pilots, we know that the safety and security of our flights depend on it.

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

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