Five Questions for ALPA’s Pilot Peer Support Group Chair
Powered by Pilots, Supported by Staff
By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
F/O Carrie Braun (JetBlue), first row, left, and JetBlue Pilot Assistance Committees volunteers take time out for a photo during last year’s Pilot Assistance Forum.
Editor’s note: This column showcases the efforts of a cross section of ALPA pilots who volunteer their time and talents to advocate for the union’s priorities and the cadre of knowledgeable and passionate staff specialists who support them.
In 2018, ALPA and its Air Safety Organization (ASO) launched the Pilot Peer Support (PPS) program under the direction of the ASO Pilot Assistance Group’s Aeromedical Committee. Trained pilot volunteers are available 24/7 to listen and offer confidential, nonjudgmental support to members in both the U.S. and Canada who are confronting with issues of a personal or emotional nature. At ALPA’s recent Executive Board meeting (see “ALPA’s Executive Board Examines Union’s Pandemic Response” in the August 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot), the board approved a resolution to make PPS a separate discipline under the Pilot Assistance structure.
Air Line Pilot sat down with F/O Carrie Braun (JetBlue), the new PPS chair, to learn more about the pilot who leads the Association’s efforts to help pilots better cope with the events that could otherwise threaten their medical certificates and careers.
Air Line Pilot: 1. How did you get into aviation/flying?
F/O Carrie Braun: I literally fell into aviation and flying. When I was 18 years old, I heard a radio ad for a skydiving drop zone. It sounded like fun, so I went and made my first jump. I was instantly hooked. I loved being at the airport and jumping out of any and all aircraft. I’ve jumped from biplanes, helicopters, bombers, and even a jet to name a few.
After two years of skydiving my life away and living in and on drop zones, my friends encouraged me to think about my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted more out of life than being a skydiving instructor and living in a camper on a drop zone. One night, around the campfire, the drop zone owner, who was also a pilot and a father figure to me, said, “You like airplanes, and you love to travel. Why don’t you learn to fly airplanes for a living?”
I thought about it and said, “I can do that!” Next thing I knew, I was taking flight lessons and felt like I had found my calling. From there, I quickly decided to take my education seriously and enrolled in college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After college, I flew Part 135 on demand for 10 years and then in 2016 was hired by JetBlue.
2. How did you first become involved with ALPA work?
Braun: Giving back and volunteerism have always been important to me. After a year at JetBlue, the Blue Pilot Fund (BPF) was having an election for board members. The BPF is a nonprofit organization run by JetBlue pilots for JetBlue pilots helping pilots in financial distress. It sounded like a good fit for me; but since I was relatively new at JetBlue, I didn’t expect I’d be elected. I figured if nothing else, it would be a good way to network to find a way to get involved. To my surprise, I was elected secretary of the board.
After a few months on the board, I was asked by another board member if I’d like to volunteer for the Pilot Assistance Network and Pilot Peer Support (PAN/PPS) Committee within the JetBlue Master Executive Committee. I’ve always had a passion for volunteerism in areas of mental health and self-improvement and found that I really enjoy helping pilots so I said yes. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to lead the JetBlue PAN/PPS Committee and soon was asked if I had thought about volunteering at ALPA national. Before I knew it, I was an ALPA national aeromedical subject-matter expert and PPS instructor, which evolved into my current position. Volunteering for ALPA has really been a whirlwind of me continually saying yes to helping pilots in any way I can.
3. What are your roles and responsibilities as the PPS Group chair?
Braun: My role as the PPS chair is to ensure that all ALPA members have the resources they need to manage stress effectively so that it doesn’t affect their careers. On a day-to-day basis, I support the PPS Committees at all of ALPA’s pilot groups. With the help of the other PPS instructor pilots and our dedicated ALPA support staff within the Engineering & Air Safety Department, we teach the initial PPS volunteer course and recurrent training. Marketing the program to ensure that every pilot knows they have a place to turn to when they’re going through a difficult time is paramount.
Raising awareness about pilot mental health is also part of my role. I help manage the ALPA national PPS call line (309-PPS-ALPA) and the volunteer list to ensure that peer pilots are in compliance with our operations manual with regards to maintaining currency in training. We’re in the process of developing our recurrent course to continue our education of PPS volunteers.
Beyond that, I work with all the committees under the Pilot Assistance umbrella to ensure that we’re taking care of all the needs of our pilots that arise in our rapidly changing environment and industry—as working together and taking a holistic approach is critical to the success of every ALPA pilot.
Braun practices freestyle skydiving over Skydive DeLand, in DeLand, Fla., for an upcoming competition.
4. How do you see ALPA national and staff helping you achieve your goals?
Braun: One person alone can’t do all that needs to be done—it takes a team. The Association’s national officers and professional staff members give their full support to the PPS Group. ALPA leaders and staff have encouraged a strong collaborative work effort among all ALPA pilot groups to make sure that no pilot is left behind during this tumultuous time.
With many pilots being affected by stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wondering what the future holds for them as airlines announce closures and furloughs, ALPA staff has provided whatever support resources are needed to ensure that pilots can reach out for help and receive it. Whether it’s helping with promoting PPS, managing and organizing events like conferences and teleconferences, or creating training courses, they’re here to assist us.
For example, ALPA’s Engineering & Air Safety, Information Technology, and Communication Departments recently helped our group develop a trial online training course, as well as create a COVID informational page with a quick reference handbook for ALPA pilots.
5. What advice would you give to new pilots who want to get involved with ALPA?
Braun: Raise your hand and speak up. There’s so much work to be done in every area. If you have an interest within a particular area of ALPA’s ASO, get to know your local reps or committee chairs in those areas. Then just start saying yes. If you want to get involved with ALPA, you’ll be welcomed. Our pilots welcome passionate volunteers with open arms. It really is as simple as putting yourself out there and saying yes.