Five Questions for ALPA’s Aeromedical Group Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
F/O Ellen Brinks (Delta) chairs ALPA’s Aeromedical Group, which helps pilots with health issues that might affect their FAA medical certification.

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.

ALPA’s Aeromedical Group, which falls under the Association’s Air Safety Organization Pilot Assistance Group, helps pilots work through medical concerns that may affect their FAA medical certification. The group also advocates for improvements to health-related safety standards on board aircraft.

Air Line Pilot sat down with F/O Ellen Brinks (Delta), the group’s chair, to learn more about the pilot who leads these efforts and how ALPA’s staff helps the Aeromedical Group achieve its goals.

1. How did you get in aviation/flying?

F/O Ellen Brinks: After a trip to Europe, and an aptitude test that said I’d be very good at farming, I brainstormed with my dad about careers that would involve traveling since I loved my experience abroad. While I appreciate the farming community that I grew up in, it just wasn’t for me. He suggested becoming a pilot, and I loved the idea. To teach me responsibility and instill a good work ethic, my parents required me to get an after-school and summer job to pay for my flight lessons. It took some time, but I did it. One of the proudest moments in my life was being a high schooler with a pilot’s license. I entered college in September 2001 to finish my flight ratings and afterward flight instructed for many years due to turbulent times in the industry. I was hired by ExpressJet in 2012 and by Delta in 2015.

2. How did you first become involved with ALPA work?

Brinks: I first started volunteering with ALPA at ExpressJet. I’ve always found that to make the most of anything, I get involved. Helping pilots when they’re in a tough spot or have a question is very rewarding to me. Since I was in a new city by myself, it was also a great way to meet my colleagues. I enjoy helping people and found something that I was passionate about within the Pilot Assistance Committee there.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as the Aeromedical Group chair?

Brinks: I support all of the Aeromedical Committee chairs and the peer program chairs at each of ALPA’s pilot groups as well as oversee and administer the Pilot Peer Support (PPS) training program that our peer volunteers attend. I’m also the main point of contact for medical certificate questions, leave policies, return-to-flight status after a leave, and insurance questions for pilot groups that lack an Aeromedical Committee chair. Some current aeromedical topics we’re addressing include COVID-19 concerns, occupational health issues surrounding air quality and fume events, oxygen mask disinfection, and radiation and related cancers.

4. How do you see ALPA national and staff helping you achieve your goals?

Brinks: Peter Drucker, who was a management consultant, educator, and author, stated, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” ALPA’s national officers embody the essential characteristics required for true leadership, and along with ALPA’s dedicated and professional staff, make up a very effective team. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread and impacted the global airline industry, the only way we’ve been able to make it through this crisis so far is by working together as one cohesive group.

Because most pilots put a high value on their own personal health and the health of their family, during this pandemic we’ve heard from many ALPA members. That we’ve been able to respond to all of the pilots who’ve reached out to the Air Safety Organization is a true testament to the support of ALPA’s leaders, pilot volunteers, and staff. I can’t express enough gratitude for the assistance I’ve received from the fantastic team around me during this crisis.

5. What advice would you give to new pilots who want to get involved with ALPA?

Brinks: Find something that you enjoy doing or have a background in. Having a natural interest makes for a clear direction. If you want to learn something new, volunteering is a great way to get involved and gain new skills. From an Aeromedical Group or PPS perspective, one of the questions we ask is “can you talk to a pilot?” If you can do that, then we’ll have a spot for you as a volunteer.

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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