Five Questions for ALPA’s Membership Committee Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
F/O Kandy Bernskoetter (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Membership Committee chair, leads the Association’s efforts to connect with members, build unity, and promote the benefits of ALPA membership.

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.

The Membership Committee, working under the Professional Development Group, develops processes and reviews existing policy to ensure that all ALPA members are able to participate in the Association and benefit from ALPA’s services. The committee maintains accurate membership records, including hiring, retiring, and attrition stats; educates members on the Association’s vast available services; and supports families with resources related to major life events. The Membership Committee also provides assistance to furloughed members through the Furloughed Pilots Support Program and to veterans through the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

Air Line Pilot sat down with F/O Kandy Bernskoetter (FedEx Express), the committee’s chair, to learn more about the pilot who leads the Association’s efforts to connect with members, build unity, and promote the benefits of ALPA membership both internally and externally. 

1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

F/O Kandy Bernskoetter: I know most pilots say they had a family member who was involved in aviation, but that’s not my story, as no one in my family is in aviation. When I was little, I would dream that I could flap my arms and fly around the neighborhood. As I grew older, I took every chance I could get to go to the airport and pick someone up just so that I could see the planes up close. When I was 15, a local junior college offered a free private pilot ground school that I was able to attend. As a senior and editor of my high school newspaper, I wrote a feature article about two pilots who had already earned their private pilot certificates, and I took photos of them with their training airplanes at the local airport. Today, one of those pilots flies for United Airlines! I returned to the flight school as soon as I graduated from high school and spent my entire savings—$350—on my first flying lessons. I continued flying lessons at the local flight school under FAR Part 61 while completing a bachelors degree in geography at the University of California at Berkeley.

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

Bernskoetter: When I was a new hire at FedEx Express in 2004, I saw posters around the training building announcing that Capt. Al Haynes was going to speak at FedEx World Headquarters. He was the pilot of United Flight 232 that lost all of its flight controls near Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989 due to a catastrophic engine failure. In his presentation, he mentioned that ALPA’s Critical Incident Response Program (CIRP) not only saved his job, but it also saved his life. Those were powerful words to me. I looked into what CIRP was about and found myself in an initial training class as soon as I was off probation. Later, I met my husband, Rick, through the ALPA CIRP class “Grief Following Trauma,” as he was then the CIRP chair at Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

This work led to my becoming the FedEx Master Executive Council’s (MEC) CIRP chair and later the Pilot Assistance Committee vice chair. And in 2015, I founded the FedEx pilot group’s Pilot Peer Support Program, called Pilot Assistance Team Hotline (PATH). PATH is a confidential, 24-hour call line answered by pilot peers to help pilots with questions about physiological, psychological, and aeromedical questions.

When I was first asked about becoming ALPA’s national Membership Committee chair, I wasn’t sure if I was qualified because I thought I had no experience with membership issues. However, I soon realized that pilot assistance and membership overlap in many areas, including assisting pilots with benefits and services as well as helping them find resources and answers to a variety of questions.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s Membership Committee chair?

Bernskoetter: As ALPA’s Membership Committee chair, I work to provide members with information about all the benefits of ALPA membership. I also interact directly with the Furloughed Pilots Support Program and the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, and we hold an annual joint seminar to educate our volunteers about issues important to ALPA pilots. In addition, I connect with our members through other organizations and attend annual events such as the Women in Aviation International and Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals conferences, the National Gay Pilots Association Diversity & Inclusion Summit, and EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., as they provide ALPA an opportunity to network and promote the Association’s message and commitment to diversity and inclusion, which fulfils one of ALPA’s strategic goals.

I was also recently appointed to the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board. It’s an honor to be chosen to represent ALPA to help advance the future of our profession. The Women in Aviation Advisory Board explores opportunities for encouraging and supporting female students and aviators to pursue a career in aviation, and I work on a subcommittee within the board to provide guidelines for mentoring programs.

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

Bernskoetter: As someone who didn’t have a mentor, I want to help others build relationships and find connections to their profession and the Association. My work with the Membership Committee provides me with a unique opportunity to engage and promote ALPA to both aspiring pilots and current members and to build a stronger foundation for our Association. The work and support of ALPA’s dedicated staff members help me and my committee achieve these goals.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Membership Committee has been promoting the Furloughed Pilots Support Program to make our members aware of the Association’s many resources available to those facing a downgrade, furlough, or airline shutdown. With the help and expertise of staff throughout the Association, the committee has been working to inform members of the many options, resources, and valuable contacts available to guide them through this challenging period in their careers.

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

Bernskoetter: When I was the CIRP chair at FedEx, I found many volunteers from among the pilots who’d benefited from the program after being involved in an airline incident. Many would ask to join the team so that they could give back and help pilots much like they’d been helped. But many pilots aren’t sure what committees are out there and what they do. A great place to start is for a pilot to contact their MEC officers and ask about volunteer opportunities. Some MECs have volunteer forms on their respective websites as well.

For me, watching a pilot’s career evolve is particularly rewarding, as many of the relationships I’ve formed as a result of my involvement and connection with ALPA’s Aviation Collegiate Education (ACE) Clubs have continued well past the student’s graduation. In fact, two ACE Club members I met at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., are now FedEx pilots, and they’re both ALPA Education Committee volunteers. It’s important to remember that the connections we form early in our careers could help develop the next generation of ALPA members and volunteers.

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

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