Five Questions for ALPA’s Energy & Environment Group Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer

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.

As part of ALPA’s Air Safety Organization (ASO) structure, the Energy & Environment Group is charged with keeping abreast of environmental issues germane to the airline industry; drafting ALPA positions and policy on those issues; and promoting these policies and positions, including educating stakeholders about the proactive steps pilots and the aviation industry have taken to address aviation sustainability and environmental issues.

Air Line Pilot sat down with Capt. Kathi Hurst (United), the Energy & Environment Group chair, to learn more about the pilot who leads the ASO’s environmental advocacy efforts and how ALPA’s staff helps her to achieve the Association’s goals.

Air Line Pilot:

1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

Capt. Kathi Hurst: When I was in high school, my goal was to become a professional tennis player. I was working to achieve all my rankings nationally while looking at tennis scholarships for college. While still in high school, one of my jobs was at a local airport, and a few people suggested that I take flying lessons—but at the time, I really wasn’t interested. However, an older man who’d been a flight instructor for a very long time commented that women shouldn’t be pilots. And with that challenge, I started to pursue an aviation career. I began taking flying lessons every chance I could get—at first to prove him wrong. But then I fell in love with flying. Ironically, in the process that older instructor and I became close friends, and he worked with me while I earned most of my certificates. He was a great motivator!

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

Hurst: When I was first hired by United Airlines, I was asked if I’d like to volunteer on local Council 12’s Aeromedical Committee, and I said yes. A few years later, I met with the chair of the pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC) Professional Standards Committee and was asked if I’d like to do professional standards work. I agreed and then served in various positions within that committee—as the local committee chair in Chicago and as the vice chair at the MEC level. I’m currently in my third term as vice chair. While doing professional standards work, I was asked by the local Council 12 Safety chair if I’d be interested in taking his position while I was also serving as Council 12 Professional Standards Committee chair. In addition, I became a member of a pilot/controller board, working with the Chicago National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative and local chair. During that time, I was also asked to serve as the pilot group’s Mishap and Investigation chair, and for a short period of time I was the chief accident investigator.

In addition to being ALPA’s Energy & Environment Group chair, I’m currently a member of my pilot group’s SOAR Committee, Pilots for Pilots (P4P) emergency relief fund, and Pilot-to-Pilot communication program. I’m also the Council 12 Safety chair. What’s so nice about serving on various committees is that so much of the work ties together and overlaps in helping pilots. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have excellent chairs to work under on these committees, which is the very backbone of being able to do the work.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s Energy & Environment Group chair?

Hurst: When I was first asked to accept the position, it was a standalone presidential committee. As I began to do more work with the committee—assisted by the expert staff from ALPA’s Engineering & Air Safety Department—it became apparent that the committee should come under the purview of the ASO, which it now does. My role as chair continues to evolve, and I’m now helping to promote the vital work that ALPA has been doing in the arena of environmental issues to numerous environmental working groups and the public.

In addition, the group is sharing information from outside working groups with ALPA’s subject-matter experts to explore how airline pilots can continue to contribute to a cleaner environment in order to protect the planet.

I also keep up to date on proposals from the International Civil Aviation Organization, the aviation arm of the United Nations, as well as participate in working groups that monitor carbon emission taxation schemes and review data on carbon emissions, alternative fuels, noise, and other related topics.

Given the Biden administration’s focus on climate change, I’m looking forward to both forging and renewing relationships to share the expertise and insights ALPA possesses, as well as highlight our priorities and vision for the industry’s future. The airline industry has a strong record of environmental accomplishments, and I want to see that continue and broaden. We’re already reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions through the use of aircraft auxiliary power units while on the ground. We’re implementing technology-enhanced departure and arrival procedures to reduce distance and time traveled and fly at altitudes and speeds that optimize fuel usage. And we’re employing new and more precise navigation technologies that allow us to fly with reduced vertical separation to safely optimize fuel, time, and airspace capacity. Airline pilots are committed to pursuing additional safe ways to contribute to greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions, and that requires us to help lead the global conversation on how aviation can do even more.

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

Hurst: Without a doubt, none of this work could be done without the help and support we receive from ALPA and its knowledgeable and dedicated staff. I’m very grateful to the Association and ASO leaders who’ve given me the latitude to develop the group and to continue to change and adapt amid sometimes rapid changes in environmental policy and thought. Every staff member I work with, especially those in the Engineering & Air Safety Department, propels me forward with help on a continuing basis. Without them, the Energy & Environment Group wouldn’t be what it is today, nor could I or the group take on so much. They provide me tremendous support, and I’m always gratified to see that we share the same goals.

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

Hurst: I’ve been told by pilots who are interested in doing ALPA work that they just don’t know where to start. My advice is to simply call your local committee chair and let them know you want to volunteer. I’ve been very fortunate to have flown with first officers who’ve wanted to do volunteer work for the Association and now have several working on our local committees simply because they said they want to get involved. You don’t have to be an expert to start doing work. ALPA has a great structure in place, and we all help each other to learn our positions. I’ve been doing union work for 30 years, and I still call my chairs to get advice and help. My group members call me. We really have a great infrastructure to help each other. These supportive chairs have allowed me and so many others to be able to both learn and do our work so that we can support our members and the Association on a daily basis.

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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