Five Questions for ALPA Canada's Aviation Safety Coordinator

By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
Capt. Nick Seemel (Jazz Aviation), right, was bestowed last year with ALPA’s Air Safety Award, the Association’s top safety honour, for his outstanding leadership in aviation safety.

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.

Due to differences in national laws and practices, ALPA and its Air Safety Organization (ASO) maintain a pilot representative in Canada who serves as the focal point within the ASO structure for safety-related issues unique to Canadian operations.

Air Line Pilot sat down with Capt. Nick Seemel (Jazz Aviation), ALPA’s Aviation Safety coordinator in Canada, to learn more about the pilot who leads the Association’s safety efforts in Canada and how ALPA’s staff helps to achieve the union’s safety goals.

Air Line Pilot: 1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

Capt. Nick Seemel: In my early teens, I lived in Labrador, Canada. My father’s work had him frequently flying in helicopters and floatplanes. Occasionally he’d bring home bush pilots to share a meal or drink, and they’d tell me their flying stories. I was captivated by the aircraft and the pilots.

A few years later, fresh out of school, I earned both fixed-wing and helicopter pilot licences. I flew skydivers for a while and then became a bush pilot in northern Alberta for a few years, flying every type of mission from fly-in fishing customers and fur trappers to oil exploration support on wheel/skis to medivacs. Eventually I got another opportunity, flying Cessna 402s out of Vancouver, which led me to regional airlines. Today, I’m a CRJ900 line training captain based in Montréal.

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

Seemel: My volunteer history covers 30 years. I first volunteered with Air Nova, a small regional carrier, focusing on labour representation and contracts more than safety advocacy. As the airline grew, I moved into air safety, attending all of ALPA’s safety courses. Eventually, Air Nova merged with others airlines, becoming what’s now Jazz Aviation. As we struggled through difficult years, I became, and still am, the Central Air Safety chair (CASC) at Jazz.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to apply my experience to address a troublesome issue I witnessed throughout the early part of my career: flight safety through punishment instead of voluntary, nonpunitive safety reporting and quality investigation. This led me to the most significant and gratifying achievement in my volunteer history: supporting ALPA’s efforts to develop and implement safety management systems in Canada.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s Aviation Safety coordinator in Canada?

Seemel: I serve as a leader and resource for the CASCs and air safety volunteers in Canada. There are differences in safety regulations and advocacy between Canada and the U.S.—some as small as using a different acronym to describe a system to much larger distinctions regarding procedures, policies, or processes. My responsibilities include navigating these differences in support of the ALPA Canada Board and the CASCs in Canada. I might meet with Transport Canada directors general one day and then brief a new airline’s CASC the next.

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

Seemel: ALPA staff support is vital to any volunteer’s success. The depth of knowledge at ALPA national is, to say the least, impressive. In my case, the majority of my staff interaction is with the Canadian office in Ottawa. Having someone who knows the background of the individuals at Transport Canada and the history of policies and regulations is key to helping any safety volunteer be more effective. Without this support, I can only imagine the inefficiencies I would face in my volunteer work.

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

Seemel: The simple advice is to just do it. If you have a passion for a specific safety issue, ask your CASC for advice on how to get involved. Your master executive council or an ALPA Engineering & Air Safety staff member can help guide you and ensure that you receive the appropriate ALPA training. You’re not alone—training and staff support will be there for you as well as a group of volunteers who share your interest.

My volunteer work has been wide-ranging from being a council volunteer at a small airline to traveling the world representing ALPA and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations while working with dedicated and interesting volunteers from every continent. This all started with a simple gesture of raising my hand and offering to help.

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

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