Why International Issues Matter

By Capt. Bob Fox, ALPA First Vice President

As airline pilots, we know far too well that emerging attempts by managements to increase profitability will inevitability spread across the entire airline industry landscape. Within our free-market environment, any perceived advantage that has the opportunity to boost revenue and efficiency will likely become a recurring theme at our bargaining tables for years to come. Pushing back against efforts that threaten to undermine our careers or create an unsafe working environment is the foundation on which our union was built. For nearly 90 years, ALPA has been committed to enhancing pilot pay and working conditions, as well as advancing safety for our members.

ALPA’s “Key Men,” the founders of our union, understood and capitalized on the unique perspective and knowledge that pilots provide to the airline industry. And as aviation’s influence expanded around the world, the need for a strong, unified voice became ever more important. To ensure that pilots had a “seat at the table” when international aviation policy was being formulated, ALPA joined forces with colleagues from other countries and founded the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) in 1948.

ALPA’s leadership within the international community has been unwavering since our predecessors helped establish this important international voice. Today, regardless of the aircraft we fly—whether operating a narrowbody in the Artic or flying a widebody to the Far East—pilots throughout North America have benefited from the advancements we’ve made within the international aviation community.

IFALPA’s commitment to elevate and advance these international standards for airline pilots helps us all. Oftentimes, it’s our colleagues overseas who are the first line of defense against threats that cut across borders, including cabotage, the realities of international economics, the exploitation of labor laws, the formation of global airline alliances, and the need for corresponding global labor alliances.

When it comes to developing global aviation policy, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible for establishing protocols and standards that the majority of the world’s airline industry agrees to comply with. The work of ICAO has a direct effect on each one of us. Because ICAO has been responsible for such standards as age 65 and multicrew pilot licensing, it’s important that we influence the agenda—rather than simply react to it—to achieve our objectives

Fortunately, we have a voice in ICAO through our role at IFALPA. And as a result, our U.S. and Canadian members play an important function in the international community. Through IFALPA, we have the ability to influence ICAO and other international aviation organizations. ALPA pilots and staff work at every level of IFALPA on a wide range of important technical and industrial issues, such as the criminalization of accidents, flight crew fatigue, flight time/duty time, pilot shortages, and labor law standardization. In March, we formally engaged Dr. Fang Liu, the honorable secretary general of ICAO, to develop and implement a strategy to review global pilot training and qualifications needed to operate transport-category aircraft in scheduled operations. We recently received a commitment from ICAO that it will conduct an exploratory meeting in July.

In our busy day-to-day lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance international issues and developments have on our careers. But in today’s global aviation environment, international issues dramatically influence the entire aviation industry. If we sit back and only react to these developments, we can’t expect to survive in the increasingly global marketplace.

As ALPA members, we need to be fully informed on all issues. We must be well positioned to critically assess their effect on us and to develop strategies advocating for or against these policies before they’re implemented.

ALPA, as a member of IFALPA, is the only North American union that has a seat at the table where international decisions are being made that directly affect our careers. By working together with our fellow international pilot unions on issues important to our profession, whether safety- or industrial-related, we’re collaboratively tackling global challenges with one unified voice.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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