Battening Down the Hatches

Despite grim economic realities, the Association’s Executive Board focuses on the "basic and enduring struggle."

Air Line Pilot, January/February 2002, p. 12
By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer

A somber ALPA Executive Board met in late October 2001, for the first time after the terrorist attacks, to confront an airline industry that had suffered a staggering one-two punch: an economic downturn, followed by security fears that had only further reduced the declining passenger loads.

Following a moment of silence for the flight and cabin crewmembers murdered on September 11, ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, told the 88th regular Executive Board meeting that the Association would "batten down the financial hatches" as the industry rode out a steady wave of furloughs.

The union is "extremely financially sound," Capt. Woerth assured the Board, which is made up of ALPA’s 47 master executive council chairmen. But he cautioned that all segments of the Association were going to have to focus on cost controls to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the decline in dues income.

Capt. John Feldvary, ALPA’s vice-president–finance/treasurer, outlined a broad program of belt-tightening that ALPA’s Executive Council had approved on Sept. 26, 2001. He reported that the Association was projecting a $29 million drop in dues revenue for 2002 as carriers across the United States and Canada planned to slash personnel by 10 to 25 percent.

The burden was shared "among all levels of the Association," Capt. Feldvary said. The Council—ALPA’s national officers and executive vice-presidents—reduced the operating budget for ALPA’s MECs by $10.6 million, the administrative and support (A&S) budget by $17.4 million, and the Operating and Contingency Fund (OCF) budget by $1 million.

The A&S account—used for the day-to-day running of the Association—was subjected to 18 separate cost-cutting initiatives. Among them were the following:

• The Council established an Associationwide employee cap for 2002 of 451 employees. ALPA will also no longer use temporary employees and will suspend the use of most outside consultants.

Air Line Pilot magazine was reduced from 10 issues to 6 for 2002, and the 19,200 retired ALPA members will no longer be provided issues at no cost to them but may subscribe at the member rate. The plan also aims to cut down LEC printing and mailing costs by greater distribution of newsletters through electronic means—e.g., via the worldwide web.

• All capital projects for 2002 were halted with the exception of maintaining and upgrading ALPA’s central information systems—network servers, the Internet/Intranet, and the ASPEN voice mail system. The plan also actively encourages training all LECs to use electronic media as a primary means of communicating with pilots.

• The Council also reduced the budgets for the 2002 Board of Directors meeting, for the annual Leadership Conference, and for organizing.

ALPA’s leaders were assured that, despite the cutbacks, pilots in negotiations would continue to receive needed support.

The spending plan urges MECs to press their managements to assume the cost of flight pay loss, particularly during negotiations. Having the union reimburse pilots for pay lost due to working on union business is "a company rip-off," Capt. Woerth charged in his opening remarks. Flight pay loss for ALPA representatives is one of the largest drains on the Association, accounting for more than $30 million in 2001. Capt. Feldvary also asked the MEC chairmen to press for more volunteers, saying, "they’re the lifeblood of ALPA."

Capt. Feldvary urged the MEC leaders to work to mitigate ALPA’s current financial troubles and practice improved fiscal oversight. "ALPA cannot operate engaging in ‘business as usual.’ We need to reinvent ourselves so we can become the most cost-effective and efficient union ever."

Capt. Woerth’s opening remarks also alluded to ALPA’s financial challenges, but he urged the union’s leaders not to lose sight of ALPA’s strategic goals despite chaotic world events. He said, "The basic and enduring struggle of the rights of labor and working families versus the rights of capital and the rights of corporations goes on unabated."

The agenda items that the Executive Board approved indicated they still had in plain view ALPA’s strategic goals—the resolution of scope issues, the preservation of the union’s safety mandate, and the push for pilot unity—all to protect pilots’ livelihoods.

The Executive Board adopted two recommendations of the Bilateral Scope Impact Committee for taking pilots out of the competitive equation. The approved resolutions will be incorporated into Association policy.

One action promotes small-airline bargaining forums, to be held at least once a year among pilot groups from ALPA’s Election Group B, C, and D carriers, to bring their representatives together to work toward raising contract standards.

The Committee also urged, and the Executive Board agreed, that the Association establish joint standing committees to meet at least semiannually among significant alliance and code-sharing partners. These "mandatory family meetings" will be designed to address issues that affect more than one member pilot group, including scope impact.

Captain’s authority

The Executive Board also agreed to amend the Administrative Manual to include a new section on captain’s authority. The new section directs that the captain, serving as pilot-in-command, is "the final authority for the safe and secure operation of the airplane, directs the activities of all crewmembers to achieve maximum safety and operational effectiveness, and has final authority over all crew members during aircraft movement and all flight-related decisions both before and after the flight."

The section notes that captain’s authority begins "when he/she reports for duty or initiates pre-flight planning and terminates when the captain is released from duty or has no further responsibilities regarding the flight or clearing international customs."

United and Delta have already amended their flight operations manuals, and the International Civil Aviation Organization has recently expanded the legal status of pilot-in-command from only during aircraft movement to the time starting when the pilot-in-command reports for flight duty until he/she is released from duty.

The Executive Board directed that efforts be made to continue to implement the new policy at all ALPA-represented airlines and to amend U.S. and Canadian aviation regulations to recognize it as well.

Security measures

The Executive Board also passed resolutions directing the Association to continue to press its security proposals, a number of which were included in the airline security bill that Congress passed on Nov. 16, 2001.

Among the security proposals, ALPA recommended voluntary arming of screened and trained pilots, significant fortification of the cockpit, federalization of security screening personnel, and development of consistent, effective methods for passenger security screening.

Responding to complaints of flight crews who said they were targets of "demeaning" security searches in public view, one resolution that the Executive Board passed urges the development of an industrywide standard for screening of flight crews "to honor the earned respect, integrity, dignity, and trust of all ALPA pilots."

The Executive Board also directed the Association to promote a national effort to support screening of all checked luggage, and also amended the Association’s Terrorism Information Reward Program, which matches all rewards approved under the U.S. State Department’s reward program, up to $1 million, to include attacks on non-ALPA carriers.

Aircraft spraying

The Executive Board also adopted an ALPA Aeromedical Committee recommendation that the Association develop a reporting form and keep confidential records of ALPA pilots who have been physically affected by procedures used to rid airplanes of insects. The Committee jokingly referred to it as the "Orkin resolution," but ALPA and the Association of Flight Attendants have been studying complaints of flight crew members who have experienced symptoms ranging from skin rashes to mental confusion after flying on airplanes sprayed with pesticides.

Capt. Mark Carver (Northwest), chairman of ALPA’s Aeromedical Committee, noted that spraying of aircraft was begun in the 1920s and 30s as a means to guard against vector-borne diseases such as malaria, encephalitis, and yellow fever, and also organisms that might harm agricultural crops or livestock.

The United States discontinued the mandatory spraying in the 1970s, but international flight crews are exposed when they fly into countries that still require aircraft to be sprayed with pesticides.

A half dozen countries—Grenada, India, Kiribati, Madagascar, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay—require that passengers be aboard the aircraft when spraying takes place. Other countries that require spraying—Australia, Barbados, Fiji, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Panama—allow airplanes to be sprayed while empty, with residual chemicals designed to be effective for as much as 2 months.

The Executive Board said the Association would press for prior notification of both passengers and crew when a flight is scheduled to be sprayed enroute or was sprayed with chemicals that would leave a residue on control panels and other work surfaces.

The Executive Board said the Aeromedical Committee would work with the AFA and IFALPA on cooperative ways to resolve safety and health issues arising from spraying aircraft to rid them of insects.

CRM concerns

The Executive Board also voted to expand Administrative Manual language that spells out the Association’s view on crew resource management (CRM).

Capt. Robert Sumwalt, chairman of ALPA’s Human Factors/Pilot Training Group—now renamed the Human Factors and Training (HFT) Group—told the Board that, despite CRM’s worthy intentions (i.e., error prevention and accident reduction), its misapplication or abuse could jeopardize a crew member’s career.

He noted that cases had been reported in which pilots were disciplined or fired based on CRM performance alone. Some member airlines just beginning the implementation of the advanced qualification program (AQP) method of training are currently evaluating individual flight crew members in CRM.

ALPA has supported CRM as a "great safety enhancement," Capt. Sumwalt said, but "we are very worried about grading it," as no qualitative method could be developed for doing so.

Europe’s Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) has a rule in place that pilots will be evaluated on CRM on a pass-fail basis, a stance that both ALPA and IFALPA oppose.

The new policy language says that ALPA supports integrating CRM into flightcrew member training as a tool to minimize the consequences of human error and to improve flight crew performance. The Association urges that flight operations personnel "who possess the pertinent knowledge of the culture, policies, procedures, and training of the particular carrier" provide the training.

The policy adds that ALPA "opposes any jeopardy, pass-fail evaluation, or pass-fail assessment of CRM for flightcrew members individually or as a crew," that the Association supports CRM training only on a "train to proficiency" basis, and that it supports continuing research in CRM concepts and techniques, but does not endorse any one CRM program, researcher, or commercial provider of CRM training.

Constitutional changes

The Executive Board also recommended two changes to ALPA’s Constitution and By-Laws (which a ballot of the full Board of Directors has since approved).

The first change expands the criteria for eligibility of executive vice-presidents for carriers in election group A. Under the change, Group A carriers have been expanded to include all ALPA-represented U.S. airlines either with 4,000 or more active members in good standing or with projected annualized dues income of $10 million or more.

The second change provides that incumbent ALPA national officers who become retired from their airline with 16 months or fewer remaining in their terms of office be permitted to finish out their terms to maintain continuity in office.

The change will have no effect on LEC or MEC officers or executive vice-presidents who become retired during their term of service.

The Executive Board also amended ALPA merger policy to provide that pilot members named to the Arbitration Board to resolve merger issues should be nonvoting members. The change was made because of concerns raised during ALPA’s Pilot Unity campaign that pilot neutrals could outvote or overrule the arbitrator.

The Executive Board directed that

• ALPA, through its Government Affairs Department, make a "concerted effort" to procure legislation that would make flight crewmembers eligible for both Medicare and full Social Security benefits beginning at age 60;

•ALPA’s President use "all appropriate resources" to prevent the installation of any type of cockpit imagery or digital image-recording equipment in U.S. airplanes; and

• the ALPA Communications Department develop a guide for pilots on making effective public address announcements related to flight delays.

In addition, the Board

• adopted new policy language regarding the provision of ALPA-based e-mail addresses to pilot volunteers;

• reduced the number of meetings of the Air Safety Steering/Oversight Committee from four to three per year;

• approved the appointment of Capt. Bill Vermue (Canada 3000) as chairman of the Pilot Assistance Committee; and

• adopted guidelines to standardize MEC financial recordkeeping and reporting practices.

"The Pilots Knew This Was Necessary…"

ALPA’s calls for tightened airline security were sounded far earlier than Sept. 11, 2001—in fact, more than three decades earlier, ALPA’s first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, told the Executive Board.

Capt. Dolan, who briefed the Board on the actions of ALPA’s Security Task Force, cited letters and testimony from the eras of former ALPA Presidents Clancy Sayen, Charles Ruby, and J.J. O’Donnell on the need for stronger deterrent and protective measures to safeguard crews and passengers.

Testifying before the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee in 1969, Charles Ruby said that ALPA, along with airline industry and government agencies, had pressed for research and development of "satisfactory equipment capable of solving the hijacking problem, either by detecting weapons or other devices used by hijackers prior to their boarding an aircraft or disarming hijackers in flight. Several techniques and devices have been considered, including X-ray, radar, magnetometers, bulletproof protection, more effective cockpit door locks, and…a means of surveying the passenger compartment by pilots."

J.J. O’Donnell told the Aero Club of Washington in 1971 that the "only one real answer is absolute airport security. The hijacker must be prevented from boarding the airplane by means of behavioral screening, electronic detection devices, and…other systems. Airport security must go further than passenger inspection. Access to critical areas must be denied to people who have no business in them, and a way must be found to check not only people but freight and baggage placed on board the aircraft."

Even before the rash of skyjackings that O’Donnell faced in the early 70s, Clancy Sayen’s administration considered arming pilots. In a letter to Sayen, Ward B. Marsden, chief of the Operations Division of the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, cautioned that "if firearms are issued, consideration should be given to the type of ammunition required for safety protection and yet preclude damage to a pressurized aircraft."

ALPA’s leaders aren’t the only ones who took note of the union’s calls for fortified cockpits and other security improvements. In October 2001, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene, in a column headlined "Don’t say that we weren’t forewarned," cited a 1970 letter from Ruby to the FAA asking for a bulletproof cockpit with electromagnetic locks and a sliding panel in the cockpit doors so pilots could use defensive devices.

The ALPA proposal was detailed, Greene noted, and the technology was available. He quoted the secretary who had found the 31-year-old news clip concerning Ruby’s letter: "All that time ago, the pilots knew this was necessary."