All-Cargo Pilots Face Unique Challenges

By the President’s Committee for Cargo
Air Line Pilot, June/July 2003, p.33

Security in the airline industry has changed a great deal since Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists used airliners to kill thousands of Americans.

A significant threat to cargo pilots is wet-leasing, an idea that several entities, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have proposed. 

The U.S. government developed new policies and procedures, and laws are being enforced to ensure the security of cargo airplanes. Since Nov. 19, 2002, all air cargo has been required to be screened.

Cargo aircraft and flightcrew members were left unprotected, however, after Congress approved legislation that included a Federal Flight Deck Officer program to train and arm selected passenger-airline pilots; all-cargo airline managements had had the word "passenger" inserted in the legislation, thereby excluding all-cargo pilots. Recently, legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate to allow cargo pilots the opportunity to participate in the FFDO program.

All-cargo operations finances

The number of freighter aircraft operating around the world has, for the last 2 years, remained almost the same, at approximately 1,636 aircraft operating worldwide. Growth has slowed considerably from the 1990s, when these cargo aircraft fleets doubled in size and an average of 80 aircraft were added annually.

Historically, all-cargo air traffic increased 7 percent per year on average, with traffic doubling nearly every 10 years. Annual variations existed with good years seeing growth of 12 percent and bad years seeing stagnant traffic or modest declines. The declines occurred as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and during the Asian financial crisis of 1998. But 2001 brought the worst setback ever as global air freight traffic dropped 6.3 percent during the first 6 months of the year. Recession in the United States as well as the implosion of the information technology industry led to the decline. The effects of Sept. 11, 2001, only added to the decline in world air cargo traffic, resulting in a 9.7 percent decline for the entire year.

Air freight remained weak until the second quarter of 2002, when overall global traffic began to improve. Freight operations continue to grow, but with performances differing by geographical regions, with those in the United States and Europe still weak, while those in the Asia-Pacific region continued to grow. Factors contributing to the increase could be China’s joining the World Trade Organization and disruptions at West Coast ports as workers threatened strikes and manufacturers looked for alternate methods to deliver their products.

So far, 2003 appears to be headed for a slight recovery. Many U.S. carriers experienced an increase in flying as a result of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet Stage I flying; however, these programs are estimated to just cover expenses of operating the aircraft. Now that the Iraq war is winding down, cargo performance for the rest of the year is unpredictable. The geopolitical uncertainty and the threat of terrorism continue to weigh on the global economy, and SARS also poses a minimal threat.

Analysts are looking ahead to 2004 with cautious optimism as the recovery appears to be occurring more rapidly than expected. The recovery of all-cargo airline operations will be limited only by the strength of the economic recovery and the confidence of the international communities.

Committee meets

The Committee has had several meetings in ALPA’s Herndon, Va., offices over the past few months.

The last two meetings were held on March 25–27 and April 9–11. The following pilots attended: Capt. David Bourne and First Officer Robb Grass (Atlas); Capt. Dan Brannan (DHL); Capt. Jack Burke, Committee chairman, and Second Officer Bill McReynolds (FedEx); First Officer Dale Roberts (Gemini Air Cargo); and First Officer Frank Condefer (Northwest).

Guests attending were Capt. David Webb, FedEx MEC chairman; Capt. T.R. Wood, Atlas Strike Preparedness Committee chairman; and F/O Bill Vieth, Airborne Express Security Committee (Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Union Local 1224).

Additionally, at the April meeting, Capt. Bob Allan (Kelowna Flightcraft) and Capt. Mike Cushanick (Polar Air Cargo) attended, as well as guests Capt. Neil Frey and First Officer Joe Muckle of Airborne Express.

The meetings began with an update on issues and concerns at each individual cargo carrier. Of primary concern at the March 25 meeting was the war in Iraq and the letters of agreement (LOAs) that the respective cargo pilot groups were negotiating, or that were already in place, to protect and compensate our flight crews that were operating in Iraq.

As extraordinary events adversely affect the airline industry, pilots of all-cargo airlines work to resolve their special concerns and issues. 

The Committee’s budget was the next issue for discussion, and it lasted most of the day. Capt. Chris Beebe, ALPA’s vice-president–finance/treasurer, gave a short presentation and offered his help in constructing a realistic operating budget for the President’s Committee for Cargo.

Brendan Kenny of ALPA’s Government Affairs Department briefed Committee members on ALPA’s latest initiatives on Capitol Hill to get cargo pilots included in the FFDO program. The FFDO, or "guns in the cockpit," legislation to include cargo pilots was reintroduced in both houses of Congress. The prospect of these bills being signed into law is excellent.

The Committee took this opportunity to express its extreme displeasure with the continuing efforts of legislators to exclude cargo operations from security, safety, and work-rule legislation.

Capt. Wood outlined how a strategic planning committee is formed and works, describing in detail what an SPC needs to be successful and how it can support the negotiations committee throughout the whole process.

Capt. Webb added highlights from his experiences as the FedEx pilots’ SPC chairman during difficult negotiations in 1995.

Russ Bailey, an ALPA attorney who specializes in scope issues and international alliance agreements, briefed the Committee on bilateral agreements and Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Freedom rights and how they relate to cargo operations.

A significant threat to cargo pilots is wet-leasing, an idea that several entities, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have proposed. The managements of FedEx and UPS are aggressively lobbying for the proposal, and European carrier managements are pushing it.

If the U.S. government accepts this proposal, this will allow U.S.-based carriers to wet-lease foreign carriers to carry freight to and from the United States, effectively providing a "ready to use" strikebreaking labor force for U.S. carriers to use internationally.

Cargo security

S/O McReynolds, Air Cargo Security Project Director of ALPA’s National Security Committee, briefed the participants on the latest developments with the Transportation Security Administration regarding fortified cockpit doors and the FFDO program. The TSA, under pressure from cargo carrier managements, is waiving the requirement for cargo carriers to install new hardened cockpit doors. The Cargo Committee opposes this waiver and has the full support of ALPA to use all of its resources to get this waiver removed.

S/O McReynolds reported that in 2002, a challenging year for aviation security, the Transportation Security Administration was charged with oversight and responsibility for civil aviation security. The TSA was placed within the Department of Homeland Security, which was established to handle domestic terrorism threats and related security issues.

Congress passed legislation to improve civil aviation security, including an FFDO program to arm airline pilots. Most improvements, however, applied only to passenger-carrying airlines. Final legislation creating the FFDO program, for example, excluded cargo pilots from carrying firearms, thanks to last-minute lobbying from all-cargo carrier CEOs. This exclusion has been addressed, and legislation allowing all-cargo pilots to be included in the FFDO program has been introduced in Congress.

TSA issues

The TSA has in effect implemented a 100 percent screening requirement for checked baggage—obviously, that means that pilots should expect their checked baggage to be inspected. Pack intelligently. Do not pack valuables in checked luggage. Do not lock your luggage. The requirement to inspect all checked luggage has resulted in longer times to process luggage. Expect delays and lost luggage.

No longer will a cargo pilot group stand alone during negotiations and the remedies afforded by the Railway Labor Act. 

Inspections and screening at gates were to have ended in December 2002. Previously, the TSA allowed flightcrew members in uniform (who successfully cleared the screening checkpoint) to be exempted from additional random screening.

Some screening checkpoints at some airports state that this does not apply to all-cargo pilots. ALPA and the TSA are trying to clarify this grey area and are working to ensure that this same rule applies to Part 121 all-cargo pilots (regardless of whether they are under domestic-flag or supplemental operating rules). Pilots who have access to the security directives should read the applicable sections regarding selectees and exemptions.

A flightcrew member who is in uniform and clears the initial screening checkpoint without triggering an alarm and is selected for additional screening should identify himself or herself to the screener as an air carrier employee and present the company ID.

If the screener continues to insist that the flightcrew member must undergo further screening, that person should ask to see the ground security coordinator (GSC) or a supervisor and ask that official to review the current security directive as it applies to air carrier employees.

If the official reviews this section and still requires the flightcrew member to be further screened, that person should be professional and comply with the requests.

Report such an event to an MEC representative with as many details as possible. Individual airline jumpseat procedures may supercede the TSA security directive and require off-line jumpseaters to undergo such additional screening.

Being polite and professional will go a long way toward preventing an uncomfortable situation from becoming worse. Flightcrew members who are innocent of any wrong-doing have been arrested for questioning TSA employees’ actions. Use common sense and good judgment, even if the persons in the position of authority don’t.

The TSA intends for all screening to take place before the person screened enters the secure area. Policies and procedures covering entrance into the secure area vary from airport to airport. Most airports now require a boarding pass to enter the secure area, but some may require only an itinerary. Expect this to vary greatly during this transition period.

The President’s Committee for Cargo recommends that flightcrew members obtain a boarding pass before reaching the main checkpoint. The TSA’s intent is to have selectees for profiling identified and inspected at the main checkpoint before entering the secure area. This process also will incur delays and longer lines, so plan ahead for the time this procedure may require.

Off-line jumpseats and screening

Because many all-cargo flightcrew members commute to duty assignments on positive-space tickets, many are not aware of the post-9/11 changes regarding off-line jumpseat procedures.

Most airlines require flightcrew members to book an off-line jumpseat through the non-revenue travel booking number. This creates a record locater, and the flightcrew member will be issued a "ticket" at the ticket counter. In most cases, this "ticket" has been created for the purpose of getting a crewmember through the screening checkpoint with documentation stating that he or she is a passenger on a particular flight.

This "ticket" does not reserve a seat or ensure that the crewmember has the jumpseat. Once the crewmember gets through the screening checkpoint, the procedures vary from airline to airline.

The important thing to understand is that the flightcrew member will be seated in the main passenger cabin as an off-line jumpseater. If a flight is full, jumpseaters will not get on the airplane. Plan accordingly. Check with the MEC Jumpseat Committee as to what procedures apply for specific carriers.

Restoration of off-line cockpit jumpseats is a high priority for ALPA.

Future meetings

In approving a calendar of future meeting dates, the attendees discussed the upcoming June meeting in detail. It will be held in Anchorage, Alaska, in coordination with three meetings being held the week of June 17–22: those of the Atlas MEC, FedEx LEC 79, and Northwest LEC 55. The Committee will make short presentations at each of these meetings.

The Committee has extended invitations to the pilots of Airborne Express, at their request, to attend our meetings. Unity and cooperation are recurring themes of the cargo pilot groups as represented by ALPA. We are very pleased to welcome our brothers and sisters from Airborne Express, whom the Teamsters represent.

No longer will a cargo pilot group stand alone during negotiations and the remedies afforded by the Railway Labor Act.