Communications Engines Get Overhaul
A revamped website and a new mass e-mailing system offer ALPA members speed and convenience in staying in contact with their union.
Air Line Pilot, January
By Chris Dodd, Staff Writer
The information superhighway has turned into the communications version of the Autobahn, both in its amazing volume of information and the equally amazing speed at which it currently travels. Just as consumers have more choices in how they acquire information, ALPA’s members now have more choices in how they receive communiqués from their union.
An enhanced www.alpa.org
In November 2002, the Association unveiled its redesigned www.alpa.org website, which now uses Microsoft’s .NET architecture.
Aside from the upgraded server hardware to boost performance and reliability, the move to the Microsoft.net platform represents the most significant change to the ALPA Internet since it was moved out from under the shadows of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air Space Museum website in 1997. The .NET platform provides database content storage and delivery, which enhances both content delivery speed and document security.
The nearly 150 ALPA pilot volunteers who maintain websites for their pilot groups should also find the system easier to manage, as the new platform is modular, permitting areas of the site to be manipulated quickly and easily.
Users of the revamped site have praised the new ALPA member portal as cleaner and easier to use, with navigation tabs across the top of the site directing users to ALPA-wide information, specific master or local executive council information, committee areas, and message boards.
Features of this upgrade take advantage of technology not supported in older browsers; therefore, you may need to upgrade your browser to have full use of the website. Available at www.alpa.org is a "Public FAQ" guide for more information on this and links to browser download sites where free copies of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6.0, Netscape 7.0, and AOL 8.0 may be obtained.
The October 2001 Executive Council passed a resolution stating that "the ALPA mailing system will deliver ALPA mail based solely on each member’s preferences and ALPA policy." To that end, members may go to the ALPA website, click on "Edit My Preferences" on the left side of the page, and specify one of four options for receiving their mail:
• View My Mail items on ALPA Intranet and receive a tickler notice when a new item is posted. (The notice will include an active link to the actual My Mail item on the ALPA Intranet.)
• View My Mail items on the ALPA Intranet and do not send tickler notice when a new item is posted.
• Receive My Mail items via e-mail if the file is not too large. (With this option, the member will receive via e-mail only items that are less than the size the member specifies.)
• Send My Mail items using U.S. Postal Service.
Note: The Postal Service will be used for mailings that involve Air Line Pilot, ballots, contract negotiations, nominations, special legal requirements, personalized data, or enclosures that cannot be digitized.
ALPA’s Printing and Mailing Department continues to produce standard mailings for ALPA members (e.g., newsletters, meeting notices, minutes, and special correspondence from the pilot leadership). Every MEC and LEC mailing that ALPA’s Printing and Mailing Department distributes, by traditional mail or by e-mail, is uploaded to the My Mail section of the Intranet. Three months’ worth of documents are listed when a member clicks on "My Mail." To view earlier documents, click on View Prior 3 Months.
A side note: E-mail messages sent through ALPA’s Mass E-mail System (see below) are considered official ALPA correspondence and are therefore posted to the My Mail section, but paper copies will not be sent.
Also in the Edit My Preferences area, members may provide their e-mail address—an essential step in ensuring that union news keeps coming to their electronic mailbox according to their mailing preferences.
Among the options available is a filter that will accommodate members whose Internet Service Providers don’t accept file attachments or attachments over a certain size. For example, a member may specify that he doesn’t want to receive documents larger than one megabyte. If a larger document is sent to the pilot group, the system will "do the math" and send him a link to the document rather than an enormous file.
The ALPA Mass E-Mail System (AMES) was introduced to elected representatives in August 2002.
ALPA inaugurated FastRead, an e-mail newsletter to the general membership, in March 2000 with positive results, and various pilot groups had devised their own "blast e-mail" systems for communicating with members. The popularity of the medium led the Executive Board, in May 2002, to endorse a mass e-mail system that MEC and LEC chairmen could use, drawing on the Association’s own list of e-mail addresses of more than 40,000 members.
AMES allows MEC and LEC chairmen to transmit information quickly to those members who have their e-mail addresses on file with ALPA’s Membership Services Department.
Capt. Steve Halpin, webmaster for the US Airways MEC, had used his own version of FastRead for that pilot group at least a year before the Association-wide e-mail newsletter was introduced. Not surprisingly, ALPA contacted him to help test the AMES system before putting it into service.
E-mail has obvious speed and cost advantages over conventional mail for member communications, Capt. Halpin points out.
The e-mail system can alert pilots to an important bill being voted on in Congress, provide timely updates on the rapidly changing airline industry, remind them to vote in their own local council elections, notify them of changes in their company benefits, and so forth.
In a pilot group whose airline is going through the emotional wringer of bankruptcy and restructuring, as US Airways is, the pressure for members to be "in the know" is unstinting. "The membership has come to expect more timely information," Capt. Halpin says. "The ALPA Mass E-Mail System combined with website postings allow us to deliver in minutes rather than days or weeks, and has forever changed the timeliness of our communications."
For ALPA members, who work in a profession that thrives on speed, cost-efficiency, and precision, even more communications enhancements are surely on the horizon.