ALPA’s Annual Air Safety Awards
ALPA honors its members who advance aviation safety.

By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor
Air Line Pilot, January 2004, p.19

Eight ALPA members were honored during the Air Safety Awards Banquet that highlighted the Association’s 49th Air Safety Forum, held in August 2003 in Washington, D.C.

ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, declared that the theme of the Forum, "Foundations for the Next 100 Years" of aviation safety, "captures the contributions of the pilots" honored that evening. "Through their efforts and dedication," he asserted, "we have a strong foundation for enhancing and promoting aviation as the safest mode of transportation in the world today and in the future…. The Wright Brothers’…legacy and their spirit live on in the individuals we honor tonight."

Capt. Woerth singled out several individuals for special recognition before presenting the awards:

• former ALPA Air Safety Award recipients in the audience, including Capt. Vic Hewes (Delta, Ret.), the most senior award winner present, who, Capt. Woerth noted, "has attended all 49 ALPA Air Safety Forums";

• John O’Brien, director of ALPA’s Engineering and Air Safety Department, who will retire in 2004—Capt. Woerth noted that, in his 30-plus years of service to ALPA, O’Brien "has advanced the Association’s high level of credibility and expertise within the aviation industry and government agencies; as a member of a number of high-level industry and government task forces and committees, [O’Brien] has stood out as a consensus-builder, garnering tremendous respect throughout the aviation community"; and

• "those whose support allows us to carry out our work for ALPA—our spouses and partners [whose] encouragement, loyalty, and cooperation are invaluable and make ALPA’s volunteer effort so successful."

Introducing keynote speaker Ellen Engleman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Capt. Woerth pointed out that she "continues a career highlighted by her commitment to safety."

He added, "The NTSB has a long history of looking to ALPA as a key resource in accident investigations, making recommendations, and developing new procedures. Under Chairman Engleman’s leadership, we look forward to continuing our partnership to achieve our mutual goals for enhancing and promoting aviation safety."

Engleman picked up that theme, acknowledging that "ALPA has been a tremendous partner in safety. ALPA has provided technical expertise and has been shoulder-to-shoulder with us on many issues."

The NTSB chairman also announced that, just that evening, she had asked ALPA to join the rest of the airline industry and the Safety Board in developing an Air Cargo Safety Forum to be held in the spring of 2004 at the NTSB Academy, near Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. Plans for the cargo forum are now well under way.

ALPA Presidential Citation

The ALPA Presidential Citation for Outstanding Service is given "in recognition of unselfish personal dedication and longstanding service in the advance of air safety in the world’s air transportation system with resulting benefits to all who fly." Capt. Woerth presented a Citation to Capt. Pete Delo (United, Ret.), who retired in 2003 after nearly 34 years with United—and more than 24 years of volunteer service as an ALPA air safety representative.

Capt. Delo was the chief accident investigator for the United Airlines pilot group. He represented ALPA during the NTSB investigation of the 1991 crash of United Flight 585, the Boeing 737 accident at Colorado Springs that ultimately paved the way for a thorough review of the B-737 rudder control system.

"Pete became a member of the ALPA Accident Investigation Board in 1996," Capt. Woerth recalled. "As a member of the AIB, he helped oversee ALPA’s participation in several major NTSB accident investigations.

"He also was an original member of the AIB Working Group on continuing accident investigator education, and helped establish and bring to life the ALPA Advanced Accident Investigation Course," Capt. Woerth said. The first advanced course was held in June in cooperation with the University of North Dakota (see "Tuning Up the Tinkickers," September 2003).

Capt. Woerth noted that, immediately after the loss of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, Capt. Delo helped coordinate the ALPA response on behalf of his pilot group and the AIB—despite the fact that he was trapped on a layover in Manhattan, where all the bridges and tunnels were shut down. After they reopened, he made his way to Somerset, Pa., and lent his expertise to the authorities on the scene.

Capt Woerth said, "As vice-chairman of ALPA’s Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL) Project Team, Capt. Delo worked on numerous vitally important MMEL policy issues." Through him, ALPA succeeded in its "efforts to reduce pilot workload and improve airline safety by reducing the amount of time autopilots could be inoperative, as well as reducing repair intervals for inoperative TCAS," ALPA’s President said. "He defeated a Boeing attempt to allow twin-engine aircraft to fly with inoperative fuel-quantity-indicating systems on ETOPS segments. He also worked to create better relief for inoperative standby attitude-director indicators (ADIs), as well as establishing cargo smoke-detection and fire-suppression relief limits.

"Many of the ALPA MMEL Project Team’s efforts bore fruit because of Pete’s ability to negotiate at various levels of the airline industry. These abilities have positively affected the airline industry’s global safety record," Capt. Woerth said.

Superior Airmanship Award

On the night of June 16, 2002, Capt. James Almlie and First Officer Mark Abbott were the pilots of a FedEx MD-11 flight from Bangkok, Thailand, to Subic Bay International Airport in the Philippines. Nearing the turn onto final approach at approximately 1,500 feet, Capt. Almlie, the pilot flying, called for flaps 50 for landing.

As F/O Abbott moved the flap handle to that position, the pilots heard a loud BANG! and felt the airplane immediately and rapidly roll to the left. Capt. Almlie immediately countered the uncommanded roll and leveled the wings, which required nearly full right aileron.

F/O Abbott immediately called for a go-around, while Capt. Almlie fought to maintain control of the airplane. The pilots complied with the go-around procedures as best they could, but found that the outboard flaps retracted to 28 degrees while the inboard flaps were stuck in an asymmetric position, somewhere between 41 and 50 degrees.

The pilots diverted to Manila’s Nino Aquino International Airport. They completed emergency procedures for the failures for which they were receiving alerts and other indications from the cockpit instruments and warning systems—namely, asymmetric flaps/slats, and failure of hydraulic system No. 3.

Having become unwilling test pilots flying an airplane well outside its certification parameters, Capt. Almlie and F/O Abbott continued to work as a team and safely navigated the barely controllable airplane around the mountainous terrain of the Philippine archipelago in the darkness. At one point, the control forces required to keep the wings level (estimated by the pilots to be 40-50 pounds of force) became so great that Capt. Almlie had to hand over the controls to F/O Abbott and allow himself a break before beginning the approach to Manila. The pilots flew an ILS approach to Runway 6 with Capt. Almlie on the flight controls and F/O Abbott handling the throttles. (Because of the abnormally high amount of drag on the airplane, the autothrottles did not react quickly enough.) Working together in this unusual but effective way, they brought the crippled airplane to a safe but hardly uneventful landing.

The pilots’ subsequent walk-around revealed that the left inboard flap had become detached from the wing because of structural failure of bolts in the attachment assembly. The violent failure severed hydraulic lines in the left wing, which led to the failure of one hydraulic system.

Debris from the damaged components had caused the ground spoiler system to deploy and jam in the "up" position, destroying much of the lift on the left wing. Because of the amount of control deflection required to counter the loss of lift on the left wing, spoilers also deployed on the right wing, robbing that wing of lift as well.

Accepting the award, Capt. Almlie said, "The first phone call I made [that night] was to my wife. The second phone call I made [was] to ALPA’s hotline.

"Every ALPA pilot is issued an accident/incident card," he continued. "It says, ‘In case of [accident or incident], dial this number.’ I was 12 time zones away in the Philippines, and within five minutes, I was on a three-way conference call with ALPA National and Capt. Dave Welles, the central air safety chairman for FedEx ALPA. The support that everybody at ALPA has given us the last year as a result of this event has been fantastic."

F/O Abbott said he was alive "by the grace of God. We were so much on the edge, every time we went through clouds or hit turbulence, with full right yoke, the airplane would go to the left," with mountains only a mile and a half away in that direction.

"I felt like angels were holding us up," he declared. "I feel very fortunate to be alive."

F/O Abbott praised the ALPA Critical Incident Response Program run by the FedEx pilot group. He said the CIRP resources helped him and his wife "a lot" after the accident.

Superior Airmanship Award

On the evening of Oct. 9, 2002, as Northwest Flight 85—Boeing 747-400 service from Detroit, Mich., to Narita, Japan—was over the Bering Sea and approaching Russian airspace, Capt. Frank Geib and First Officer Mike Fagan were at the controls. They had just made a crew change with Capt. John Hanson and First Officer Dave Smith.

Suddenly the airplane yawed left and rolled into a left bank of about 35 degrees. Capt. Geib’s first thought was that an engine had failed. Capt. Hanson, in the upper bunk of the crew rest area, felt the airplane yaw abruptly. The call to "come forward" came within seconds.

As Capt. Hanson entered the cockpit, he saw Capt. Geib struggling with the controls, using both aileron and rudder to fight the uncommanded bank. Capt. Geib had already made the turn back to Anchorage.

The NTSB would later determine that the lower rudder failed in a left hardover position at 17 degrees of travel, the full deflection for their airspeed in cruise flight, increasing to 31.5 degrees as the airplane was slowed and configured at a lower altitude. At the time, the only EICAS warning was, "Yaw Damper Lower."

Capt. Hanson, as the senior captain, relieved Capt. Geib. He felt that, if the situation was to go badly, he wanted it to happen on his watch.

"If Capt. Geib hadn’t recovered the airplane quickly, however, these superior airmen wouldn’t be standing here today," Capt. Woerth noted.

For the next hour-and-a-half, Capt. Hanson and F/O Fagan flew the airplane by hand, using opposite upper rudder, ailerons, and differential thrust to maintain aircraft control.

The pilots tried the procedure for jammed flight controls outlined in their airplane flight manual, but it was written for a different situation. They set up a conference call with Northwest in Minneapolis-St. Paul via HF radio. The quality of the communications was not great, as is often the case with HF. No one on the conference call could suggest a way to bring the rudder back.

At 35,000 feet, they were in the "coffin corner" of the airplane’s flight envelope—i.e., they had to be very careful with the controls and would be in danger if they allowed the airplane to either speed up or slow down significantly. The pilots thus decided to descend to an altitude below 20,000 feet to test the controllability of the airplane.

Once over Cook Island, they descended to 14,000 feet—an altitude low enough to offer dense air for good controllability, yet enough altitude in which to attempt to recover the airplane if they lost control of it.

At 14,000 feet, they moved slowly from one flap setting to the next, reducing airspeed 5 knots at a time to see how the airplane handled. At one point, ATC began vectoring them toward a volcano, but the pilots said no to that idea.

The pilots set up for landing on Runway 6R at Anchorage. They used differential power on approach for heading control. They came over the runway threshold at 185 knots—about 30 knots faster than a typical B-747-400 landing. Capt. Hanson made the landing. At touchdown, the airplane veered to the left. The pilots used right brakes and the three available thrust reversers—the No. 2 reverser was inoperative—to get the airplane stopped.

The Anchorage ground controller advised the pilots that all the wheels on the left side of the airplane were glowing red from the maximum-energy stop. They waited for the brakes and the wheels to cool before being towed to the gate.

Maintenance representatives theorized that the limiters in the brake system sensed that no brakes were being used on the left side and thus actually commanded the wheels on the right side to be allowed to spin freely. "In any case," Capt. Woerth pointed out, "this was one of those situations that proves the old adage, ‘the flight isn’t over until you’re at the gate with the parking brake set.’"

Capt. Hanson said, "This was a classic application of CRM [crew resource management]. We were blessed and lucky that we had full [flight crew] augmentation. We had four pilots to work together in the cockpit. We had an excellent group of flight attendants on board; that became important later because we briefed this as a ‘red’ emergency, which means there’s at least a solid chance you’re going to have to evacuate. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to keep the airplane on the runway."

Capt. Hanson asserted, "The CIRP program is worth 10 times whatever it costs us. I can only imagine how important the CIRP program is to pilots that have less successful outcomes of their situations."

F/O Fagan thanked "God for being with us on the flight deck that night" and "the training department at Northwest for giving us such great training."

F/O Dave Smith said he’d like to thank "all the ALPA representatives out there for their dedication and sacrifice…to this profession and for the cause of safety."

Air Safety Award

The annual ALPA Air Safety Award is the Association’s highest honor for a line pilot for aviation safety work.

The most recent honoree is Capt. Tom Phillips (US Airways). He received the award for "significant contributions to flight safety while representing the best interests of airline pilots throughout the world by his many years of service as chairman of the [ALPA] Accident Analysis and Aircraft Design and Operations Groups and for leadership and expertise provided on various safety committee projects related to airport rescue and firefighting [ARFF], accident survival, and cabin safety."

Capt. Woerth noted, "Tom brings more than 24 years as a volunteer fireman and his training as an emergency medical technician to ALPA safety work and combines them with his more than 16 years of experience as a pilot for US Airways."

In more than 16 years of volunteer service for ALPA members, Capt. Phillips has worked on several NTSB investigations of major accidents. During the NTSB investigation of the ValuJet Flight 592 crash in the Florida Everglades, he led ALPA’s efforts to obtain better fire detection and suppression in airliner cargo compartments, better checklist operational procedures, and stricter rules covering the handling and transportation of dangerous goods. He participated on the NTSB’s Survival Factors Group during the Safety Board’s investigations of the accidents involving USAir Flight 1016 in Charlotte, N.C., and USAir Flight 427 near Pittsburgh, Pa.

"After the accident involving a Beech 1900 at Quincy, Ill.," Capt. Woerth continued, "Tom was instrumental in developing ALPA’s submission to the NTSB on the need for ‘One Level of Safety’ in ARFF capabilities at all airports—large and small—that have airline service.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, Tom established the on-site ALPA presence with the FBI at the scene of the crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa."

Capt. Phillips currently is chairman of ALPA’s Aircraft Design and Operations (ADO) Group. Before that, he was chairman of the Accident Analysis Group and served many years as chairman of what was called the Accident Survival Committee.

He also is a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, and of the ISASI Cabin Safety Working Group. Capt. Phillips represents the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations as one of only 11 members worldwide on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Rescue and Firefighting Study Group, a forum for establishing ARFF standards worldwide.

"Tom also serves on the National Fire Protection Association’s Aviation Technical Committee," Capt. Woerth added, "providing the line pilot’s perspective and ensuring that pilots’ needs are understood and addressed. As a subcommittee chairman within this august group, he was tasked with updating NFPA’s document on airport emergency planning."

On behalf of ALPA members, Capt. Phillips has made many presentations at U.S. and international firefighter and fire chief conferences and has evaluated numerous airport disaster drills at the request of the airport firefighting community. He continues to evaluate the complexities of ARFF operations and equipment, with the goal of minimizing injuries after an aircraft accident.

Capt. Phillips participated as one of two ALPA representatives on the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) regarding increasing the strength of cockpit and cabin seats to 16 g. He also launched a project to try to get aviation regulatory authorities to require all airliners to have emergency locator transmitters.

As a member of the "ETOPS 180-minutes-plus" project, Capt. Phillips provided critical information on the need for adequate levels of ARFF services for enroute alternate or diversion airports. He also represented ALPA members on the ARAC dealing with extended twin-engine operations (ETOPS) and long-range operations of all aircraft types. (This is a work in progress; Capt. Phillips has proposed a global means of providing adequate ARFF in a complex international environment.)

As the sole ALPA representative at the International Conference on Very Large Aircraft, Capt. Phillips made three presentations on line pilots’ concerns regarding these future airliners.

"When the Canadian pilots joined ALPA International," Capt. Woerth noted, "Tom was one of the first ALPA safety volunteers to cross the border, providing technical assistance in opposing the drastic reduction of Canadian ARFF services.

"Tom also established and has overseen a project to increase the accuracy of fire-detection alarms in cargo compartments and provide flight crews with more timely information if a fire breaks out in a cargo compartment," Capt. Woerth continued. "This project helped change airliner cargo compartments from Class D—no active fire detection—to Class C, requiring active fire-detection and -extinguishing systems."

One of Capt. Phillips’s most significant contributions to aviation safety seems so simple, so basic, it’s a wonder no one else thought of it—or if they did, why they didn’t do something about it: For years, pilots needing to communicate with ARFF personnel had to radio the control tower, which then relayed the message on a different frequency.

"Tom was directly instrumental in getting the FAA to mandate that, at the 50 largest U.S. airports, the airports must select—and publish—a discrete VHF frequency for direct pilot-to-firefighter communications during an aircraft emergency," Capt. Woerth explained. "The FAA has also recommended, via an advisory circular, that all U.S. airports do this. ICAO is currently considering issuing this policy as a global standard."

Capt. Phillips said he was "honored, humbled and proud" to receive the award. He added, "ALPA will never know how much" Chris, his wife of 25 years, has supported him in his safety work.

The ALPA Superior Airmanship Awards, he said, prove that "we still fly airplanes in a very hectic environment. It does take a professional pilot. We have to remember that a pilot’s job is still a pilot’s job when the door is closed.

"My greatest achievement and satisfaction," Capt. Phillips summed up, "is to be an airline pilot—an ALPA pilot, and part of the ALPA air safety structure."