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

By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor
Air Line Pilot, November/December, p.16

ALPA honored 10 of its members during the Air Safety Awards Banquet that highlighted the Association’s 50th Air Safety Forum, held in August in Washington, D.C.

ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, declared, "In just over half a century since our first Air Safety Forum, ALPA safety representatives have made substantial contributions to our Association’s reputation as a leader in aviation safety and security."

Some of the ALPA members to be honored that night, he continued, proved through their volunteer efforts that "when safety and security are top priorities in design, operations, and procedures, air transportation becomes safer and more economically efficient. Their work on such projects as ETOPS [extended twin-engine operations] and ASAP [Aviation Safety Action Program] demonstrates how leveraging ALPA’s technical expertise to collaborate with our partners in the airline industry and government agencies can have significant, positive effects on the industry."

Capt. Woerth added, "Tonight, we also honor ALPA pilots whose superior skill, professionalism, courage, and clear thinking under pressure averted disaster and ensured the safety of many—both in the air and on the ground. A common thread runs through all the award recipients’ accounts you will hear tonight: safety is paramount and will never be compromised. These honorees proudly carry on the legacy of our founders to achieve Schedule with Safety."

Capt. Woerth singled out several members of the audience for special recognition before presenting the awards:

ALPA Presidential Citation

Capt. Woerth said, "Our first ALPA Presidential Citation goes to a cool-headed and courageous Boeing 767 copilot. He embodies the principle that airline pilots put the safety of their passengers above all else—even when they are not working crewmembers and they’re not on an airplane."

On May 8, 2003, a gunman breached Transportation Security Administration security at Lihue, Hawaii’s airport, entering a sterile area near Hawaiian Airlines’ baggage area. He fired a shot, then immediately proceeded to the airline’s gates and fired another shot just outside the passenger holding room at Gates 5 and 6, where more than 50 passengers were waiting to board Hawaiian Flight 552 to Honolulu.

Capt. Ed Jones, currently flying as a first officer, was off duty. He was talking to a customer service agent at the gate desk when he heard the second shot.

"When I heard the shot outside the gates and saw the distraught gunman, I could only assume this was a terrorist attack," Capt. Jones said later. He directed the agent to call security, then called out to the waiting passengers to get down and dropped to the floor himself. The gunman was standing behind the counter, trying to use the telephone, while holding the gun on both Capt. Jones and the agent. Capt. Jones offered to help the gunman with the telephone call and was able to get between the passengers and the gunman. Capt. Jones was able to convince the gunman to let the passengers leave the gate area. Capt. Jones was then alone with the armed man at gunpoint for more than 8 minutes, during which time he dissuaded the gunman from harming himself or others. The Kauai police arrived and apprehended the gunman without additional shots being fired and without injury to anyone.

Capt. Woerth declared, "It takes special courage to step into the line of fire to calm someone who is obviously disturbed and has already fired shots inside a crowded airline terminal. In honor of that courage, it gives me great pleasure to present to you the ALPA Presidential Citation."

Capt. Jones said, "For me, it wasn’t that big a deal. The gate agents hadn’t seen guns before. For them, it was a much bigger deal. I reverted to my previous training as a paramedic and firefighter. It worked out perfectly, and I’m very happy to receive this award. Thank you very much."

ALPA Presidential Citation

"We’re all in favor of progress," Capt. Woerth continued, "of increased airspace and airport capacity, and more operational flexibility—as long as they don’t compromise safety. Often, intelligent solutions can be found to these challenges—solutions that respect both schedule and safety. Tonight we honor a flight crew—and a group of pilot safety representatives—who personify the link between safety and economics."

Capt. Greg Whiting and First Officers Pete Gurney, Greg Taussig, and Fritz Wiegman were the augmented flight crew of United Flight 842, Boeing 777-200 service from Auckland, N.Z., to Los Angeles, on the night of March 17, 2003. The airplane was cruising at 35,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean with F/Os Gurney and Taussig, the type-rated relief first officers, at the controls. Capt. Whiting and F/O Wiegman were taking their break in the pilots’ bunk room.

The two relief pilots noticed that the No. 2 engine was losing oil quantity, and then the oil temperature increased and the oil pressure decreased. The pilots followed the appropriate checklists and throttled back the affected engine, then shut it down.

Returning to his station, Capt. Whiting, with F/O Gurney, decided to divert to Honolulu, some 1,100 nautical miles away. Later, after receiving further weather, NOTAM, and dispatch information, Capt. Whiting changed their divert destination to Kona, where they landed 177 minutes after the pilots shut down the right engine. Subsequent teardown of this engine revealed a bearing failure.

During the flight, the pilots notified United via ACARS and satellite communication of their situation and intentions. They notified oceanic ATC via datalink. United alerted all relevant authorities, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The airplane drifted down to an appropriate single-engine cruise altitude of 22,000 feet. The flight attendants issued a cabin advisory with all pertinent information.

Capt. Rory Kay, the United pilot group’s Central Air Safety Chairman, later said, "Capt. Whiting made excellent use of his fellow cockpit crewmembers in duty assignments. By all accounts, including an internal company inquiry, the cockpit resource leadership that the crew displayed was exemplary."

United Flight 842, operating under ETOPS rules, was authorized to fly as far as 180 minutes at single-engine cruise speed from a suitable landing airport. The single-engine portion of this flight, at night over the ocean, was just 3 minutes shy of that limit.

Accepting the award, Capt. Whiting said, "That evening, we had four things working for us. First, we had an aircraft that had a remarkable safety history. Second was remarkable weather. Third, we had time—time to work our way through every possible scenario."

"The last thing I personally had," Capt. Whiting concluded, "was three really talented crewmembers. This was a team effort. It was CLR [command/leadership/resource management, a United program] at its very finest. Every crewmember contributed that evening."

ALPA Presidential Citation

Capt. Woerth also presented an ALPA Presidential Citation to the ALPA Air Safety Structure. Capt. Bob Reich (United) accepted the award on behalf of ALPA’s pilot safety representatives.

"For several years," Capt. Woerth noted, "Capt. Reich has headed ALPA’s group of pilot safety representatives who’ve worked hard to make sure, as the ETOPS limits for ocean-hopping twin-engine jets have been extended, that the FAA certification requirements, the backup systems, the procedures, the training, and everything having to do with ETOPS remain as robust as possible.

"Tonight Bob is accepting, on behalf of the entire ALPA Air Safety Structure, a modest recognition of their role in making this facet of airline operations as flexible and safe as it has proven to be."

Capt. Reich responded, "Thank you on behalf of all the ALPA hard-working pilot volunteers who have worked on the development of ETOPS the last 20 years or so. I’ve always been in awe of their dedication, integrity, fortitude, and professionalism. They’re just great folks to work with."

He added, "A great many folks in this industry say that pilots are part of the problem. The ALPA Air Safety Structure and all those involved make us part of the solution."

Chet Ekstrand, vice-president for regulatory affairs for Boeing Commercial Airplane Company, extended his company’s thanks and appreciation to the flight crew of United 842 and to Capt. Reich. "A host of folks have contributed to ETOPS," he noted. "Bob, however, has been present more than anyone else on ETOPS and has forfeited his personal time to further the interests of our industry. I am awed by people who are in the ALPA volunteer structure who continue to give back to our profession.

"Because of ALPA’s participation," Ekstrand asserted, "twins are now more reliable and, in my view, more successful, and the safest airplanes in the sky." He presented Capt. Reich with a model of the 7E7, which Ekstrand described as "an airplane that Boeing, and ALPA, created."

ALPA Superior Airmanship Award

Capt. Dave Haugen and First Officer Ryan Daniels were the pilots of America West Flight 44, Airbus A319 service from Phoenix to Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2003. In cruise at 37,000 feet, the pilots heard a "thump," followed shortly by an instrument panel advisory of an oil filter clog on the No. 1 engine.

At first, maintenance controllers on the ground recommended that the pilots monitor the engine and continue on to Washington because all the other engine instrument indications were normal. Ten minutes later, the pilots felt two more "thumps," and Capt. Haugen decided to divert to St. Louis, Mo., the nearest suitable airport.

As the airplane started its descent to St. Louis, the cockpit immediately filled with dense smoke. Visibility inside the cockpit was nil. The two pilots donned their emergency oxygen masks and pressed their faces as close as they could to the instrument panel to read the instruments.

Multiple warning indications appeared on the cockpit displays, including a warning of smoke in the electronic equipment compartment and in both cargo compartments. The flight attendants, calling to advise that the cabin was also filled with dense smoke and that the passengers were having trouble breathing, asked the pilots to deploy the passenger oxygen masks, which they promptly did.

Meanwhile, descending through 15,000 feet, the pilots saw a cockpit display warning of low oil pressure in the No. 1 engine. The pilots shut down and secured the malfunctioning engine. Shortly afterward, the dense smoke in the cockpit and cabin began to clear. The landing at St. Louis was uneventful, and the pilots were able to taxi the airplane to the gate.

As the America West MEC said in nominating the flight crew of Flight 44 for the ALPA Superior Airmanship Award, "These pilots’…efforts and cooperation in a potentially life-threatening situation are exemplary and representative of the highest standard among professional pilots."

ALPA Superior Airmanship Award

Capt. Mike Schaad and First Officer Mike Sullivan were paired for Alaska Flight 497, Boeing 737-400 service from Santa Ana, Calif., to Portland, Ore., on the evening before Thanksgiving 2003. They had a full load of passengers.

Near Medford, Ore., the pilots began experiencing a series of electrical and mechanical failures that forced them to fly the airplane with one engine shut down and many of the vital electrical systems inoperative.

The Alaska MEC noted later, "This crew demonstrated the highest level of skill and ingenuity, successfully landing their aircraft on one engine, with a single engine-driven hydraulic system operating. The rudder trim, anti-skid, electric hydraulic, and numerous other electrical systems were non-functional, with no coherent nor immediately explainable causes. After having tried two unsuccessful engine starts on suction feed, the crew landed at night in Eugene, Ore., an airport not normally served by our airline. As a result of having no anti-skid, a tire blew on landing."

The MEC added, "There were effectively no checklists for the combined failures they experienced on that night."

Accepting the award, Capt. Schaad said, "I want to thank ALPA for its commitment to air safety. I want to thank Alaska Airlines, the Alaska Airlines MEC, and the MEC Air Safety Committee."

"Before Thanksgiving, Mike’s hair was jet black," F/O Sullivan said. "Mike looked over at me and asked, ‘What’s the problem?’ And I said, ‘It’s easier to say what we have—we have one engine, one battery, and one hydraulic pump.’"

ALPA Air Safety Award

"Now we come to the highlight of our evening," Capt. Woerth declared, "the presentation of the annual ALPA Air Safety Award, our Association’s highest honor for a pilot safety representative for aviation safety work.

"Tonight we honor Capt. Mitchell Serber (Comair) for ‘significant contributions to flight safety while representing the interests of airline pilots around the world through his many years of service as chairman of the ALPA Operations Committee and for leadership and expertise provided on various safety committee projects related to accident investigation, critical incident response, and the Aviation Safety Action Program.’"

Capt. Serber has been an active ALPA pilot safety representative for 16 years, serving first as the Council 37 Local Air Safety Chairman. In 1991, he became the chief accident investigator for the Comair pilot group’s Master Executive Council and served in that position for 4 years.

From 1991 through 1994, Capt. Serber served two 2-year terms as the Comair MEC secretary/treasurer, which included a period of contract negotiations. During this time, he continued to serve as the Comair MEC chief accident investigator. In 1994, he became the Comair MEC Central Air Safety Vice-Chairman, becoming Chairman the next year. He continues to serve in that capacity.

At the same time, he served as a member of ALPA’s One Level of Safety campaign, the successful effort to get the operating rules and standards for commuter airliners raised to the more stringent ones that applied to larger airliners.

Capt. Serber was a member of the original class for Critical Incident Response Program (CIRP) qualification that began in 1994 and has continued until the present. He joined with many others in constructing the CIRP module for ALPA’s Basic Safety School.

Capt. Serber was the ALPA accident coordinator for the Comair Flight 3272 accident in Monroe, Mich., in January 1997, which led to a major NTSB investigation. He fully integrated CIRP throughout the accident investigation process, successfully demonstrating its effectiveness for the investigators (ALPA and the NTSB), the Comair pilots and flight attendants on-site in the crew lounges, the crew’s families, and the ALPA staff. Capt. Serber used not only ALPA CIRP volunteers, but also CIRP-trained mental health professionals, to help with the debriefing and defusing.

His innovations during that investigation set the standard for future accident investigation processes and were subsequently adopted ALPA-wide. He realized the potential for using CIRP in other venues, and successfully incorporated CIRP during the 89-day Comair strike of 2001, and Comair pilots, their families, and ALPA staff all benefited.

An instructor in the ALPA Regional Safety School since 1992, Capt. Serber has continued to serve as an instructor as the school has evolved to become the ALPA Safety School.

For 4 years, he served as vice-chairman of the ALPA Operations Committee and then for the last 4 as its chairman. He was one of the first to recognize the potential of the Safety Management System, or SMS, philosophy and initiated what has become the ALPA position on SMS.

Capt. Serber was one of the first to bring senior-level airline management to the table with ALPA to promote comprehensive safety initiatives throughout the airline. The SMS strategy was first employed while dealing with operational issues to enhance the safety of new Comair service to Key West, Fla. Capt. Serber also helped develop the operational procedures for Comair’s safe startup of service to Mexico. Through his leadership, SMS is becoming a cornerstone of ALPA aviation safety philosophy.

Capt. Serber also has represented U.S. pilots in enforcement proceedings in Canada, using the SMS investigation philosophy. The SMS model has produced an amicable solution to this situation. This is the first time ever that Canadian enforcement action against a U.S. pilot has been mutually resolved.

Capt. Serber also championed ASAP at Comair, where it has been implemented since September 2003.

He has also been a long-standing volunteer on ALPA’s National Education Committee, which works to educate would-be airline pilots about the Association.

Capt. Woerth pointed out that the list of former recipients of the annual ALPA Air Safety Award "is mostly filled with a bunch of guys who flew 747s. I am so proud that a Comair pilot is getting this award tonight."

Capt. Serber noted, "Joining the distinguished list of recipients of this Award, especially as we celebrate our 50th annual Air Safety Forum, is truly humbling. Many of you here tonight have served as role models and mentors to me over the years. I pledge to do my best to uphold the high standards you have maintained as I continue my career as a line pilot and ALPA air safety representative."

Capt. Serber asserted that, with approximately 950 pilot volunteers at the MEC and national levels, ALPA’s Air Safety Structure has become "the world’s largest non-governmental safety agency."

He pointed out though that "our safety structure, along with every branch of ALPA, is being stretched thin. Think of what the possibilities would be if we could each bring in one more ALPA volunteer! Just as our managements have asked our pilots to step up to the plate, we must appeal to our members to step up and ‘volunteer for duty.’"