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O'Brien Retires; Hagy to Head Engineering And Air Safety

ALPA Engineering And Air Safety

Air Line Pilot, September 2004, p.28

John O’Brien, after serving for 32 years in safety positions at ALPA, including the past 22 years as the widely respected director of ALPA’s Engineering and Air Safety Department, retired on July 31. Keith Hagy, formerly associate director of the Engineering and Air Safety Department, has been promoted to director.

O’Brien’s renowned abilities as a safety strategist and consensus builder allowed him to play a pivotal role in advancing aviation safety on many fronts during his tenure at ALPA. His career with ALPA began in 1972 as a staff engineer. After several promotions, he was appointed to the director’s position in 1982. While performing in these capacities, he also served on, or chaired, a lengthy list of industry and government advisory committees and special programs.

He currently serves as a member of the Flight Safety Foundation’s Board of Governors, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Board of Trustees, and chairman of an Aviation Safety Advisory Committee of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Before coming to ALPA, O’Brien spent 7 years with Pan American—5 years with the airline division and 2 with Pan Am’s Aerospace Services Division. He earned a master’s of business administration from Stetson University and a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU).

A long and distinguished list of aviation notables paid their respects to O’Brien at a retirement luncheon held in his honor July 22. Those speaking in his honor included FAA Deputy Administrator Bobby Sturgell; FAA Associate Administrator Nick Sabatini and his deputy, Peggy Gilligan; Russell Chew, COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization; Boeing Vice-President Chet Ekstrand; former ALPA president, Capt. Randy Babbitt; former ALPA Executive Air Safety Chairmen, Capts. Paul McCarthy (Delta, Ret.) and Dave Haase (TWA, Ret.), and First Officer Jack Howell (Eastern, Ret.); and representatives of the Flight Safety Foundation and ERAU.

Several themes appeared repeatedly in the praise heaped upon O’Brien. The speakers hailed his abilities as a consensus builder, a man of great integrity and credibility who earned the respect of all with whom he worked.

Boeing’s Ekstrand declared, "When I first met John O’Brien, 32 years ago, Boeing and ALPA were bitter enemies. We didn’t communicate with each other. Since then, we’ve come to work very closely with each other on a number of issues—in large measure because of John O’Brien’s integrity, credibility, and ability to bring people together to develop consensus."

ALPA’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, noted that O’Brien has "been on all the major TV networks in this country, and a few more around the world. He’s been involved in more than 60 different industry groups, and he’s made nearly 150 presentations and appearances. More than 50 of those were when John was asked to provide testimony to the U.S. Congress; his influence has been felt around the world and at every level in this business."

Some of the more notable achievements of O’Brien’s distinguished career include his successful efforts to bring traffic alert and collision avoidance systems, head-up displays, ground proximity warning systems and enhanced EGPWS, and windshear detection and warning equipment into modern airliner cockpits. He played a pivotal role in ALPA’s One Level of Safety campaign; in former Transportation Secretary Federico Peña’s "Zero Accidents" initiative; in helping to develop the FAA/industry Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee; in the Civil Aviation Safety Team and the FAA’s Safer Skies initiative; and on many blue-ribbon panels, committees, and commissions.

Capt. Woerth continued, "While it may sound like John spent a lot of time focused on government and the [airline] industry, which he did, he also found time to build the ALPA Air Safety Structure into what it is today—the largest nongovernment safety organization in the world, an organization supported by 700 pilot representatives."

Capt. Woerth added, "In honor of who you are and what you’ve accomplished, and to remind the [airline] industry of what you have meant to us, ALPA has arranged for a place for you on the Aviation Wall of Fame at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy facility at Dulles Airport."

Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta was unable to attend the luncheon, but sent a letter that said, in part, "I had the extreme good fortune to serve with you on the National Civil Aviation Review Commission [1997-2001]. We made great strides with our work, in great part due to your knowledge of the aviation system and industry and your knowledge of the FAA and its critical safety mission. We work now with a strategic plan to improve safety. We have a data-driven, performance-oriented, risk-management program to drive down the [airline] accident rate in the country. What a lasting legacy that is to aviation safety."

O’Brien’s successor, Keith Hagy, joined ALPA in 1986 as a senior staff engineer in the Accident Investigation Department. He has participated in more than 130 aircraft accident investigations, including more than 30 classified as "major."

Hagy is now responsible for coordinating all aspects of ALPA’s safety, security, and human performance activities, which are supported by 35 professional staff members and approximately 700 pilot volunteers from 42 airlines in the United States and Canada. He represents ALPA on numerous industry and government committees and advisory groups, and currently is the international secretary for the International Society of Air Safety Investigators.

Before joining ALPA, Hagy was an engineer for the Boeing Company, working on aircraft stability and control analysis. He focused on evaluating and flight testing aircraft performance and handling qualities. He was awarded a patent on a stability augmentation system used on Boeing 737s. Hagy holds a bachelor of science degree in aerospace and ocean engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is a certificated pilot.