Air Line Pilot, March 2003

President's Forum: Three Forward, Two Back

Three steps forward and two back—lately that seems to describe the progress of aviation security.

The good news is that we are continuing to work with Transportation Security Administration officials to help them to meet the February 25 congressional deadline to begin Federal Flight Deck Officer training. At press time, this initiative seems to be on track, but funding—specifically who pays the bill—is still not clear. Training for an initial group of 50 pilots will begin soon as a test for implementing a full-scale selection and training program. Two sites have been designated for training. FFDO selection criteria and a course agenda are being finalized.

Also in the good-news category and something many of you have asked me about is that by the end of February, the TSA should have in hand a program to begin restoring reciprocal jumpseat access. The agency has a few "tweaks" to add to an ID system that ALPA and the Air Transport Association developed.

Using the combined muscle of ALPA and the entire AFL-CIO, union members are launching a full-scale offense to counter any attempt by Congress to amend or circumvent the Railway Labor Act with "baseball-style" or any other style of mandatory arbitration. The labor federation is adopting a proposed strategic plan that our Communications Department prepared.

The less-than-good news is that the cargo security bill before the U.S. Congress is woefully inadequate. Line pilot members of our Cargo Committee are working with ALPA’s Government Affairs staff to remedy omissions in the bill.

A Transportation Department official, during recent congressional testimony on the state of the U.S. airline industry, observed that the Administration’s 2003 budget provides only about 20 percent of the funds needed to install reinforced cockpit doors.

And then, the TSA issued a final NPRM (which translated, means no comments accepted) that allows the agency to revoke the license of any aviation employee the TSA believes to be a "security threat." The new rule does not provide criteria the agency may use to come to this conclusion nor provide protection for employees who may be falsely accused. The rule does provide the TSA with unlimited subjective power to eliminate our careers without any real, meaningful legal recourse. I was appalled at the callous disregard for our profession that this action demonstrated. The NPRM is well beyond being "unfair" to airline pilots. It’s not the manner in which democracies are supposed to work. We cannot allow this rule to stand.

We sometimes try to get the United States to emulate Canada in labor relations, but the Canadian government recently seemed to prefer coming down to the level of officials in Washington, D.C. The Canadian parliament recently voted for and implemented a huge increase in aviation security fees and taxes. Airlines in that country were gleaning meager net revenues and barely staying out of the financial quagmire many U.S. carriers are experiencing.

Finally, our hearts and sincere condolences go out to the families, friends, colleagues, and co-workers of the seven astronauts who lost their lives on February 1. Everyone with any interest in space flight was greatly saddened while we watched TV news coverage as the space shuttle Columbia broke apart upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere during its return home. Seven brave lives were lost. NASA must now determine the causes of the accident to ensure they never happen again.

Those of us who fly for a living—albeit not on final approach from 39 miles high, at 12,500 mph, or with our fuselage heated to 3,000 degrees F—are well aware of the inherent dangers present during a flight. We are also cognizant of the joy, thrill, and awe that we all feel as we push through the skies from one point to the next. Flying is a relatively safe mode of transportation—due in large part to our collective efforts through ALPA and our individual vigilance to ensure flight safety every day on the line.

When in-flight tragedy occurs at any flight level in any part of the world, it affects us all—directly or indirectly. As you perform your normal preflight checks or takeoff and landing procedures, I urge each of you on the line to honor those seven brave souls who perished in Columbia and to remember our comrades who have lost their lives pursuing a piloting career.

s/Duane E. Woerth