Over the Horizon

By Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President
Air Line Pilot, August 2004, p.5

The airline industry has generated a lot of international news lately.

In June, the United States reached a bilateral aviation trade agreement with China that will open up new flying opportunities for ALPA pilots. With the possible opening of cargo hubs in that country, increased codeshare agreements, and allowance of as many as five new U.S. carriers, the fastest growing economy in the world will increasingly be fertile ground for our members.

I’m sure that many of you also heard about the European Union’s decision to reject a potential, comprehensive bilateral aviation agreement the EU had been negotiating with the United States. While many observers speculated as to why the EU transport ministers rejected the deal, a variety of motivations appeared to play a part. These ranged from the U.K.’s reluctance to open up Heathrow Airport, to Italy’s desire to protect Alitalia, to several States’ unwillingness to cede more power to the European Commission.

Elsewhere, a Japanese pilot has been convicted of manslaughter in a case in which turbulence caused an unbelted flight attendant to strike her head, leading to her death. The Japanese courts used accident investigation findings in its criminal prosecution of routine duty performance.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese government will soon release the findings of its investigation into the emergency landing of an Air Transat flight in one of its territories. The findings should conclude what we suspected—a flaw in the onboard systems, since corrected, set the stage for near-disaster. We are hoping that the investigation will confirm that the pilots performed an outstanding feat when they were able to land the aircraft after it ran out of fuel more than a hundred miles from the nearest land.

All of these issues, in one way or another, affect each and every pilot ALPA represents. Whether helping to take advantage of new opportunities or fighting against grave threats, your union has been or will be the indispensable advocate on your behalf.

Your union is a major player in the negotiation of bilateral aviation agreements. Our expertise and experience are called on time and time again as talks move forward. Often, as in the case with the EU, ALPA represents all the AFL-CIO transportation trade unions at the table—helping to protect the rights of, and create opportunities for, our pilots and other U.S. airline workers.

Across the globe, your union—through the International Federation of Airline Pilots Associations —plays a major role in developing the international pilot agenda. Under the leadership of IFALPA’s president and ALPA’s first vice-president, Capt. Dennis Dolan, IFALPA is providing a strong voice for the global pilot community. As I wrote this message, ALPA pilots were planning to participate with other IFALPA members in Japan to protest the prosecution of that Japanese pilot who is facing prison for doing his job.

One of the chief benefits of our relationship with IFALPA hits close to home for pilots: When one of our members is involved in an accident or incident in a foreign country with IFALPA ties, our brothers and sisters in that country stand ready to provide invaluable support. This can take the form of public protests, lobbying their government, or even other forms of non-traditional support. Portuguese pilots provided critical insights into the investigation that took place in their country—helping to protect the reputation of our members. ALPA is always prepared to do the same here for foreign pilots.

Another benefit lies in our ability to work with other nations’ pilot groups to affect international aviation safety, security, and commerce agreements. Since many of your airliners now rely upon foreign assembly and even maintenance, you have a vested interest in ALPA’s role in making sure that the work conforms to U.S. and Canadian laws and regulations.

One of the most common crew room questions is, "What does ALPA do for me?" That question has a thousand answers, and often we focus on legislation, collective bargaining, safety, and security here at home. Another answer, and one that over the coming years and decades will become even more critical is this: "ALPA takes care of U.S. and Canadian pilots around the globe."