Facing the New Year With Resolution

By Capt. Duane Woerth, ALPA President
Air Line Pilot, January 2005, p.5

In the cockpit, pilots deal with facts and avoid uncertainty. We prefer to make clear decisions based on knowns--even threats like thunderstorms, high winds, or mechanical issues--rather than on unknowns.

Well, as 2005 begins, we can all agree on a number of facts:

One: While the 2004 election slightly increased Republican majorities in the U.S. Congress, its effect on our legislative operations will be minimal. ALPA and ALPA-PAC have always practiced bipartisanship in an effort to build a "pro-ALPA" majority. We have solid working relationships with scores of members on key aviation subcommittees and throughout the House and Senate--regardless of party affiliation. We face many challenges in the 109th Congress ranging from specific pilot issues to broader labor-related matters, but ALPA will continue to influence the policy-making process because of its credibility on both sides of the aisle.

Two: A second Bush administration offers a chance for a new beginning. Despite our differences with the White House, the problems confronting the aviation industry demand a cooperative effort from all interested parties and cannot be resolved without the administrationís constructive engagement. Its policies will have the strongest influence in trade issues such as foreign cabotage rights and foreign ownership stakes in U.S. carriers.

Three: Fuel prices, security taxes, and fare wars continue to squeeze the operating margins of many of our carriers. In case you missed the headline, Exxon-Mobil turned a $6 billion profit in the last reported quarter. Thatís profit, not revenue, and it has convinced me that oil companies have turned fear into obscene profits. Meanwhile, up to 45 percent of an individual air fare goes to the government, mostly to fund projects that the general treasury (which itself is billions in the red) should support.

Four: Our constricted National Airspace System is choking off potential growth. In Fiscal Year 2005, the FAAís facilities and engineering budget will be just $2.5 billion, $200 million less than the FAA says it needs to run the system, and $500 million less than what it needs to fund key projects that can add capacity and move us out of the 20th century. What do we lose? Required navigation performance (RNP) approaches, controller/pilot datalink communications (CPDLC), and the local area augmentation system (LAAS). Worse yet, we have no idea when these projects will see the light of day--especially with $400 million gone from the Aviation Trust Fund to fund unrelated projects.

Five: Defined-benefit pensions remain under assault. The loss of retirement pay is a crushing blow to thousands of pilots who deferred compensation for their futures. This loss is a tragedy. This crisis also has a major impact on the financial health of our carriers. Current law forces them to pay a huge part of future obligations at the worst possible time, dissuading investors from giving them any capital. But a simple change in law, which would spread out those obligations, would help preserve both the plans and the airlines. Legislation passed in April 2004 eased the crisis, but almost half of the 2-year breather is used up, with no long-term solution in place.

Six: Pilots still have serious concerns about aviation security. While the FFDO program is a success, we continue to work with our congressional allies (again, starting with the Republicans) to address issues such as weapon carriage and training funds. And in other areas, notably cargo screening and a biometric transportation worker ID card, little progress has been made.

In this New Year, let there be no doubt about my intentions: I will pursue the issues I have just detailed with every resource at my disposal. I will work with elected pilot leaders, both at the national and MEC levels, to fashion workable solutions to the challenges we face. I will work with our allies in Congress and elsewhere in government, industry, and the labor movement to face these issues head-on.

But I cannot do it alone. We need every pilot, every member of this union, to take ownership of these issues as well. We need those pilots who feel passionate about one of these issues to volunteer for the fight. We need dialogue, debate, and honesty. And we need to avoid complacency, conflict, and self-doubt.

Pilots thirst for the facts. Well, these are the facts we face together. This is my navigation chart for 2005--and I hope you will travel this route with me.

Never Forget. Never Quit.

s/Duane E. Woerth