Creating One Level of Safety for Both Passenger and Cargo Carriers

Since the mid 1980’s, ALPA has been striving to achieve the goal of "One Level of Safety" for the traveling public and our pilot members. This meant that the Federal Aviation Regulations should require the same high safety standards on all commercial flights--regardless of the size of the aircraft, the number of passengers, or the cargo load. We have made great strides toward achieving this goal, but there is more work to be done. 

Safety regulations, standards, and practices in the U.S. and Canada have made commercial air travel the safest mode of transportation, bar none. The combination of improvements in regulations, effective accident investigation, and proactive accident prevention techniques has made the U.S. and Canada the gold standard for airline travel. Passengers expect, and enjoy, the "highest level of safety."

However, not all commercial air transport service is treated equally in the U.S. and Canada. There are different sets of rules for passenger airlines, cargo airlines, and smaller passenger aircraft.

As late as 1995 in the U.S., there was a major disparity in rules for airline passengers flying on large aircraft versus smaller aircraft. The size of the airline was irrelevant. If you were flying on, say, a commonly used 19-seat "commuter" airplane, the rules and standards protecting you were significantly less stringent than those that applied to an aircraft with 31 or more seats. Specifically, commuter-size aircraft, less than 30 seats, were regulated by Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, while the larger aircraft were subject to the much more stringent regulations found in Part 121.

The Part 135 rules under went a major rewrite in 1978 when "commuter airlines" held only a tiny share of the air travel market. When the airlines were deregulated that same year, commuter airlines (now called regional airlines) quickly expanded as feeders for the large carriers, carrying an ever-increasing proportion of the market.

In Canada, there are three sets of rules for three levels of service. Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 705, the most stringent, applies to airline operations in aircraft with 20 or more seats. CAR 704, with less stringent rules, applies to commuter operations in aircraft with 10-19 seats and CAR 703, Air Taxi operation rules, applies to commercial operations in aircraft with fewer than nine passenger seats.

ALPA maintained there was no logical reason for this distinction in safety levels for scheduled passenger service. At the time, this multi-tier approach to safety was reflected in the higher accident rates for regional airlines. In Canada, separate studies have been conducted to understand the higher accident rates in the air taxi sector.

The Association embarked on an intensive campaign that we called "One Level of Safety." The purpose of this campaign, that lasted more than a decade, was to require the aircraft commonly used by commuter airlines meet the same standards as those for larger aircraft. In 1995, the FAA agreed with ALPA’s arguments and, with minor exceptions, required all commercial aircraft in scheduled passenger service having more than 10 seats to meet the Part 121 requirements--even to the point of adopting ALPA’s campaign slogan.

However, ALPA’s tremendously successful efforts did not eliminate each and every difference in safety standards for all types of commercial air service. Of specific concern are the differences in the application of some regulations between passenger and cargo operations. While the disparities are not as great as those between Part 121, Part 135, or the various CARs, ALPA sees no logical justification for these distinctions. Cargo aircraft share airspace with passenger airliners, and cargo pilots deserve the same safety protections as their counterparts at passenger airlines.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks have spotlighted other differences in the area of security. While government and the industry scrambled to greatly increase security for passenger operations, security for cargo operations has lagged shamefully behind. ALPA will continue to campaign for safety and security improvements in cargo operations to achieve in full its goal of One Level of Safety (and security) for all airlines.