Speech of Captain J. Randolph Babbitt, President
Air Line Pilots Association
Annual Air Safety Forum
August 19, 1998
WASHINGTON, D.C.

Good evening. And welcome to ALPA's annual Air Safety Awards.

It's always a pleasure to honor our air safety volunteers for all of their dedicated effort, and also to recognize fellow pilots whose skills have been put to the test. It's a pleasure, because it's an evening to celebrate excellence.

When I opened the Forum yesterday, I spoke about raising the standards of air safety globally, and how important that is.

But I want to congratulate you all here tonight, those of you who are pilots in the air safety structure, and those of our staff who provide such a valuable support function, for maintaining and raising the standards of air safety work.

I've been involved with the Association for 27 years, and in that time I've gained an enhanced appreciation for just what it takes to do air safety work.

Today, it seems that relaxed standards are "in." Somewhere along the line, attention to detail has been devalued. Following up and following through are disappearing from our work ethic.

In the 80's, the best-seller was In Search of Excellence. In the 90s, it's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. But we know that in your line of work, the small stuff is often where the answers lie.

Back in the 80's, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman tried to analyze just what it was that made for excellence in an organization.They found that first-rate organizations shared common values. The first was a belief in being the best, and that seems fairly obvious.

But second only to that was a belief in the importance of the details of execution, the nuts and bolts of doing the job well.

In my eight years as ALPA president, I've seen the high regard in which our air safety structure is held.

I know that that doesn't come out of banquets like this more likely, it's come out of a lot of cold pizza and bad coffee, and a lot of time spent away from friends and family. It's come out of that commitment to excellence.

I want to thank you tonight for taking the time and making the effort to sweat the small stuff. And for doing that with a passion, and a dedication, that has not only enhanced ALPA's reputation, but contributed so significantly to the body of information on air safety.

Our guest speaker this evening is a person who should be familiar to all of you. . . Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Before he comes up here, let me give you a little background. . .

Jim became a member of the NTSB in October of 1993, and has chaired the board since June of 1994. He holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee and has served two senators from that state Senator Harlan Mathews and Senator Al Gore Sr. He has also served in the cabinet of Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter, and is credited with developing the state's first comprehensive anti-drug effort.

He knows his way around Washington quite well, having served for several years as counsel to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations.

His bio lists all of the investigations that Jim has taken part in or overseen. . . his work on the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. . . his specific achievements since he has joined the NTSB.

What it doesn't convey, but something that we have certainly come to appreciate, is the open dialogue we've enjoyed with the Safety Board under his watch. We're in nearly daily communication with the Board, not only to track progress of accident investigations, but also to share information and get answers to keep our own work going.

He's demonstrated his interest in the problem of pilot fatigue. At John Cox's invitation, Jim rode jumpseat on several legs up in the Northeast corridor last year, to get a little taste of what line flying is like. And really, that give and take, in a spirit of professionalism and trust, is the only way we're going to fix the things that still need fixing.

We are very pleased that Jim Hall took the time to share some thoughts with us tonight. So without further ado, I'd like to present Chairman Hall. . .

[Summary of Remarks by NTSB Chairman Jim Hall]

We now come to the awards portion of the program.

Our first set of awards are for Superior Airmanship, and tonight we're honoring crews from CC Air and Bearskin.

I'd like to invite Captain Tom Chambers, Captain Don Norton, and First Officer Christi Woods of CCAir to the stage, please. . .

When Captain Chambers and First Officer Woods reported for their flight from Charlotte to Augusta, Georgia, on the evening of January 4 of this year, they noted that their aircraft, a DHC-8-100, had had a service check that day, but everything appeared to be in order.

Riding jumpseat on that flight happened to be Captain Don Norton, a CCAir check airman and FAA-certified designee on the DHC-8-100.

As they were to find out later, the aircraft had been in maintenance the entire day.

After takeoff rotation, the crew heard what they thought might be a bird strike. During initial climb, Captain Chambers noticed the aircraft roll and yaw to the right, as if the right engine had failed. As he applied left aileron and left rudder, he scanned the engine instruments and saw nothing there that would indicate an engine failure. But the aircraft was barely climbing.

The crew advised departure control that they would continue to fly runway heading and that they would stay in touch with the tower.

At Don Norton's suggestion, they turned on the wing inspection lights, and that's when they saw the problem the right, inboard leading edge of the wing had separated from the wing and fallen off.

At this point, Captain Chambers declared an emergency, and told First Officer Woods to inform ATC that the aircraft would be landing.

The entire crew, including Captain Norton, conferred on how best to do that. It was decided not to reconfigure the wing and to maintain the current flap setting. The ref speeds were briefed, and it was agreed to maintain ref + 30 knots instead of the normal ref + 20 knots on final.

Captain Chambers further briefed that the landing gear was not to be extended until on the glide path. (Keep in mind that the aircraft was barely climbing.)

The crew coordination on that flight brought the aircraft back safely, and in fact, the FAA later commended the crew for their handling of the emergency. The wing problem was later traced to the fact that mechanics had apparently failed to secure the bottom row of screws on the piece of leading edge that came off.

Dave Walker, CCAir's MEC Chairman, nominated the crew --including the jumpseater --as a textbook example of crew coordination, and we agree. Captain Chambers, First Officer Woods, Captain Norton, I'm delighted to present you with ALPA's Superior Airmanship Award. Congratulations.

Next, we will be honoring Captain Geoff Wheatstone and First Officer Steve Preston of Bearskin Airlines, one of our Canadian airlines. Steve Preston was not able to be with us this evening, and so Geoff Wheatstone will accept his award for him. I'd like to invite Captain Wheatstone to the stage at this time.

Almost exactly one year ago, Captain Wheatstone and First Officer Preston left Red Lake, Manitoba, for Winnipeg, with several passengers aboard. Steve Preston was at the controls. While descending through 4400 feet on initial approach to Winnipeg, the Metro's horizontal stabilizer actuator failed. The aircraft pulled up hard in a 3 -g climb, and stalled at 6700 feet.

Both pilots applied maximum forward pressure on the control column. The aircraft recovered from the dive and began to climb again, so Captain Wheatstone selected one-quarter flap, then flaps up, helped with the throttles and lowered the gear, while the first officer braced his feet and and used all the arm strength he could muster on the control column.

The two pilots managed to stabilize the aircraft at 6000 feet, at which point Captain Wheatstone let the passengers know exactly what was wrong with that bucking bronco and that they would be "getting an upgrade" to the forward seats for a landing attempt at Winnipeg. The approach and landing, eleven minutes later, was successful as Steve Preston containued to maintain pitch control, and Geoff Wheatstone controlled the ailerons. The passengers and those Canadians are a hearty lot reportedly walked away from the aircraft smiling. They probably got the thrill ride of their lives, and due to the expertise of their pilots the chance to tell their friends about it when it was over!

Geoff, on behalf of your fellow ALPA pilots, I'm pleased to present our Superior Airmanship award to you and Steve both. Congratulations on a job well done.

Next we come to our Presidential Citations. Since 1981, we've been giving these citations to groups or individuals whose work on ALPA safety concerns has produced major contributions to ALPA air safety goals.

First, I would like to invite Bob Slowik of Northwest to the stage. . .

As many of you probably know, Bob is team leader for our basic safety school, and was instrumental in helping get that off the ground.

The basic safety school's roots started in the regionals, and Bob has his roots there, too. He came from TransWorld Express. But he's been among those who were instrumental in making that very valuable instruction available to all ALPA carriers, and has worked to ensure that the school's content is reflective of all member operations and procedures. And that has included incorporating material relevant to our Canadian carriers who joined last year.

He continues to instruct in the basic safety school, and was a key member of our One Level of Safety project team. Bob, thank you for your hard work.

* * *

This year we are also honoring with Presidential Citations the group of pilots who investigated or are continuing to investigate -- the crash of TWA Flight 800.

You know, before I ask those individuals to come up here, I should say that every single accident investigation team that goes out of here deserves a plaque. . . Without question, there is no activity as gut-wrenching as grabbing a suitcase in the middle of the night to go sift through what used to be an aircraft and maybe what's left of what used to be some friends of yours. It's not for the faint of heart, even under the best of circumstances.

But the crash off Long Island two years ago added another dimension the pressure cooker of public opinion.

This was an investigation on which everyone was an expert on the talk shows, in the chat rooms, in newspapers and magazines of every stripe. And that didn't make things any easier for the investigative team.

They lived and breathed that investigation for better than a year, while all the public could talk about was what they might be covering up. . . or what they might be doing wrong. . . or why they didn't have the answers. . . If you had a chance to see that reconstructed 747 in the hangar at Calverton, looking like one of those three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles, you had to know the amount of time and effort that went into looking for answers on that investigation.

I'd like to invite the following people up to the stage:

Greg Arikian
Lou Burns
Vince Cocca
Ron Contino
Don Foldy
Doug Gabel
Steve Green
Kurt Hobschaidt
Mike Horan
Mike Kessler
T.P. Manning
Jerry Rekart
John Rohlfing
Joe Rzeszotko
Ray Stettner
Jim Speer
Gene York
Jim Walters
Leigh Johnson and Jim Lawlor were also to be honored, but are not here this evening.

While this group is up here, I'm also going to call up another individual an ALPA staff member to be recognized for her part in helping coordinate the TWA MEC response in the aftermath of 800. Suzi Menoni, could you come up here?

Suzi has worked in the TWA MEC office in St. Louis for the last 10 years, and was promoted to Supervisor in 1994.

This is a little out of the ordinary. Periodically, we present employee achievement awards to members of our staff who have shown outstanding effort, and those awards are generally given out at staff meetings in the ALPA building in Herndon or Washington. But Suzi's contribution to the overall efforts after TWA 800 made her truly part of the team, and it seemed appropriate to include her award this evening.

Suzi, congratulations. And congratulations to the rest of you.

While the rest of you go back to your seats, I'm going to ask John Rohlfing to stay up here for a moment...

As some of you may know, John is retiring this year from TWA. He has been Central Air Safety Chairman at TWA for the past 10 years, but his time as an ALPA volunteer has spanned 33 years, and has extended beyond safety matters to his pilot group's contract committee, membership committee, and training committee.

John is a man of strong convictions, as many of you who have worked with him can attest. Dean Adam, who could not be here this evening but who sends his regards, told a story about when he and John were working on a presentation for Jeffrey Erickson on the proposed expansion of Lambert-St. Louis Airport. The two of them were holed up in an office at the MEC office in St. Louis and they were going at it very loudly at times about what should or shouldn't be in that presentation.

When they came out of that office after several hours of this, one of the staff members asked them, "Are you sure you two weren't married in a former life?"

John, I know that the air safety structure and your fellow TWA pilots have benefited from your hard work, your selfless attitude, and your dedication down through the years. On their behalf, I'd like to say thank you.

Tonight I'd also like to take the opportunity to recognize another valued member of the air safety structure who is retiring. Captain L.D. Lowe of Northwest has served the ALPA Air Safety Structure since 1970. He's been Central Air Safety Chairman at Southern and at Republic, and was Atlanta Regional Safety Chairman for eight years. Most recently, he's been a member of Northwest's Accident Investigation Committee and chaired that pilot group's FAA Enforcement Committee.

He retired from those positions this May 1, and he told Greg Cardis that it was "time for fresh young talent to step up and replace some of the vintage folks" in the air safety structure. Well, folks like L.D. and John Rohlfing are a rare vintage. I don't know if they grow a lot of grapes in places like Tennessee and Illinois, but they've produced some mighty valuable people in air safety work.

L.D. could not be here tonight, but we're very pleased to send him this Presidential Citation. And Gordon Burgess will accept it on his behalf

Before we get to our final award for the evening, I wanted to acknowledge one other individual who is a standard-setter for the air safety structure.

As you may know, this is my last Air Safety Awards banquet, and I wanted to take the opportunity to pass on my thanks to Dave Haase for the outstanding job he has done as Executive Central Air Safety Chairman during my tenure.

I've known Dave Haase for many years, and I say that it would be difficult to find an individual as focused and as single-minded as he has been in the pursuit of air safety. He's been an air safety volunteer since 1979, and 10 years ago he was up on this stage to be honored as our Air Safety Award winner for that year.

Dave, thank you for your tremendous service.

And now we come to our major award for the evening -- the presentation of our annual Air Safety Award. This is as close as ALPA gets to a safety "Hall of Fame." None of these individuals gets his face on a Wheaties box or gets any big bucks from product endorsements (at least, none that we've authorized!)

But they have made some mighty impressive, and long-lasting, contributions to the cause of air safety.

We have a number of our past award winners in the audience this evening. And at this time, I'd like for each of them to stand and be recognized as I call their names:

Starting in 1961, Captain Vic Hewes; 1975's recipient, Capt. Ray Lahr;

from 1976, Capt. Lou McNair; from 1977, Captain Bill Melvin;

from 1978,Captain John Stefanki; from 1980, Captain Joe Oliver;

from 1981, Captain Bud Ruddy; from 1982, Captain Dick Deeds; from 1988, Captain Dave Haase; from 1989, Captain Dick Russell; from 1992, Captain Paul McCarthy; from 1994, Captain Tom Kreamer; from 1995, Captain Dick Duxbury; and from 1996, Captain Wood Lockhart.

A little while ago we had the TWA group up here, and it's maybe appropriate that for our last award this evening we're honoring an individual who has been heavily involved in investigation of another tough one US Air 427. I'd like to invite Captain John Cox of US Airways to the stage. . .

Like quite a few of you out there, John Cox was drawn into air safety work through an accident investigation in his case, the overrun of a Piedmont flight in 1985. The following year, he joined Piedmont's air safety committee as a specialist in powerplant issues. When the Piedmont-US Air merger was announced, the two airlines' safety committees began a merger of their own.

Captain Gene Johnson, the Piedmont Central Air Safety Chairman, highly recommended a number of his volunteers and especially John Cox. Captain Bill Sorbie, the Central for US Air, quickly realized he needed an interpreter who "understood Southern," and chose John to fill that position. It didn't take long to recognize the unique talents that John possessed: diligence, tenacity, and that attention to the "small stuff" that I mentioned earlier.

I could stand up here and give you a laundry list of John's committee work. But it's been his work on 427 that perhaps best illustrates the attention to detail and tireless dedication that go into accident investigation, particularly an accident whose cause is as elusive as that one. John is very detail-oriented. Keith Hagy jokes that he's a pilot who always wanted to be an engineer.

John was as determined in looking into the rudder anomalies of the -737 as anyone. As part of the investigation, he did considerable testing and analyses of the 737's "crossover speeds," which eventually led the NTSB and ALPA to recommend that operators of the aircraft add 10 knots to the minimum speed for each flap setting.

They wanted to find out whether a -727 wake vortex could be strong enough to have sent the accident plane into the ground, or at least to have seriously upset it, so the NTSB, FAA, Boeing and ALPA gathered a team at the FAA Technical Center in Atlantic City in September of '95. The team, including pilot John Cox, flew that particular pattern some 200 times.

When the tests were finished, the group had quite a bit of information on the effect of wake vortex. And John Cox had a new title. As a little joke, Jim Hall sent John Cox a plaque to thank him for his participation in the flight tests.

It's inscribed "To Captain John Cox, official average line pilot."

There is nothing average about any of our Air Safety Award winners, or any of our volunteers, for that matter. They are what air safety work is all about: perseverance, thoroughness, follow-through, follow-up, and all of those qualities of excellence that we're celebrating tonight. John, we are very pleased to be able to present you our Air Safety Award.