2005 ALPA Air Safety Forum
Opening Session
Wednesday 17 August 2005

Remarks by Capt. Terry McVenes
Executive Air Safety Chairman

Thank you ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 51st annual Air Line Pilots Association Air Safety Forum. Joining us today are distinguished guests from government & industry from both the US and Canada, our partners in education, representatives from airline management, numerous leaders from many of our pilot groups, representatives of other labor organizations, members of our ALPA staff and the pilots, whose work in air safety represents the 64,000 men and women of the 41 airlines that make up the Air Line Pilots Association. To each of you, I thank you for your dedication to aviation safety and taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us over the next couple of days for this important event.

Our Strength

For many of you in the audience, this afternoon represents the beginning of this week’s activities. However, for a lot of us, our week began early on Monday. More than 300 members of the ALPA safety and security structures gathered in various meeting rooms throughout this hotel to discuss a number of critical technical issues we are dealing with such as airports, dangerous goods, accident analysis, human factors, training, and our national airspace modernization.

For those of you unfamiliar with our organization, we are fairly unique. ALPA’s member pilots have made a tremendous investment in airline safety, earmarking a significant portion of their hard-earned dues dollars to make flying safer for everyone. In addition to flying full schedules at our individual airlines, more than 600 of our pilots volunteer on their off days, taking precious time away from their families and friends, all in the interest of aviation safety and security. In addition, ALPA has a full-time staff of more than 35 engineers and administrative assistants who support our efforts. Today, in addition to ALPA’s role in providing such services as contract & legal support, legislative initiatives, and economic & financial analysis, we have become the largest non-governmental aviation safety organization in the world.

ALPA’s Administration Manual probably best describes our safety structure:

In 1822, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for improving the condition, promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man." We all know how difficult the past 4 years have been for the airline industry: 9/11, furloughs, work rule changes, bankruptcies, increased fuel costs. But these past 4 years have also been the safest in the history of aviation. So how have we done that? We did it by taking advantage of our strengths as an organization, energizing our resources, and collaborating with government and industry to ensure we continued our efforts to improve and promote aviation safety. So while many difficult challenges remain, this is not necessarily a time to be discouraged or complain. But rather, it is a time to celebrate a unique accomplishment and to pledge ourselves to continue "the diffusion of light and education" into the future.

Our Focus

If we assess the current state of our industry, we conclude that airlines and the government are now less willing to discuss regulatory or safety enhancements when there is any added cost involved. As a result, we have been forced to look not only at the pure safety impact but also on the cost/benefit implications of any proposed regulations. Airline managements have reduced their participation in industry and government safety initiatives in an effort to save money. Government funding has been reduced or eliminated for key projects such as National Airspace modernization, and we have seen increased pressure to streamline accident investigations. While the benefits of proactive safety initiatives such as FOQA and ASAP programs have been documented by many airlines, we continue to see some airlines fail to adopt these programs, while others attempt to use them as a means for disciplinary or regulatory enforcement purposes. We have also seen some airline managements and government officials attempt to modify the regulations below our current standards, solely for economic purposes, undermining the ALPA legacy of advocating “One Level of Safety.”

As we continue our pledge to improve aviation safety, it will be imperative for all of us to maintain our focus, and not let the difficulties we face cloud our vision. As I already mentioned, members of our various technical committees began their individual group meetings earlier this week. Yesterday, in a joint session of the entire ALPA Air Safety structure, I outlined my strategic plan that will lay the foundation for transforming our safety structure to meet the challenges that the future will bring. Let me share with you a couple of items that are in that plan.

For several years now, ALPA has promoted the merits of Safety Management Systems or SMS to the airline community. You will hear more about that later today in one of our panels. It is time for the industry – and our Association — to “put our money where our mouth is.” As we struggle with balancing the “volunteer” aspects of our organization with the “business” realities of the work we do, it is essential that we incorporate the concepts of SMS into the ALPA safety structure as well. SMS will enable ALPA to make the most effective use of its valuable safety resources for the benefit of our members, our profession and the traveling public. It will improve our decision-making processes so that we work smarter and more efficiently by coordinating all our efforts across the multi-disciplinary lines that many of our projects encompass.

Another key component to my strategic plan is using the “risk management” process to prioritize our work. For those of you familiar with this, you know that this is a data-driven approach to both identify and prioritize hazards. Within ALPA, this approach will assist us in identifying our priorities so that we can best employ our limited resources. That is why the future of our activities and project work must be driven by information and data, which must also include information sharing efforts among individual airlines. FOQA and ASAP programs are evolving in a way that makes collaborative information sharing both technologically feasible and mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Regardless of whom you represent, we all have limited funds available to us to address the safety needs of our respective organizations. The value of these information-sharing efforts is that they will effectively identify the safety needs of our airlines and our membership so that we can leverage our resources where they will do the most good. 

This data-driven approach will also help us find reasonable solutions to difficult problems. For example, there is a lot of discussion within the aviation community about crew fatigue and how it applies to flight and duty time regulations. You will hear more about this issue during this safety forum. By utilizing a voluntary and non-punitive environment through a safety initiative such as ASAP, we can track data like days on duty, daily duty times, rest periods and back-side-of-the-clock operations, so we can see where and when the errors and mistakes occur and draw useful conclusions. I challenge the industry to take a data-driven approach to this difficult issue to develop realistic flight and duty time regulations that will work for the airlines, while at the same time improve the quality of life for our crewmembers. 

Still Safe

This is one of the most significant and trying times we have faced in the history of the airline industry. However, with adversity comes opportunity and we must take advantage of the opportunities that we have: the opportunity to strengthen our safety efforts, the opportunity to influence the scope and direction of aviation safety throughout the world, and the opportunity to focus our energies toward providing a safer and more secure environment for our membership and our customers.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m pretty proud of the men and women of the ALPA Safety structure, and it truly is a privilege and honor to chair this dedicated group of individuals. But of course, we are not without our critics. Today we get criticized when we call for more realistic flight and duty time regulations. We get criticized when we call on Congress and the FAA to adequately fund the modernization of our national airspace system. Some don’t like it when we point out the absurdity of developing approach procedures that, in the name of increasing capacity, place smaller aircraft below and behind larger aircraft, thus subjecting those smaller planes to potentially deadly wake turbulence encounters. We get criticized when we call for higher levels of crew training across all segments of our industry. And we continue to get criticized for calling on our regulators and cargo airlines to provide a single level of safety between them and their passenger-carrying counterparts.

But let me go back a few years. In 1964, ALPA was also criticized when we called for emergency evacuation standards of transport category airplanes. We were also admonished when we called for improvements in seat designs so they could withstand greater G forces in a crash. We were criticized for calling for floor track lighting, reduced flammability materials in our cabins, and improved crew training for evacuations. We didn’t just point out the deficiencies and move on. We rolled up our sleeves, provided the technical manpower & support, and worked with the regulators and industry to make the needed improvements. Two weeks ago, 309 passengers and crewmembers were able to walk away from an accident that 30 years ago probably would not have been survivable. Thanks to ALPA.

While our critics like to defend the present and justify the status quo, ALPA continues to promote the future: a future that provides a safer and more secure environment for our airlines, our fellow crewmembers, and the entire traveling public. The next two days will lay out clearly the many ways we continue to do that work. Thank you.