CAPTAIN DUANE E. WOERTH
AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION APPROPRIATIONS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
DELAYS IN THE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL SYSTEM
MAY 3, 2001
Good day Mr. Chairman, I am Captain Duane E. Woerth, President of The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). ALPA represents the professional interests of 59,000 pilots who fly for 46 airlines in the United States and Canada. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you again to continue the discussion on flight delays and proposed solutions to the problem.
As we all know, on March 15th, I presented five action items in response to your question: What are five things that your organization can do to help alleviate the problem of delays and limited capacity? This is an update on those items.
The first item is to continue our high level of participation on the RTCA Free Flight Steering Committee to insure that this committee is properly focused and is defining what the system really needs, and that correct priorities are established.
I am a member of the Free Flight Steering Committee and I assure you that my attendance at the Committee meeting receives my highest priority. Additionally, ALPAs Director of the Engineering and Air Safety Department, who is my key staff person on safety issues, will continue to place the highest priority on attending. Since the Steering Committee meets on a quarterly basis, the next meeting will not take place until August 8th. We will continue to promptly and thoroughly respond to the action items generated by that committee and proper accountability for our work will be ensured.
ALPA has been active in RTCA for over thirty-five years. Our participation includes membership on RTCA special committees, select committees, steering committees, the RTCA Policy Board and the Board of Directors. Currently an ALPA Representative serves as the Chairman of the Board. Our involvement with this organization has been and will continue to be extensive.
We have been a strong proponent for development of operational concept and requirement plans for the NAS, and for defining the NAS Architecture based on these requirements. After several years of advocating that methodology, FAA and industry have adopted this approach. The FAA has chartered a Federal Advisory Committee within RTCA to facilitate the planning of NAS improvements based on this methodology. Currently, one of our main concerns now is implementing the technologies and responding to the operational requirements as we advanced beyond Free Flight Phase 1 and 2 to Phase 3 and beyond. In this area, we support the FAAs Operational Evolutionary Plan that is currently in the final stages of development and coordination with industry. This plan must become a living document that prescribes where the modernization work is headed, as well as serve as a means to evaluate how it is progressing. In particular, the implementation details and schedules must be realistic and deliverable. The FAAs management of this comprehensive plan, supported by industry consensus and constructive input, will be critical to the success of NAS modernization.
The second item is to improve our liaison efforts with NATCA to ensure that issues involving delays, cancellations, and capacity enhancements are addressed. I have designated ALPAs First Vice President, Captain Dennis Dolan, to head this effort. We have a meeting scheduled for May 18th with key members of both organizations to identify issues that we can jointly support and develop a work program. The goal is to improve the efficiency of air traffic operations and especially to identify work that could improve the safety of those operations.
The third item from the March 15th hearing is to bring the Air Line Dispatchers Federation into the ALPA-NATCA liaison process. We believe the dispatchers such be involved because of the critical role this group plays in planning, coordinating and tracking airline operations. That proposal is on the agenda for the May 18th meeting.
The fourth item I mentioned at the earlier hearing was to standardize and modernize the flight and duty time limitation rules. The current rules allow the limits to be extended for irregular operations, i.e., weather, ATC, or mechanical delays. Therefore, to take advantage of the exception, carriers routinely over schedule their flight crews. Because these schedules are not realistic, the result is frequent delays and sometimes cancellations.
Flight delays occur, in my view, as a direct result of these regulations. Because carriers want to maximize the duty period of each pilot, they are tempted to provide computerized optimum schedules. While the schedules look good on paper, a historic review of them reveals that they are not realistic and as a result, flights are delayed. The carriers cite these schedule-induced delays as "crew delays" when, in fact, they are the result of unrealistic scheduling.
The flight time regulations desperately need revisions, which should be designed to require realistic scheduling practices by the airlines. Our primary concern with these outdated regulations is, of course, safety. We need to have rules based upon the science, which is ample, to ensure pilots are not pushed to fly fatigued. ALPA has been actively seeking such revisions since 1990. At that time, we petitioned the FAA to standardize both the duty and required rest periods. We have actively participated in two Aviation Regulatory Advisory Committees (1991 & 1998) to change the regulations. We made extensive comments to NPRM 95-18, which was issued in December 1995.
Recently, at the new Pan American Airways, a pilot was fired for refusing to violate the FAAs ruling that a pilot cannot fly beyond 16 hours. Since this pilot had been on duty for 16 hours, he had been awake in excess of 17 hours. Science tells us that the cognitive performance of a pilot who has been awake for 17 hours is equivalent to someone having a blood alcohol concentration of .05%. This is more than the FAA intoxication standard of .04%. ALPA is proceeding to arbitration to seek reinstatement of the pilot.
The FAA, although agreeing changes are needed, has failed to act on the rulemaking initiatives. Since I last testified before this committee, I have had personal discussions with Secretary Mineta as well as Administrator Garvey urging them to take action on this important issue. Additionally, we have had discussions with members and staff of the authorizing committees seeking their support to standardize the flight limitations regulations.
In summation, it is ALPAs belief that standardization of flight time rules to promote realistic scheduling practices should help to reduce delays. We are still waiting for the FAA to act and we ask for your support in this effort.
The last item was to affirm our commitment to continuing the work of building industry consensus on programs that will improve efficiency and increase capacity in the system while ensuring that these programs maintain the highest level of safety. Indeed, we will be pressing hard for improvements in operational safety. We do this because current studies recognize that, as traffic increases, the number of accidents and incidents must decrease to maintain an acceptable level of safety.
Examples of where we are involved are: the RTCA processes as previously mentioned, the Air Transport Association sponsored Closely Spaced Parallel Runways Steering Committee, Spring 2000+1, FAA-industry work on reduced vertical separation above Flight Level 290 in domestic airspace, development and refinement of procedures for land and hold short operations (LAHSO), regional airspace redesign work groups, and airport planning groups. Another work program just getting underway is an FAA-industry project to review separation standards to determine if there are some efficiency gains available due to technology improvements already in place or planned.
In closing, ALPA will continue to be a very active participant in the delay reduction and capacity enhancement activities underway and planned. The input of the line pilot is a critical part in the development of solutions and you can be assured that ALPA will provide that input. We will remain committed to our Association motto of "Schedule with Safety" and that safety will always be our first priority. We believe that we can achieve both the level of safety that the traveling public deserves, and indeed demands, as well as accomplish a reduction in delays and increase in capacity. I will be happy to respond any questions.