Captain Duane E. Woerth, President
Air Line Pilots Association, International
The Subcommittee on Aviation
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. House of Representatives
On Reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration
and the Aviation Programs
March 12, 2003
I am Captain Duane E. Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). ALPA represents the professional interests of 66,000 pilots who fly for 42 airlines in the United States and Canada. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the issues that are of great importance in the deliberations on the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.
|Left to right are James C. May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association; Deborah C. McElroy, president of the regional Airline Association and ALPA's president, Capt. Duane Woerth.|
ALPA’s motto has been "Schedule With Safety" since 1931 and our primary interest is in aviation safety. We are strong supporters of improvement in efficiency, capacity and safety of our aviation system because the viability of our industry depends on these three factors. ALPA has always supported and endorsed spending every dollar collected in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, in a timely fashion, for its intended purpose. The FAA should be funded through a combination of taxes, other appropriate charges, and ongoing general fund contributions.
The Federal Government should exercise greater accountability to the traveling public and the aviation industry by ensuring that all funds held in trusts, not just a portion of them, are expeditiously allocated to deserving programs and projects. We continue to support the position on FAA funding espoused in the December 1997 report by the National Civil Aviation Review Commission (NCARC) titled, "Avoiding Aviation Gridlock and Reducing the Accident Rate." The position is that the FAA should be partially funded by general tax revenues. The rationale, as I’m sure you realize, is that the aviation system benefits all of society, not just system users. As we have seen brought home all too clearly in the last two years, the aviation industry is a major component of the economic engine in the United States. When our industry suffers, our country suffers.
The NCARC report also emphasized the importance of a constant funding stream to the viability of programs intended to improve safety, capacity, and efficiency in the system. ALPA supports that concept – many of the programs I’ll discuss in a moment require the assurance that long-term research, development, and testing efforts will not be started and then cancelled due to year-to-year fluctuations in funding. To do anything less is to compromise the integrity of that maturation process and introduce the risk of wasting valuable R&D resources or deploying partially developed systems without understanding the full impacts of those actions. Programs vital to the health of the industry and therefore the nation cannot be held hostage to the uncertain funding commitments associated with single-year cycles.
As we consider the development of new programs and the enhancements of existing ones, we must also keep in mind the contribution that can be made by the nation’s academic institutions. FAA has developed partnerships with a number of universities, through the establishment of Centers of Excellence. These Centers make it possible to develop robust programs to train tomorrow’s professionals and also to develop the academic component of airport and aviation management. An FAA crippled by inadequate funding cannot effectively manage these valuable resources to make an effective investment in the future of the industry.
The airline industry is flying through uncharted and turbulent skies. Since September 11, 2001, the normal ways of doing business for commercial air transportation have been replaced by an unpredictable business climate characterized by a dramatic rise in costs. The economic downturn has sapped the health of the airline industry. The need for efficiency improvement in the air traffic control system has never been more evident. Everyone is familiar with the FAA’s Architecture and Operational Evolution Plan (OEP). All the programs that are detailed in it need to be delivered on time if the United States is to maintain its leadership role in all facets of aviation.
This is not news because before the current economic realities set in, every part of the aviation community advocated these improvements and indeed the FAA worked hard at developing and implementing them. The community also had a collective opinion that the OEP does not look far enough into the future and that it is only a good start. It does not address the long-term demand. A critical limitation is that the air traffic management (ATM) structure is inflexible and does not allow the airlines to fully utilize the aircraft modern computerized navigation systems’ ability to fly the most efficient routes. Additionally, the processes for certificating and establishing procedural regulations to promote innovative equipage is in need of overhaul to expedite and provide incentives to the air carriers. New runway and airport development takes too long to meet projected demands.
Now, we are faced with a critical need to reinvigorate our industry. Aviation is a critical part of our nation’s economy and air traffic is rebounding. Soon we will be faced with the same issues that resulted in the intolerable delays of the summer of 2000. Thankfully, cargo operations did not experience as deep a reduction as passenger carriers and are increasing.
The number of passenger carrying flights is rising while the number of passengers carried is not increasing at a comparable rate. One of the reasons for this is the larger number of small regional jet aircraft. They are efficiently serving many markets previously thought to be not profitable. The result is more air traffic operations but less total income. The result is less tax income available for investment in the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system.
Our concern is simple and resolution of it is made more difficult by the current economic environment; there is not sufficient funding being made available in the appropriate areas.
Near Term Initiatives
Although there have been improvements in the traffic management system, much more needs to be done. The joint FAA- industry Spring 2000 Plus 2 Initiative (S2K + 2) managed at the David J. Hurley Air Traffic Control System Center in Herndon, Virginia, is working hard to get the maximum efficiency from the current air traffic system. The Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) work is proving to be an effective tactical management method. The FAA’s National Air Space System (NAS) redesign program is making inroads by eliminating "choke-points" in the flow of traffic and installing high altitude routes for aircraft equipped with area navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigational Performance (RNP) capabilities through the High-Altitude Redesign (HAR) initiative.
This program capitalizes on the most advanced current infrastructure and modern aircraft navigation capability. This program starts out at the high flight levels (FL 390 and above) and will be phased in to lower levels based on the aircraft capability. This work is cited because it is a good example of why the December 2002 Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry recognized the need to implement a rule that mandates aircraft equipage with systems that improve the efficiency of flight operations. History has proven that voluntary equipage will not achieve the goal.
The following are comments on other programs affecting safety and capacity.
To ensure that the equipped operators realize the promised operational benefits, air traffic rules must be in place to ensure that operators will use the procedures. This is a big factor in making the business case that all airlines must develop prior to committing to purchase new equipment. They must be confident that the expectations have a high probability of being fulfilled. It does not make good business sense if federal, state and local governments invest billions of dollars in modernizing the ground and air infrastructure and then rely on voluntary funding by air carrier operators who have no incentive to invest.
In the past, airlines had the capital to do the research and trial implementation of technology that might result in benefits. In many cases the airlines’ investment was not rewarded because even if the potential was great, the programs were not implemented because the ATC system accommodates all users on a first come, first served basis. The most capable equipped aircraft are required to perform to the same standard as the least capable aircraft. The business climate has obviously changed and federal funding for aircraft equipage and appropriate regulation of airspace to give priority to the more efficient user must be enacted.
Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (RVSM) in U.S. airspace is a good example of a program that promises a return on the investment for upgrading the aircraft altimetry systems. RVSM will allow 1,000 feet vertical separation between aircraft operating between Flight Levels 290 and 410 (29,000 feet to 41,000 feet above Mean Sea Level). More aircraft are allowed to safely operate at their most efficient, fuel-saving altitudes. The procedures were first implemented over the North Atlantic Ocean and have expanded to the Pacific, the Caribbean, parts of Europe and Asia. Aircraft that are not properly equipped are excluded from RVSM and thus aircraft operators who invested in the equipment realize an immediate return on investment.
Reassess the First Come, First Served ATC Policy
The first come, first served policy has been the FAA’s method to assure equal access for all users to airspace and airports. Changes are needed not just to gain the economic benefits of equipage, but also for implementing new procedures that require airline investment in the development process and in aircrew training. A vivid example of why we need to rethink the outdated method of first come, first served policy is the FAA’s implementation of the closely spaced, simultaneous parallel runway criteria using the Precision Runway Monitor (PRM).
The PRM system consists of a high-update radar and high-resolution display with controller alerting and track prediction capability, called a Final Monitor Aid (FMA). FAA evaluations of the system proved that efficiency could be gained and the safety of close parallel runway operations would be improved using this system. Five PRM systems were procured through Congressional mandate. The evaluations proved that some aircrew training was required and three air carriers serving the first operational site elected to train. Other carriers with a smaller number of operations at the airport did not.
It was very labor intensive for the air traffic controllers to accommodate the participating and non-participating aircraft in the arrival sequence, and for more than five years the FAA and air carriers realized only minimal efficiency improvements at the airports using PRM procedures. Recently, with the pending implementation of PRM operations at two new locations and after demands by airport and other trade associations to make PRM work, the FAA is instituting a Special Traffic Management Program for airports with PRM operations. Those operators that do not invest in the training will be excluded during times when PRM is in operation. The equipped and trained operators will realize efficiency and cost savings and will not be penalized by the small number of less capable operators. The traveling public benefits from this improvement in efficiency and capacity. As new procedures become operational, the same philosophy and policy must be applied.
The most prevalent cause of accidents continues to be Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) where a fully functioning airplane strikes the ground. The most recent example is the July 26, 2002 crash of a Federal Express B-727 at Tallahassee, Florida. The FAA, working closely with industry, has made significant progress in reducing CFIT accidents. The goal of providing vertical guidance, either electronic or visual (e.g., Precision Approach Path Indicator, or PAPI) to every runway end is within reach, at least in the U.S. Achieving this goal depends on continuing progress on deployment of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, namely the Wide Area Augmentation System and the Local Augmentation System (LAAS). Both programs must be fully funded.
There has been no real progress on mitigating the hazards of aircraft wildlife strikes. Funding is needed to develop methods to control the presence of wildlife near airports. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to spend scarce resources on research and development to support a change to the rule mandating a maximum airspeed of 250 knots below 10,000 feet MSL because of the mistaken belief that higher airspeeds on arrival and departure will improve capacity at several airports. There is clear evidence that the damage caused by bird strikes at the higher speeds is much greater than at lower speeds. At the same time, the potential for a strike at lower altitudes is increasing because the worldwide wildfowl population has dramatically increased.
Additionally, the ability of pilots to safely conduct their flights by complying with the "see and avoid" rule is significantly decreased at the higher speeds. This is where the majority of visual flight rule (VFR) aircraft not under air traffic control operate. Perhaps the most compelling evidence against this proposed rule change is the recent finding by Transport Canada that the current rule in Canada authorizing speeds greater than 250 knots below 10,000 feet MSL should be changed to a maximum of 250 knots. The reason given was the potential for damage by bird strikes. The FAA should stop all funding on this project commonly known as the Houston 250 Knot Speed Evaluation. It would be a more prudent use of resources to direct these funds to programs that will have a significant effect on safety, efficiency and capacity.
The FAA work in this area is commendable and needs to be fully supported. The numbers of runway incursions per year has been reduced even though the incursions with the most potential for catastrophic results have not fallen. This strongly indicates the need to sustain and increase the funding for runway incursion research and development. Technologies such as AMASS (Airport Movement and Surveillance System) and ASDE X (Airport Surveillance and Detection Equipment X) must be fully funded to assist controllers. A robust CDTI (Cockpit Display of Traffic Information) system must also be given funding priority. The CDTI is especially important because it dramatically increases the pilots’ awareness of airplanes around him or her. This is critical at airports that do not have air traffic control service. Airlines routinely operate at these non-towered airports. At airports with air traffic control service, it is a needed complement to the controller’s capability to provide a safe operational environment. Full funding of these programs is essential.
Free Flight, ADS-B and CPDLC
Free Flight capacity initiatives are beginning to realize gains in efficiency and capacity while enhancing safety. There are five tools contained in Free Flight Phase I: URET (User Request Evaluation Tool), CDM (Collaborative Decision Making), TMA (Traffic Management Advisor), CTAS-Terminal (Center – Terminal Advisory Service), and SMA (Surface Management Advisor). These tools have proven benefits and Free Flight Phase II is their deployment. The Free Flight Program deserves full funding.
Similarly, CPDLC (Controller Pilot Data Link Communications) Build I is in operation in Miami Center with three air carriers participating. We have reached the limit of our radio frequency spectrum to support any meaningful further expansion of air traffic services. At times, the voice spectrum is so saturated as to prevent timely communications and we must expand the use of air traffic control data link text messages. The world aviation community is agreement on this issue. The FAA and the U.S. aviation industry must maintain a leadership role in this work in the face of competition from abroad. Build IA is the next part of the program and is under development. It will include data link transmission of air traffic control instruction.
ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) permits the broadcast of the call sign, altitude, speed and other detailed data to other aircraft in the vicinity, as well as to air traffic control and airline operation centers. Pilots benefit from enhanced situational awareness, controllers will receive more accurate and timely updates of aircraft positions, and airlines will have more robust information enabling them to better fulfill their command and control responsibility. All this will improve system safety while improving efficiency. It will likely permit reduction of separation standards, development of procedures for pilots to assume limited self-separation from other aircraft. Development and evaluation of ADS-B technology is being done in the Safe Flight 21 Project. This is not just theory. As you know, ADS-B has been in operational use in the Capstone Project in Alaska. That experience has been such a success that Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has committed significant corporate funds to equip its fleet of aircraft and bring ADS-B operations to its campuses in Arizona and Florida. We urge the Congress to support expansion of this effort in the lower 48 by ensuring funding for the Safe Flight 21 project.
ALPA strongly supports the full funding of Free Flight Phase II, CPDLC and ADS-B.
New Runway and Taxiway Construction
The pace of new runway construction is too slow. To be sure, runway construction is a formidable task but new runways must be built. Previous testimony before Congress details the need, but the process is too cumbersome. Some runways have taken approximately ten years to plan and build and some airports are estimating fourteen years for runways that are not yet completed. We support the recent executive order that streamlines the environmental review of transportation infrastructure projects. State and local governments must be encouraged and be given incentives to initiate new construction. The recent efforts of the FAA to increase communication and coordination and to streamline the environmental review of runway projects could help airports resolve construction challenges more quickly. Without expeditious runway construction, the efficiency gains through airspace modernization initiatives will not be realized.
Parallel runway operations at many busy airports create dangerous crossings of ground traffic and incursion hot spots. This degrades the efficiency of ground operations and increases the operating risks. Perimeter taxiways at airports with parallel runway configurations could eliminate that problem. The new perimeter taxiway proposal at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport is an example of this type of improvement. The FAA and NASA are collaborating on the controller and pilot procedure development. Airport authorities must be encouraged to review the potential for this type of construction at their locations and AIP funding must support such improvements. At some locations, significant efficiency may be gained. The safety benefit of preventing runway incursions should also be a prime consideration.
Emergency Locator Transmitters on Air Carrier Airplanes
ALPA’s activities within the industry to improve air safety have strongly focused on accident and incident prevention, yet the nation’s commitment to safety must also address the safety of those unfortunate passengers and crews involved in accidents. Just as the nation’s communities plan and prepare for responding to acts of terrorism, we must be prepared to respond to non-security related accidents when they occur. One of the most insidious scenarios is the accident that occurs in areas (remote or on airport) of low visibility. These accidents are usually survivable, yet they pose an extremely time critical and significant post-crash fire risk to the surviving passengers and crew. There continue to be one or two of these accidents each year. Yet determining that an accident has occurred and where the accident occurred continues to be a difficult task. Since 1994 at least four major air carrier accidents have occurred, three on airport property, in which there was considerable time delay in the notification of and determining the location of the accident. This time delay was significant to the passengers and crewmembers that survived the accident.
ALPA has sought to have the same Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) that are required on general aviation airplanes be mandated on air carrier airplanes. ELTs are simple and effective. ELTs are ruggedized for operation as crash-activated alarms, and emit distinctive radio signals on a frequency monitored by air traffic control facilities. History has shown that ELTs would be beneficial in air carrier accidents that occur in low visibility because they would significantly increase the air traffic controller’s ability to confirm and locate an air carrier accident. Such losses of controller situational awareness are unacceptable because they can contribute to delayed emergency response and loss of lives.
On October 23, 2001 (Recommendation Number A-01-66) the NTSB recommended that the FAA examine all the alternatives for providing instantaneous alerting of air carrier airplane accidents on or near the airport in low visibility. The FAA response to the recommendation was deemed unacceptable because it placed the responsibility on the crash responders to install infrared equipment to locate the crash site and training for controllers to better monitor the traffic. The FAA missed the mark and has failed to provide the tools to the controllers so they can do their job. FAA should initiate a rule change to require ELTs on air carrier airplanes. Equipping air carrier airplanes with ELTs will quickly and economically resolve a significant shortfall in the FAA’s safety mandate. The traveling public deserves nothing less.
FOQA and ASAP
The FAA and industry support for these proactive, non-punitive safety programs has been good, but that support must continue and could be improved. FOQA (Flight Operational Quality Assurance) has proven itself in identifying aircrew operational performance trends, operational procedures, aircraft performance issues, air traffic procedures and runway surface roughness. All of these impact efficiency and safety. It is a strong tool enabling the air carriers to identify safety issues, implement corrective action sand monitor the effectiveness of the corrective actions. The program also enhances compliance with regulations and certification programs.
Similarly, ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program) fosters a cooperative environment for voluntary safety reporting. Safety is improved by focusing on training and corrective action when problems are identified, while mitigating the regulators long established position of requiring severe sanctions (punishments) for any infraction of the rules. This positive, systematic approach to enhancing safety through training and corrective action has a greater chance at eliminating future errors and has already proven its effectiveness at the carriers that have implemented ASAP and FOQA programs. ALPA strongly supports these programs and urges the FAA to encourage their use at more carriers.
We feel that it is extremely important to the success of these programs that the data gathered by FOQA and ASAP, must be protected and used for safety purposes only. We now have the technological capability to capture nearly unlimited data on airplanes. As with any safety improvement, potential gains must be weighed against costs and pitfalls. The issues of data privacy and legal protections must continue to be addressed as a necessary part of any safety data gathering effort before expanded data collection can even be considered.
FAA and industry must continue its support and encouragement for establishment of ASAP and FOQA programs for at all Part 121 and 135 air carriers.
TCAS on All-Cargo Aircraft
The FAA still has not issued a final rule on requiring traffic alert and collision avoidance systems (TCAS) on cargo aircraft operating under 14 CFR Parts 121, 125 and 129. After lengthy discussions with industry, the FAA determined that the safety afforded by TCAS must be extended to cargo carrying aircraft and a proposed rule was circulated for comments in November 2001 with suspense for comments of December 31, 2001. It has been fourteen months and that is more than sufficient time to finalize the rule. The proven benefits of TCAS are beyond debate. The number of cargo operations has increased over the years and are increasing. The FAA should be directed to issue the Final Rule immediately. There should be one level of safety for all airline operations, and there should be a TCAS in every airline cockpit.
All of us who are part of the aviation industry are aware of the serious problems that the FAA encounters in performing its duties, and we want those problems to be fixed. This is not news. In 1993, the National Airline Commission addressed the FAA and the problems that face it today and recommended an independent FAA. In 1997, the National Civil Aviation Review Commission (NCARC) recommended establishment of a Performance Based Organization (PBO) to manage air traffic systems, programs, and procedures. That recommendation has been partially acted on, but there is not yet a leader for the effort. Until that effort can be allowed to advance, problems with the FAA will remain precisely the same problems the earlier studies identified: funding, procurement procedures, and personnel.
The Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), the FAA’s Acquisition Management System (AMS), the FAA’s Operational Evolution Plan (OEP) and others have illustrated characteristics of processes that work. Such successful efforts are data-driven, consensus-based collaborations of government and industry stakeholders. They prioritize improvements and identify resources necessary for implementation. They use a systems approach to blend safety, efficiency, security, and economy into air and ground elements from early research efforts through acquisition and the life of the system.
Key to creating and maintaining such efforts will be the planned Performance Based Organization (PBO) to manage it. In 1997, the National Civil Aviation Review Commission, building on previous analyses of FAA issues spanning three decades, recommended establishment of a PBO to manage air traffic systems, programs, and procedures. Without such a change, problems with the FAA will remain precisely the same: funding, procurement procedures, and personnel. A business model providing funding for critical research, a process for timely acquisition and deployment of high tech equipment, and including salaries good enough to attract the best and brightest to the workforce must be developed.
As I mentioned earlier, funding for the FAA and AIP is not adequate. We concur with the recommendations made by the NCARC in 1997 supporting robust, continuing, reliable funding for efforts to modernize the National Airspace System. The Trust Fund must be used for its intended purpose: improvement through research and development and deployment of requirement driven systems.
FAA procurement continues to need immediate attention. The miles of red tape involved in the existing procurement procedures practically ensure that the high tech equipment required by the FAA, and ATC in particular, are no longer state of the art by the time the cumbersome procurement procedures are followed. Some improvement has been evident and we support Administrator Blakey in her efforts at reform. If the ATC system is to be a separate entity, one of the first and most important posts to be appointed must be a high level executive with the authority to procure equipment quickly.
Personnel management is critical to the FAA’s success. We need only the most capable men and women in charge of our nation’s air traffic control system. Only the best and brightest should be hired and their training should be top notch. Salaries should be good enough to attract the best candidates and reach levels that will retain the best employees.
Availability of Timely Weather Data
NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) must be fully funded. Weather has the greatest impact on the operation of the ATC system and managers on the ground and especially pilots in the air need the most accurate current and forecast weather information. Minutes-old NEXRAD weather displays may be accessed on the Internet, but the same capability for a cockpit display is slow in coming. NEXRAD weather data is a quantum leap in resolution and capability to display weather phenomena. The OEP includes projects to improve the availability of weather information in cockpits. It is essential that these projects stay on schedule. Weather is a leading factor in aircraft accidents.
Federal regulations specifically state minimum weather information requirements for airline operations, and all of the companies whose pilots we represent meet those requirements. However, telecommunications research has demonstrated dramatic capabilities for providing digital weather information to our cockpits that could provide strategic awareness of storm systems like the one at Little Rock that was a factor in the American Airlines accident in June 1999. In other words, better information available prior to descent can give flight crews the information to make good decisions early rather than forcing them to react to unknowns.
ALPA has previously testified that the research is sufficiently mature and that the time is right to certify an electronic data link capability for air carrier operations. We have also recommended that similar displays be available to air traffic and dispatch, so that weather decisions may be made collaboratively from the same data. Better weather information improves the decision process for weather avoidance and timely rerouting. Safety and efficiency are the benefits.
Air Traffic Controller Workforce
We are approaching a milestone in the evolution of the air traffic control workforce that has the potential to gravely impact the ability of the air traffic system to maintain the efficiency and capacity we have achieved. 2001 marked the twentieth anniversary of the PATCO strike and subsequent firing of the controllers. During the seven to eight years after the strike, the FAA had a large hiring and training program to rebuild the system and re-staff the facilities. Thus, thousands of controllers simultaneously began the 20 years needed to reach retirement eligibility. Now we've reached 2002 and the 20-year mark is here for many controllers and fast approaching for many more.
GAO Report 02-591, Air Traffic Control: FAA Needs to Better Prepare for the Impending Wave of Controller Attrition, June 2002, recognized and analyzed the problem of this large number of controllers all approaching retirement at the same time. The GAO report stated that the problem might be mitigated if the controllers have less mandatory overtime, the ability to work part time, and better relations between labor and management. However, while incentives to work beyond eligible retirement age would be helpful, that won't solve the problem. With air traffic predicted to increase, and with the near-certainty of mass retirements among controllers, the FAA must develop a comprehensive plan to increase hiring and to get more trainees in the pipeline.
The approximately 5,000 controllers rapidly approaching eligibility to retire mean half of the controller work force could be walking out the door and between now and 2007. Since it takes 3-5 years to train to the Full Performance Level, the time is definitely now to hire the next generation of controllers. The FAA has committed to hire 362 controllers in FY 2004, but that hiring rate is not sufficient. Additional funding is needed in this area.
Let me now address the future as it relates to aviation security and what we can do as government and industry to protect against the types of terrorist attacks that we endured on September 11, 2001. Some have said that there no longer exists a hijacking threat for airlines as was realized on that horrible day as a result of numerous improvements that have been made or are being made, and passengers’ heightened sense of awareness.
However, in connection with the arrest of al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it was recently reported that the planner of the September 11 attacks was also planning future attacks on Defense Department assets in Pearl Harbor using hijacked airliners. Apparently, al Qaeda is not convinced that we have adequate defense measures in place to thwart hijackings – clearly there is more to be done.
In consideration of the fact that this hearing is focused on the subject of FAA funding reauthorization, we would like to focus our remarks on those security issues under the purview of that agency.
Flight Deck Doors
The first of two such issues is that of installing enhanced flight deck doors on all Part 121 passenger and cargo airplanes. Rulemaking has been implemented for enhanced flight deck doors that meet or exceed improved intrusion and penetration standards. As you may be aware, April 9, 2003 was set as the deadline for installation of these improved doors, and that date is rapidly approaching. A majority of the transport category aircraft covered by that rulemaking already has an approved flight deck door design. The numbers of aircraft that have actually been modified is slowly increasing.
However, there is a growing concern that not all aircraft being operated under FAR Part 121 will be required to comply with the requirements of that rule as initially intended. Provisions identified by the DOT Rapid Response Team’s (RRT) stated that security modifications should include "…a retrofit of the entire U.S. fleet of aircraft." The basis for that recommendation was recognition by the DOT RRT that aircraft used in passenger and cargo operations could be used equally well as weapons against ground targets.
While ALPA understands that unique design circumstances exist and should be considered, we do not concur with the exclusion of any aircraft operated under FAR Part 121, regardless of its size or mission. The new regulations related to flight deck security apply only to cargo aircraft that had a cockpit door installed on the date of the rule. Cargo aircraft that did not have a door installed, or had their door removed prior to the date of the rule, are exempt from the installation of hardened doors by April 2003. This omission represents a significant, and potentially disastrous, weakness in national defense.
It has come to our attention that the FAA, based upon its interpretation of section 355 of P.L. 108-7, the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY 2003, has ordered its Principal Maintenance Inspectors (PMI’s) to cease and desist from enforcing the agency’s Flightdeck Security Rule requirements on any all-cargo aircraft until further notice. This dictate will result in the continuation of a most untenable situation – namely, the operation of transport category cargo aircraft without sufficient protection of the flight deck against potential hijackers – whether from the ranks of employees, authorized passengers, or individuals who are smuggled onboard.
Another related shortcoming in this area is that enhanced cockpit doors are not required on small passenger carrying aircraft (i.e., those with fewer than 20 seats). Although these smaller aircraft are incapable of causing such widespread damage as that done to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a properly targeted small aircraft could inflict significant damage. Both government and industry have acknowledged that every passenger boarding a small jet or turboprop deserves the same level of protection as they have when they board a larger airliner. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act acknowledges this premise with its direction to strengthen doors where a door is installed, not just on aircraft of a particular size or mission. As part of our national defense, the FAA should modify existing federal aviation regulations to require that all aircraft used in FAR Part 121 operations be equipped with a lockable, strengthened cockpit door and that any future security measures are equally implemented across the entire industry. On a related issue, ALPA strongly recommends that all foreign flag carriers operating aircraft into the U.S. be required to install such doors on any affected aircraft.
Initially, the government had allotted more than $400 million dollars to the airline industry to offset some of the costs associated with enhanced flight deck doors and other measures. But the funding was delayed over the past one and a half years to less than $100 million. The cost of implementing enhanced cockpit doors for large aircraft is in excess of $35,000 per unit. Even with the government’s security subsidy, cash-strapped airline operators are funding approximately half of the cost for cockpit door upgrades.
ALPA is most pleased, therefore, that Congress appropriated $100 million of additional funds for cockpit door enhancements in the FY 2003 appropriations bill. We recommend that Congress keep apprised of developments in this area and be prepared for additional appropriations in FY 2004 to complete this important task.
Aircraft Transponder Modification
Another security area in which the FAA has oversight is that of modifications to aircraft transponders. FAA has drafted regulatory language, which has been published for industry comment, aimed at ensuring that continuous emergency notification is transmitted from an aircraft through the aircraft’s transponder. The normal ability to track the hijacked aircraft on September 11 was defeated by the terrorists when they turned the devices off and tracking of the hijacked aircraft became impossible.
There may be significant costs associated with modifying existing systems to make this feature operational. Recall that this modification was never intended to provide an added safety benefit, but it does provide a significant security benefit. Continuous emergency notification would provide Air Traffic Control and other authorities the ability to locate and track an aircraft that is suspected of being in a hijack situation.
We urge the FAA to make this change mandatory and we also urge Congress to help the industry fully fund this improvement once the new transponder standards are established.
FAA – Guidance and Direction.
We have sufficient guidance to accomplish the modernization of the air traffic control system and achieve the goals of safety, efficiency and capacity. The Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry puts the proper perspective on the challenges ahead. The report of the National Airspace Review Commission was made in 1997 and gave us the impetus to generate the FAA Operation Evolution Plan (OEP) and other requirement documents which resulted in the progress and definition work that must be done.
Clearly, the post 9/11 world in which we must operate heavily challenges us. The FAA needs to continue its work to reform its acquisition and management processes. Particular emphasis is needed to establish the Performance Based Organization (PBO) structure and appoint an Air Traffic Chief Operations Officer. We are encouraged by the actions of Administrator Blakey to address this and other management issues.
In the recent past it has become clear that the industry and government have become more proactive than reactive in pursuit of a significant reduction in accidents, while improving capacity at the same time. Indeed, our mandate from the highest levels back in 1997 was to reduce the fatal accident rate by 80% by 2007.
We believe that even in these economic times we can and must make progress. ALPA has been an influential and effective participant and, in many cases, a leader in many of the initiatives mentioned today that would raise safety standards while improving efficiency and capacity. The leadership of the U.S. in the aviation industry is essential.
We urge that the funds available in the Aviation Trust fund be authorized for use for their intended purpose so the U.S. leadership role can be assured. In addition, we urge the Congress and the FAA to take a cue from the experience of the current legislation. A multi-year funding cycle has proven its value. The legislation now under consideration can build on that experience by going beyond the existing trust fund and providing FAA the means to develop a robust, stable, five-year plan. Such a plan can only work efficiently if it is supported by assurances of funding in the amounts necessary and over the time necessary to properly manage critical efforts to modernize the National Airspace System, update policies and procedures, upgrade ground and air equipment, and properly coordinate security considerations. We look forward to the work ahead.