Rules, What Rules?

By: Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

“Play ball!” When the umpire’s call rang out on the first day of the 2018 baseball season, the sound carried both the promise and expectation of competition. Every year, players and fans respect that the umpire knows the rules and holds an “almost religious respect for a level playing field,” as noted in a recent article in The New York Times.

Whether a Braves or Blue Jays fan, you know that an umpire making the “big call” and enforcing the rules is essential. Without “teeth,” it’s too easy for players to ask, “rules, what rules?” This situation is clearly in play for the government of Qatar and its subsidizing of its state-owned airline that violates its Open Skies agreement with the United States.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration took steps to protect fair competition and defend American jobs. In a nonbinding agreement with Qatar, the U.S. government secured important pledges to further transparency and to not engage in Fifth Freedom flying from Europe to the United States. While encouraging, ALPA is watching to see whether Qatar delivers. The Trump administration now must enforce the U.S. Open Skies agreement with the United Arab Emirates to end its similar subsidies.

Enforcing the rules is essential, but equally important are their quality and effectiveness. As regulators, lawmakers, and policy makers create and uphold the rules that govern the airline industry, ALPA engages to ensure they understand airline pilots’ perspectives and how the rules affect flight operations.

Following the recent Southwest Flight 1380 accident, ALPA urged exercising caution before speculating about its cause. We emphasized that the sole focus must be on allowing the NTSB to conduct a full investigation with the goal of preventing a similar accident in the future.

With the same goal in mind, when four fatal airline accidents occurred in the United States in the six years before 2010, Congress acted to make flying safer by passing the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010. At lawmakers’ direction, the FAA reviewed the four accidents and others and found shortcomings in pilot qualifications and training. The agency changed the rules, requiring first officers to be better qualified, more experienced, and to receive more training.

Accordingly, ALPA commends the U.S. House for passing an FAA reauthorization that rejects attempts to weaken first officer training and experience requirements. Moreover, the House version enhances the safe transport of lithium batteries, improves voluntary safety report acceptance, and requires secondary cockpit barriers on new passenger airliners. It also protects fair competition by preventing airlines with flag-of-convenience business models from serving the United States in the future. However, we oppose Section 744, a provision that promotes single-operator commercial cargo aircraft and threatens the safety of our skies. ALPA will remain engaged as the Senate now takes up the reauthorization.

Collective bargaining agreements also create a rulebook. ALPA has recently made progress with strong agreements at Air Transport International and Calm Air. Air Wisconsin pilots just reached a tentative agreement with management after seven years of negotiations. WestJet pilots are in negotiations that will set their course for years to come. JetBlue pilots continue to make progress toward an agreement but are frustrated at the more than three years it’s taken and will not tolerate further delay. And I recently sent a letter to the National Mediation Board requesting a proffer for the Frontier pilots. This is the first step in what will lead to a release to self-help if Frontier management continues to seek a below-market agreement. Nine of our 34 pilot groups currently are at the negotiating table for a new agreement, and the full power of our union is behind these pilot groups as they press for fair contracts.

Anyone who has ever watched a game recognizes that baseball players pass along a legacy to the next generation. ALPA also takes seriously its responsibility to encourage the next generation of union volunteers and aviators. Our commitment is clear as we back the Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act, our Education Committee strategizes for 2019, and we create opportunities for ALPA pilots to refine skills and get involved, such as the 6th annual Legislative Summit.

At ALPA, we work from our union’s rulebook—the strategic plan developed by our members.