ALPA Pilots Signal Strength

By: Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

What an incredible NHL season! Signs of hockey fans’ fierce team loyalty can be found in every city across the league on both sides of the border. In Washington, D.C., the tradition that Capitals owner Ted Leonsis began in 2008 continued this year when Caps fans wore red to signal their allegiance as they celebrated the team’s Stanley Cup victory.

Signals—actions, lights, or sounds that convey information—are fundamental to safe and secure flight operations, but they also shape our union’s work and influence. The fact that so many of our members wear an ALPA pin or lanyard, participate in our Calls to Action, and stand with our union brothers and sisters on the informational picket line all signal the strength of our unity.

For ALPA pilot groups in bargaining, such as Air Georgian, Frontier, Trans States, United, WestJet, and WestJet Encore, this means that other ALPA members’ response to informational picketing announcements on social media is frequently, “Tell me the time, give me a sign, and I’ll walk your line." Our union stands together.

Every day, airline pilots ensure passenger, crew, and cargo safety by analyzing signals ranging from wig-wag lights at runway hold short lines to PAPIs on approach. These signals are technological tools that ALPA has often been instrumental in developing. They transmit information, but they’re only tools. The people who see and interpret them—highly skilled human pilots—remain the essential part of the safety equation on the flight deck.

And that’s why a qualified, rested, and well-trained captain and first officer are the strongest safety and security asset on every flight. For this reason, ALPA is a champion of the FAA’s first officer qualification, experience, and training requirements. Our industry has learned many times the value of having two trained and experienced pilots at the flight controls, including during the recent Southwest Flight 1380 incident, which ultimately resulted in a safe landing under very demanding circumstances for the flight crew.

Incredibly, despite this exceptional safety record, some are attempting to take pilots out of the cockpit. Section 744 of the U.S. House of Representatives FAA reauthorization bill would establish a new research program “in support of” single-pilot airline operations. It’s a reckless action that threatens passengers, flight crews, cargo, and communities on the ground. The language represents a corporate giveaway and doesn’t belong in the FAA reauthorization—or in any bill.

In hockey, when the referee points at the goal while blowing the whistle, fans know a team has scored. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much interpretation to understand what a signal means. For example, if a foreign airline operates with a flag-of-convenience business model, it’s likely the company intends to base different aspects of its operations around the globe to avoid taxes, labor laws, and safety regulations. The result would put U.S. airlines and workers at a competitive disadvantage. That’s why ALPA supports Section 530 of the U.S. House FAA reauthorization bill, which would prevent foreign airlines with these business models from serving the United States in the future.

When present in the halls of Congress or Parliament, ALPA pilots signal objectivity and credibility on safety, security, pilot assistance, and jumpseat issues. We saw the effect in the U.S. House FAA reauthorization, which reflects many ALPA priorities. In addition to maintaining first officer qualification and training rules, the reauthorization improves the safe transport of lithium batteries, supports pilot assistance programs, requires secondary cockpit barriers on new passenger airliners, and enhances Aviation Safety Action Programs with automatic report acceptance. While far from perfect, the U.S. House bill does represent progress.

The Washington Post reported that Capitals forward T.J. Oshie signaled that he’s a man of the people when he took the D.C. Metro to get to the Capital One Arena before championship games three and four. Similarly, ALPA members signaled their commitment to safety and our profession by sending Congress more than 48,000 letters on ALPA issues in the first six months of 2018.

With every action, ALPA’s members signal the strength of our union.