Ahead of the Curve

By: Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

Airline pilots fully recognize the danger of letting an aircraft slip to the back side of the power curve. While it happens only rarely, most importantly if you’re flying low and slow, a plane can lose altitude fast, even at full power. Factors like temperature and pressure altitude may mean varying responses, but avoiding the back side of the power curve in the first place is fundamental.

This same commitment to staying ahead of the curve has been part of ALPA’s work as we’ve pursued for decades securing a robust supply of qualified airline pilots for our industry. While the recent spate of low starting salaries at some regional airlines has driven some would-be pilots to choose other professions, the situation today is only one example of many ebbs and flows in the North American pilot supply. Through it all, ALPA has worked to win over and welcome new and diverse talent into our ranks.

More than 30 years ago, ALPA’s Board of Directors created the Aviation Community Relations Committee and charged it with a two-pronged purpose: foster collaboration with the general aviation community and provide information for pilots and future pilots about our union and its goals. Later renamed ALPA’s Education Committee, this key body guided our union’s nascent Pilot Information Program, which was designed for and targeted to reach high school and college students as well as other aviation enthusiasts.

“The seeds for future aviation safety accomplishments have been planted when the students reach their jobs in government or industry,” said Capt. Frank Mayne (Delta), chair of ALPA’s Education Committee, when speaking of the committee’s work in September 1996. But F/O Mark Haley (United), ALPA’s current Education Committee chairman, could well make this same statement today.

From the Pilot Information Program of the 1990s, our work has evolved and expanded to include ALPA’s participation in many national and international events such as AirVenture Oshkosh and our outreach to more than 15,000 elementary, middle, and high school students during the 2017–18 academic year. In these activities and others, ALPA has sought to attract the new generation and instill in them our pilots’ core principles in collective bargaining as well as safety, security, jumpseat, and pilot assistance.

As I stated recently in The Wall Street Journal, our industry is experiencing one of the largest hiring cycles for airline pilots in history. ALPA’s Education Committee outreach to new audiences is bolder and broader than ever as we focus our efforts to reach our Association’s strategic goals for the future of the profession.

Similarly, we’re no less committed to staying ahead of the curve when it comes to airline pilots’ wellness. It’s true that our profession is one of the most highly vetted careers today. But that doesn’t stop us from aggressively pursuing greater support for airline pilots and proactively advancing aviation safety while maintaining a healthy work environment for our members.

Throughout our careers, U.S. pilots are continuously evaluated through training, medical exams, and programs such as the Line Operations Safety Audit, as well as by the airline and during random flight checks by the FAA. Flight and cabin crewmembers also monitor and evaluate each other while on duty, and procedures exist to respond should a concern arise.

Despite these proven methods to keep pilots and the flying and shipping public safe, ALPA is never satisfied; we’re constantly looking for more ways to support our pilots and enhance the safety of our industry. At this year’s Air Safety Forum, for example, we discussed the newest tool in ALPA Pilot Assistance work: Pilot Peer Support. Under the auspices of the Air Safety Organization and its Aeromedical Group, the soon-to-be-implemented program will provide U.S. ALPA members with access to peers who are trained to assist in taking on nonwork-related stress.

Along ALPA’s route to helping create the safest mode of transportation, we’ve encountered our share of curves to be sure. But thanks to our members’ dedication, we’re staying ahead of the power curve in confronting these challenges.