Safety Through Unity

By Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA President

Airline pilots have spent decades making air travel the safest form of transportation in the world. Yet airline manufacturers, regulators, and some foreign air carriers are pushing for a reduction in the number of pilots on the flight deck—reduced crew-operations (RCO). This push—done strictly for economic gains, not safety—is deeply concerning and ill-advised as it will introduce unacceptable new risks with unknown consequences into our complex and dynamic operating environment.

These RCO schemes would operate with a single pilot on the flight deck during some phases of flight—specifically long periods during cruise—and create the risk that a flight deck could be completely uncrewed if the pilot flying becomes incapacitated. Christian Scherer, Airbus’s CEO of Commercial Aviation, acknowledged this fact in a recent interview, noting, “It all needs to cater for the eventuality that this one guy just ate a bad oyster and is incapacitated and the airplane has to take over. So one pilot or zero pilot is effectively the same thing.”

But we know that two highly skilled and well-trained pilots on the flight deck can mitigate safety, security, and operational risks by jointly adapting to changes in circumstances based on their experience and situational awareness. Pilots are the most important safety feature on every flight, and removing pilots from the flight deck is a risky gamble with safety. Working together on the flight deck, pilots create safety, and working together we must defend it.

Last month, we celebrated the signing of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024 into law. Because of the advocacy of our members and our unified voice, Congress rejected attempts to undermine safety and enacted prosafety legislation that contains many of ALPA’s priorities, including

  • Maintaining robust first officer qualification and training requirements for pilots,
  • Creating a pathway to require secondary flight deck barriers for existing passenger airliners,
  • Enhancing runway and airport alerting systems, and
  • Establishing a standardized system for reporting smoke and fume events on passenger-carrying aircraft, plus rulemaking to allow onboard detectors and monitoring equipment.

And with this same unified voice, we continue to aggressively advocate for at least two pilots on every airline flight deck. With nearly 500 participants representing their member associations from approximately 50 countries gathered in May in Mexico for the Global Pilots Symposium and the 78th International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations Conference, pilots from around the world expanded our commitment to speaking with one unified voice against RCO. Because this threat is global, it’s critically important that pilots from around the world work together to address and strongly oppose this unprecedented assault on aviation safety.

Through almost a century of intensive work by ALPA and other aviation stakeholders, including NASA, we’ve helped to make airline travel the safest form of transportation. And we continue to research, adapt, and improve our safety systems to maintain the industry’s unparalleled safety record.

Just as unity has helped us to achieve our outstanding safety record, unity has also helped us stand strong as a union. For ALPA members on layover during a major aerial attack on Israel, our unity and unparalleled resources helped bring them home. When an ALPA member or pilot group experiences unfair practices from their management, our unity helps to right those wrongs. And our unity has helped us achieve record pilot contracts and pilot pay so that ALPA’s Executive Council could approve a first-of-its-kind across-the-board offer of a return of dues to our pilots. Approximately $50,000,000 will be offered to ALPA pilots starting in late summer.

Together, our unity has benefited our industry, our careers, and our profession in countless ways, but it’s up to ALPA pilots to maintain our achievements through continued collective actions. The safe transport of our passengers and cargo is our greatest responsibility so we must continue to defend against all threats to our profession—including RCO. Pilots are the defining voice for safety in aviation, and our voice is the strongest when we speak as one.