Our Highest Calling

By Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA President

Supporting our fellow union pilots is our highest calling. Regardless of where we are or the equipment we operate, airline pilots turn out and stand up for each other. The past few months demonstrate that in addition to our common commitment to flying our passengers and cargo safely and securely, we’re dedicated to supporting each other because we’re stronger together when engaging with management, government, and policy influencers.

The pilots of the Air Canada Pilots Association showed they understand how pilots are stronger together in their overwhelming support to join with ALPA, the largest pilot union in the world. A landslide 91.6 percent of eligible Air Canada pilots participated in the merger vote, and 84.2 percent voted in favor—a clear testament to solidarity.

With the climbout of the economic downturn now at full throttle, our union expects airline managements to recognize that it was pilots who positioned them for success. Even as ALPA now focuses on contract implementation and compliance at many pilot groups, our union is directing its resources to those pilot groups whose airlines still refuse to acknowledge their value.

During their recent all-base informational picket, I stood with WestJet pilots in Calgary. Alb., to reinforce how the lack of a North American industry-standard contract is causing pilots to leave the company or not to seek employment in the first place. As this magazine went to press, WestJet pilots took the critical step of issuing a 72-hour strike notice to management and the government. I’ve committed the full weight of our union behind them as they take the next steps in demanding the contract they’ve earned. And I know every one of our pilots will support them.

Earlier this month, I was also one of 3,000 pilots who carried an informational picket sign alongside United pilots in 10 locations across the United States to help get them the contract they’ve earned. Similarly, FedEx Express pilots have continued to take collective action to expose how management has failed to offer an acceptable contract. From informational picketing in New York City, N.Y., which I took part in, to similar events in Anchorage, Alaska, and Memphis, Tenn., as well as FedEx pilots’ impressive 99 percent member vote supporting their pilot leaders calling a strike, if necessary, our pilots know the strength of numbers.

These actions are just a few ways we showcase the depth of airline pilots’ solidarity. Our strength is also seen as we fight efforts by some airlines to use pilot supply as an excuse to drive down wages, ignore scheduling and working-condition issues, and roll back the regulations behind the extraordinary level of safety that our union has fought so hard to achieve. Despite record pilot-production numbers, some are suggesting that pilots should be removed from the flight deck altogether, even though data and history tell us that airline safety depends on having at least two qualified, highly trained, and well-rested pilots on the flight deck at all times.

Some in Europe are already proposing reduced-crew operations, calling it “eMCO” or extended minimum-crew operations. This attempt to put profit before safety should be called what it is: single-pilot operations during cruise on long-haul flights. In response, ALPA led the development of a global grassroots advocacy campaign—called “Safety Starts with Two”—which I kicked off along with the European Cockpit Association and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) presidents at the recent IFALPA Global Pilots’ Symposium. Pilots around the world are already heavily engaged.

ALPA’s active Call to Action to preserve first officer training and qualifications is another indicator of strength in numbers—more than 3,600 ALPA members have participated in this latest effort to fight back against special interests that are still trying to put profit before safety and cut first officer safety standards. I’ve testified before Congress three times this year as lawmakers work to reauthorize the FAA, each time making clear that ALPA pilots will not allow lifesaving first officer qualification requirements to be evaded or rolled back.

Time and again since taking office, I’ve witnessed ALPA pilots answering the request for mutual support. Whether we’re fighting for a fair collective agreement or defending against assaults on safety, we stand in solidarity. ALPA pilots always respond to our highest calling because we’re stronger together.