ALPA President Testifies at Senate Hearing On ‘Strengthening the Aviation Workforce’

By Kevin Cuddihy, Contributing Writer

Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, along with other airline industry representatives, testified on March 16 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at a hearing titled “Strengthening the Aviation Workforce.”

Convened by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and held before the full committee, the hearing addressed issues currently facing the aviation workforce, solutions for improving career access for everyone interested in qualifying for aviation jobs, and pathways to promote the airline piloting profession.

Ambrosi opened his remarks by describing the transitional pilot training issues airlines experienced during the faster-than-some-expected recovery from the pandemic. “When demand—and subsequently growth—returned more quickly than some airlines anticipated, most of these pilots had to be retrained,” he explained. “This necessary process is time-intensive and expensive. It also relies on a training footprint that includes personnel and simulator devices and wasn’t designed for a global pandemic of this magnitude.”

ALPA’s president emphasized that the training backlog is temporary. “The good news is that we have more pilots available now than before the pandemic,” he said. “So this temporary backlog will resolve itself as airlines get caught up in pilot training.”

Ambrosi discussed mainline hiring and related attrition at fee-for-departure airlines, also calling it temporary. He also noted that any loss of service to small or rural communities is a market-based business decision by airlines—one that pilots have no sway over. But ALPA stands ready to support the committee as it addresses the issue, including discussing reforms to the Essential Air Service program.

“That said,” Ambrosi added, “we shouldn’t now, or ever, consider lowering safety standards to deal with the training backlog, attrition, or business decisions that airlines make to leave particular markets.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation, shared that opinion in her opening remarks. “As a pilot, I want to reiterate my strong support for the post-Colgan Air safety reforms, especially the 1,500-hour rule,” she stated, “and express strong opposition to any proposal that would weaken safety standards in a misguided effort to address workforce challenges.”

ALPA’s president referenced the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 that followed the Colgan Air Flight 3407 tragedy and introduced new first officer certification and training requirements, telling senators that before those requirements were in place, “many new pilots who entered my flight deck required on-the-job training. This is a period in aviation history that we should never repeat—not if we want to keep America’s skies the safest in the world.”

He reiterated the airline industry’s safety record since then, with passenger fatalities down 99.8 percent, and questioned why industry stakeholders would want to risk that sterling mark. “Clearly, the current pilot training requirements are saving lives, and we should reject any effort to undo them,” he asserted.

In fact, that high level of safety, Ambrosi remarked, makes being an airline pilot “one of the best careers in this country. It’s a great time to be a pilot.” He explained that there are more pilots working for U.S. passenger airlines now than before the pandemic but noted that the industry must continue to grow that pipeline.

ALPA’s president observed that the upcoming FAA reauthorization provides Congress with a unique opportunity to “build on the strength of America’s aviation workforce, maintain safety, and open the doors of opportunity for all who aspire to fly.” He suggested four potential areas for support

  • Providing student loans for appropriate flight training programs,
  • Establishing grants to build flight training and education degree programs at minority-serving institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities,
  • Increasing funding for the Workforce Development Grant Program, and
  • Making the Women in Aviation Advisory Board a permanent body focused on increasing and supporting women in the profession.

Ambrosi added a personal side to these recommendations during a Q&A period, stating that if current barriers and costs existed when he started his path to the flight deck, he likely wouldn’t be a pilot today.

“With this committee’s leadership,” he concluded, “we’ve created the safest air transportation system in the world, and with the committee’s continued leadership, we can strengthen the U.S. aviation workforce, open the doors of opportunity, and make the world’s safest mode of transportation even safer.”

This article was originally published in the April 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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