Five Questions For ALPA’s Remote Operations Committee Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer
Capt. Peter Black (First Air) leads ALPA’s efforts to identify and address the unique challenges facing professional pilots flying in or over the Arctic or similarly remote regions.

Editor’s note: This column showcases the efforts of a cross section of ALPA pilots who volunteer their time and talents to advocate for the union’s priorities and the cadre of knowledgeable and passionate staff specialists who support them.

ALPA’s Remote Operations Committee oversees efforts to identify and address the unique challenges and issues facing professional pilots flying in or over the Arctic or similarly remote regions.

Air Line Pilot sat down with Capt. Peter Black (First Air), the Remote Operations Committee chair, to learn more about the pilot who leads the Association’s efforts on behalf of all pilots who fly north of the 60-degree latitude and in other remote areas.

Air Line Pilot:

1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

Capt. Peter Black: I was born and raised in Hudson, a small town near Montréal, Qué., that was home to dozens of families employed by Trans-Canada Air Lines (now Air Canada), CP Air, Quebecair, and Nordair. They brought a great deal of aviation lifestyle and culture into the small community. My dad worked for the International Air Transport Association, and when I was faced with the usual post-high school graduation decisions, I eventually steered toward aviation and began the process of license/endorsement/rating progression, mostly at the Moncton Flying Club.

In mid-September 1978, I interviewed with Bradley Air Services, based outside of Ottawa, Ont., and was hired as a DC-3 first officer a few days later. Three weeks later, I flew my first Arctic rotation, and my feet have been blocks of ice ever since.

2. How did you first become involved with ALPA work?

Black: I’ve always been interested in making things better for the pilots I work with. Although the First Air/Bradley pilots have always been a relatively small group of tightly knit pilots, it was obvious that our collective voice had influence regarding corporate decision-making and pilot lifestyle gains. Since aviation in Canada had been hard hit by multiple cycles of economic recession, many of our would-be national airline pilots had decided to stay with the company to enjoy a satisfying and rewarding career along with its unique lifestyle. This led to the pilots forming an in-house association, but we quickly realised that joining ALPA would be in our best interests. After some convincing road shows in 2008, the pilots voted to join ALPA, and I’ve been working on behalf of the First Air pilot group ever since.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s Remote Operations Committee chair?

Black: Initially the committee was set up in 2012 as a “presidential committee” tasked with keeping ALPA’s president up to date regarding the challenges facing many of the Association’s “northern operators” both in Canada and Alaska. The obvious environmental challenges along with sparse communications and surveillance, accurate weather reporting, ground facility support, and emergency services make “north of 60” a hostile operational environment. It’s also a statistical reality that many of ALPA’s members will fly into or over these remote areas at some time during their flying career.

The Remote Operations Committee primarily works with Canadian and U.S. regulators—along with the world’s second-largest air navigation service provider, the nongovernmental NAV CANADA—to identify problems and recommend solutions to enhance aviation safety and provide the “one level of safety” that ALPA strives toward.

Ten years ago, satellite-based navigation and surveillance were new technologies, but the safety and economic benefits of their instrument approach procedures became immediately apparent. These new procedures were developed and certified for use throughout southern Canada and the United States. We worked to ensure that Transport Canada and NAV CANADA wouldn’t overlook Canada’s north and its strategic and social importance. As the COVID pandemic has so ruthlessly demonstrated, aviation is an essential service lifeline to the far north so protecting its safety, security, and sustainability are of paramount importance.

Pre-COVID, the number of airliners filled with passengers flying through Canada’s northern airspace was significant and growing. The traveling public’s expectations regarding levels of safety, service, and comfort on their airline of choice should stay consistent throughout their flight. But four hours into most north Atlantic, north Pacific, or polar flights, passengers would be surprised at how desolate the area below them really is. Our job is to make sure that pilots and airlines are situationally aware of the additional challenges and critical decisions that must be considered if and when operating over these remote areas.

ALPA’s white paper “Improving Commercial Aviation Safety in the Far North” clearly identifies many of the challenges and risks to aviation safety in North America’s far north and also includes recommendations regarding risk-mitigation strategies that would enhance safety and move flight operations within remote areas closer to ALPA’s one level of safety. We understand that this will take some time, education, and political effort going forward, but our goal is continued aviation safety enhancement to the highest level practical.

4. How do you see ALPA national and staff helping you achieve your goals?

Black: Since the committee’s inception, ALPA national and staff have provided tremendous support on every level. The professional engineers in the Engineering & Air Safety Department, the wordsmithing wizards in the Communications Department, and the top-notch lobbyists in the Government Affairs Department have proven pivotal in getting access to decision-makers, presenting ALPA’s position clearly and concisely, and working cooperatively to develop remedial initiatives that benefit our more than 61,000 pilots. ALPA’s Canada-based staff members are also crucial as they’re familiar with some of the unique “Canada-centric” subtleties and the decision-making regulatory structures.

Together, we’ve worked to update flight and duty regulations and have brought attention to the very difficult challenges regarding deicing realities at many, if not all, of our regional and smaller airports. ALPA is fortunate to be co-chairing Transport Canada’s Deicing/Anti-icing Working Group and continues to strongly represent the best interests of all Canadian airline pilots.

5. What advice would you give to new pilots who want to get involved with ALPA?

Black: Take the step and become involved. The First Air pilots joined ALPA in 2008, and they’ve demonstratively benefited from ALPA’s decades of expertise and incredible resources. Volunteerism is still a noble calling, and it provides some very satisfying results despite its considerable demands on time and effort. The opportunities for networking and knowledge are endless, resulting in a national and global understanding of aviation on both the industrial and safety perspective.

Through ALPA, I’m also involved with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), which represents member associations from around the world. Recently, I was able to request assistance from a contact I established within IFALPA to help one of our employees who’d suffered a vicious attack while vacationing outside of Canada. Within hours of my initial phone call, a pilot was on site assisting the family with local medical and law enforcement agencies during a very difficult time.

From the aviation safety aspect, ALPA is a world leader and is greatly respected globally for being the major voice for airline pilots. Representing more than 61,000 pilots at 38 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, ALPA’s professional expertise carries significant influence throughout the aviation industry. We can, and do, enhance aviation safety. That is a legacy of strong and effective volunteerism that we can be proud of. And it starts by getting involved.

This article was originally published in the December 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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