Five Questions For ALPA’s HFT Group and Training Council Chair

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By Christopher Freeze, Senior Aviation Technical Writer

The primary task of ALPA’s Air Safety Organization’s (ASO) Training Council is the sharing of information, experiences, and strategies among master executive council (MEC) Training Committee chairs in order to manage a broad range of training issues.

Air Line Pilot sat down with Capt. Todd Lisak (JetBlue), the ASO’s Human Factors & Training (HFT) Group chair and the Training Council chair, to learn more about the pilot who serves as the Association’s lead subject-matter expert on pilot training programs and their role in improving aviation safety worldwide.

Air Line Pilot: 1. How did you get into aviation/flying?

Capt. Todd Lisak: I grew up in Chicago, Ill., and would always ask my parents if we could go to Midway Airport to see the airplanes. The place to be was 63rd and Cicero, right at the White Castle on the approach end of Runway 31C. We were so close you could smell the spent jet fuel and hear the wind vortices after the aircraft passed by. I consider myself one of the “lucky” ones because I knew what I wanted to do at an early age and became a first-generation pilot. My family didn’t know anything about how to become a pilot, so I just went to the small local airport and inquired and then asked if I could work at the airport to earn flight time. I was 14 years old at the time and began working at a fixed-based operator at Midway where I fueled and deiced airplanes and moved passengers’ baggage—all while earning my pilot ratings. I then went on to fly corporate jets before moving on to SkyWest Airlines and later JetBlue, where I’ve been a pilot now for more than 14 years.

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

Lisak: In 2014, JetBlue pilots voted to be represented by ALPA. I received a phone call from Capt. Jim Bigham, our newly appointed MEC chair, who asked me if I was interested in helping set up our pilot group committee structure. I had many questions and wondered if I was up to the task.

After he answered many of my questions, he asked me one question: “Do you like helping pilots?” That made it relatable to me, and, ultimately, that’s why I agreed. We assembled a great team and put together our MEC, with ALPA national’s support to guide us in developing our policy manual. Soon afterward, I became JetBlue’s MEC Training Committee chair and later ALPA’s ASO Training Council chair.

3. What are your roles and responsibilities as ALPA’s Training Council chair?

Lisak: As the Training Council chair, I oversee and support all the Training Committees from each of ALPA’s 38 pilot groups, which individually provide support to their pilots in training, while actively engaged in programs that include, but aren’t limited to, new aircraft and recurrent training. The Training Committee chairs provide direct line-pilot input regarding pilot training content, management, policy, and regulatory issues.

In my role, I also interface with regulators developing policy and rulemaking to improve the quality of our training and help ensure that the correct subject-matter experts are a resource to ALPA members.

The Training Council also advocates for training policy identified by ALPA line pilots before airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders. In addition, the council coordinates with other ASO groups and committees to review and address safety concerns that involve pilot training and serves as a primary source of ALPA pilot training information.

I also serve as the HFT Group chair, providing much of the same support with a focus on the human factors elements all pilots face. I have great support from ALPA’s director of Human Factors, F/O Abigail Passmore (United), and the team she’s built.

In my roles, I also provide support to the ASO, the world’s largest nongovernmental aviation safety organization. We’re under constant attack from the airline industry and managements on many fronts, including a push to lower first officer qualifications and allowing unmanned aircraft systems to operate in the national airspace system without the necessary safeguards. ALPA is steadfast in its efforts to preserve the safety and training improvements the Association has gained for its members.

The Training Council meets twice a year with monthly conference calls in between. We just gathered in March for our first in-person meeting since the pandemic, and the HFT Group participated as well. During meetings, MEC Training Committee representatives discuss the hot issues on their properties. A common theme at our recent meeting was the increase in hiring occurring at many airlines. This uptick in hiring combined with the necessary training needed for pilots returning from extended leaves associated with COVID-19 has Training Departments stretched beyond their capacity. As a result, there are concerns with how training is being conducted. Long delays are often occurring between ground school completion and simulator training. In addition, long delays are taking place between completing simulator training and getting scheduled with a check pilot to compete a pilot’s operational experience. In some cases, the delays are so extensive that the entire training process must be repeated.

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

Lisak: ALPA has assembled top-notch staff members who are all as passionate about their work as we pilots are about flying. Every day, they do an excellent job providing support—whether they’re assisting by fielding phone calls; helping us draft policies, letters, or press releases; or advocating on our behalf with government and industry. They’re our “silent” partners who provide unmatched expertise.

In every department, they bring decades of historical and technical knowledge and experience and have connections to stakeholders we need to advocate for line-pilot issues.

ALPA’s Engineering & Air Safety Department staff members have been especially instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic. We needed to uphold our position that safety is of paramount importance, now and always. The airline industry saw a large reduction of flying that paved the way for advocacy groups to attempt to undermine proven safety and training measures such as the required “consolidation of knowledge and skills.” Certain groups sought to completely do away with this requirement. With the help of staff and the ASO, ALPA commented publicly against this idea as safety is always our number one priority. The FAA agreed with our position and ultimately denied these requests to remove the consolidation of knowledge and skills requirement.

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

Lisak: If you’d like to get involved but don’t know where to start, engage with your Training Committee chair or your Central Air Safety chair. Tell them what issues you’re passionate about. Volunteer to take on an issue. ALPA provides training to advance your knowledge and mentors ready to help you grow.

I would also suggest getting your family involved and attend ALPA family unity-building events. They’re a key to all our success. I’m lucky to have a supportive family and an amazing wife who understands dinner will likely get interrupted by a meeting or phone call. They understand the satisfaction I feel when helping another pilot get the assistance they need and deserve.

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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