IFALPA Affiliation Makes ALPA Stronger

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Pilots from 16 nations representing 13 pilot associations attend a four-day meeting in London, England, in April 1948 during which they forge an agreement leading to the formation of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations.

One of the many advantages of being an ALPA member is having input in the development of laws and regulations that govern the airline piloting profession and the aviation industry. ALPA serves as the voice of airline pilots in North America, working in conjunction with the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as other industry stakeholders. Among the many reasons for this collaboration, the union strives to ensure that federal policies reflect the views of line pilots on the flight deck, where the impact of many of these decisions are most keenly felt.

But what about broader global aviation safety concerns? Many ALPA members fly beyond their national borders to at least one other country. How does the Association work on a worldwide level to influence international aviation conventions, standards and recommended practices (SARPs), and procedures to encourage needed safety and security measures for North American pilots and their passengers traveling abroad? The answer is through ALPA’s affiliation with the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and its close connection to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

IFALPA is a not-for-profit umbrella organization of airline pilot unions and associations from around the world—including ALPA—representing more than 100,000 aviators from nearly 100 countries. Founded in April 1948, the organization is the “global voice of professional pilots, providing representation, services, and support to promote the highest level of aviation safety worldwide.”

IFALPA Origins

The need for an international airline pilot federation became apparent with the tremendous growth and development of air transportation during World War II and the civil aviation opportunities that soon ensued. During its nearly four-year involvement in the war, the United States increased its number of military aircraft from approximately 2,500 to 300,000. With record air transport manufacturing taking place around the globe, numerous technological advancements were introduced, including aluminum alloys used in aircraft design, pressurized cabins, the jet engine, and developments in radar.

Consequently, newly developed civil aircraft could travel greater distances in shorter periods of time. Once the war ended, an abundance of military pilots would be available to meet the growing demand for personnel to fly these airplanes.

On Dec. 7, 1944, representatives from 54 nations traveled to Chicago to participate in the Convention on International Civil Aviation. The “Chicago Convention,” as it later became known, met to establish a framework for worldwide air travel, essentially laying the groundwork for ICAO.

This specialized aviation agency of the United Nations currently includes 193 member states (or countries). Among its responsibilities, ICAO develops SARPs—technical specifications adopted in accordance with Article 37 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation. SARPs function to set “the highest practicable degree of uniformity in regulations, standards, procedures, and organization in relation to aircraft, personnel, airways, and auxiliary services in all matters in which such uniformity will facilitate and improve air navigation.”

ICAO was officially established in 1947 and, a year later, airline pilots from around the world gathered to ensure they’d have a voice in global aviation policy making moving forward. As reported in the April 1948 issue of The Air Line Pilot, ALPA’s newsletter, “Air line pilots of 16 nations, represented by 13 pilots associations held a four-day meeting in London, England, April 5, 6, 7, and 8 to discuss the problems common to all airline pilots regardless of which flag they fly under.” During the four-day conference, Capt. Dave Behncke, ALPA’s president, was unanimously elected in absentia to serve as president of the fledgling federation.

IFALPA was originally headquartered in the UK, but for the same reason that ALPA moved from Chicago, Ill., to be nearer to the seat of government and influence in Washington, D.C., IFALPA moved its offices in 2012 to Montréal, Qué., where ICAO is located.

Structured with Purpose

IFALPA’s organization, in many ways, mirrors that of ICAO. IFALPA committees follow a common naming logic, and, similar to ICAO’s member states, the federation is made up of member associations.

ALPA represents pilots from two countries and, as such, has the unique distinction of maintaining two IFALPA member associations: ALPA Canada and U.S. ALPA. While the two groups are identified as ALPA I within the organization, ALPA Canada and U.S. ALPA act independently.

Critical to ALPA influence in the global aviation arena are its many volunteers and staff subject-matter experts who provide support. These individuals work side by side with volunteers from other member associations and IFALPA staff and have active roles in literally dozens of IFALPA and ICAO committees, working groups, and panels.

Advancing Pilot Priorities

IFALPA has continued to convene on a regular basis to discuss operational and safety issues and share its concerns with ICAO. For example, delegates in 1952 drafted language addressing midair collisions and requested the investigation into and development of an onboard anticollision radar system.

While the federation and ICAO work harmoniously in most instances, they’ve experienced rare disagreements. In 1965, ICAO announced that navigation accuracy had sufficiently improved to allow the reduction of aircraft separation from 125 to 90 nautical miles for aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean above 30,000 feet.

A skeptical IFALPA published a survey of pilot experiences challenging the accuracy of this claim. While ICAO took no action, IFALPA encouraged pilots of member states to circumvent the new directive by flying at lower altitudes. Consequently, ICAO reinstated the 125-mile rule.

With input from the federation, ICAO has developed a host of policies and procedures to promote uniformity and a safer operation among member state operations. IFALPA has also worked with airports, particularly in Europe and Asia, to make operational recommendations for new construction projects based on the perspective of federation members whose pilots are the primary users of these facilities.

IFALPA influences the development of SARPs through its permanent observer status on ICAO’s Air Navigation Commission as well as the ICAO Council. The importance of this relationship can’t be overstated. For example, IFALPA, working together with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ICAO, issued a Fatigue Risk Management Systems (FRMS) Implementation Guide in 2011 for commercial aircraft operators.

According to a public statement issued by the agency, “Advancements in science have brought a better understanding of the correlation between fatigue and performance as well as fatigue mitigation methods. The FRMS Implementation Guide applies these advancements to enhance flight safety at a time when fatigue is increasingly cited as a contributing factor in accidents.”

The ICAO Council also adopted international standards for FRMS to facilitate consistent implementation by operators and oversight by regulators in member states.

Pilots Helping Pilots

While influencing international aviation policy is reason enough to be an IFALPA affiliate, the relationship ALPA has been able to develop with individual member associations from other countries through federation affiliation has been invaluable. Through this connection, pilot associations are in a better position to share safety and security information as well as industrial advancements in pilot pay, benefits, and work rules. However, the benefits are particularly evident when a significant incident or accident occurs.

As recently as last month, Delta Air Lines Flight 209 departed Edinburgh Airport in Scotland but had to divert to nearby Glasgow Prestwick Airport when a bright orange flame appeared from the B-767-300’s right engine. While the crewmembers safely landed the aircraft, they still had to appear before the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which reviews civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents within the UK. Fortunately, representatives from the British Air Line Pilots Association were available to provide support and help the Delta pilots navigate the proceedings.

FedEx Express Flight 80 flying from China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport crashed on March 23, 2009, while attempting to land in gusty conditions at Narita International Airport near Tokyo, Japan. The captain and first officer were both fatally injured in the accident, and ALPA Japan pilots played a crucial role in aiding and supporting ALPA reps who traveled to the Far East as part of the accident investigation team.

ALPA has also reciprocated when pilots from other countries encountered similar problems in North America. For example, Asiana Airlines Flight 214, originating from Incheon International Airport near Seoul, South Korea, struck the sea wall while on final approach into San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. ALPA reps supported the B-777-200ER crew, offering representation, resources, and guidance during both the initial accident response and subsequent investigation.

ALPA draws its formidable authority and influence from the unity of its more than 67,000 members. However, the union’s clout is multiplied when the Association joins forces to address international aviation concerns with airline pilots from around the world. Affiliation and active participation with IFALPA provide ALPA access to the highest levels of air transport standard setting.

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

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