Our Industry Is Global, as Is Our Profession

By Capt. John Sluys (Alaska), ALPA International Affairs Coordinator

Airline pilots were among the first to understand the term “globalization.” Today, there’s certainly no globalization without the airplane. More than half of ALPA’s members work for carriers where at least 35 percent of the block hours flown are international operations. Some of our pilot groups, such as Air Transat and Western Global, fly almost exclusively internationally.

Two recent Air Line Pilot articles have highlighted the global value that the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) provides to you as a member and to our union on a broader scale. “ALPA Beyond Borders: Working with International Partners” underscores how pilots from other countries came to the aid of ALPA crews. “IFALPA Affiliation Makes ALPA Stronger” describes how ALPA members help shape the global pilot community’s position on issues that impact our careers.

On May 4–7, IFALPA held its annual conference near the federation’s headquarters in Montréal, Qué., which is also the location of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)—and this isn’t a coincidence. Just as ALPA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has an office in Ottawa, Ont., near our branches of government, IFALPA’s proximity to ICAO provides quick access for advocacy and gives airline pilots the opportunity to strengthen our relationships with those who regulate international civil aviation through the creation and adoption of standards and recommended practices. IFALPA has been holding annual conferences around the world since just after the end of World War II, and this year’s conference was the federation’s 77th.

The first event of the annual conference is the Global Pilots’ Symposium, which has been a part of the agenda since 2011. IFALPA is known as the global voice of pilots, and the symposium has traditionally been a venue for members from around the world to come together and share our professional concerns, educate ourselves about emerging challenges, and help inform the policy decisions of conference delegates. The gathering is part education, part information sharing, and part policy debate—and always with a focus on unity building. And this process has served us well. Over the years, IFALPA has been instrumental in helping pilots address a number of technical and industrial challenges to our profession. However, this year our focus was different.

In 2023, as the global aviation industry continues to emerge from the pandemic, many regions are still struggling to return to prepandemic flight operations. Many regions are still struggling to rightfully organize. And a just safety culture is still a foreign concept in many parts of the world. What made this year’s conference unique is that among the traditional threats we face as airline pilots separately around the world, this year we stood united to face one common threat: reduced-crew operations. As proposed by some manufacturers today, this threat could, in the very near future, change the course of our industry and negatively impact the incredible safety record we’ve collectively built over decades.

In March, the presidents of ALPA, the European Cockpit Association, and IFALPA solidified their commitment to defending the safety of our skies, passengers, flight crews, and cargo by standing together to oppose efforts to remove pilots from the flight deck. This was Step 1.

Step 2 began at this year’s Global Pilots’ Symposium, during which our global voice was loud, clear, and unified against any form of reduced-crew operations. This year’s gathering was more than just a symposium—it was a call to action for every pilot, at every airline, in every country.

Step 3 will begin after the conference when the call to action reaches you—ALPA members—to participate. You’ll be called on to become informed and engage with your fellow pilots, your family, your friends, and your neighbors to advocate that the use of technology is not a replacement for the skills and experience of at least two highly trained pilots on the flight deck at all times.

The industry and the regulators must hear the unified, global voice of airline pilots as we fight the safety threat of reduced-crew operations. Your action—our collective action—is required to ensure that the current standards that have made air travel the safest form of transportation in the world aren’t eroded.

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

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