Regulatory Update

Maintaining High Safety and Labor Standards

By ALPA Staff

ALPA continues to press regulators to maintain high safety and labor standards for the U.S. airline workforce while monitoring and acting on efforts that could weaken hard-won gains of recent years. The following are among several issues the Association is addressing.

ALPA Opposes Attempts to Undermine One Level of Safety

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has yet to issue a decision on SkyWest Charter’s application, which has been vigorously opposed from the outset by ALPA, to use a loophole to create a commuter airline to operate charter flights. SkyWest Charter would use DOT Part 298 to become a commuter carrier, would operate frequent “on-demand charters” with 30-seat jets under DOT Part 380 charter rules, and would be governed by FAR Part 135 rules—even though the result would look and feel to the public just like scheduled service.

This SkyWest alter-ego operation would be substituted for SkyWest’s current FAR Part 121 flying to most of SkyWest’s Essential Air Service markets and would use CRJ200s with 30 seats. ALPA and aviation labor continue to voice opposition to any attempt to skirt safety rules required for Part 121 scheduled airline operations.

Unlike Part 121 operations, under Part 135, first officers don’t have to meet the safety-critical first officer qualification rules Congress authorized in the Airline Safety and FAA Extension Act of 2010, which regional airlines continue to try to weaken.

Last year, SkyWest Charter applied to the DOT for economic authority to stand up this alter-ego subsidiary of SkyWest, Inc. The Association was the first to oppose the application at the DOT in July 2022, and aviation labor and others have joined ALPA to oppose further use of this loophole.

Recently, 11 labor organizations wrote a joint letter to the Departments of Transportation, Labor, and Homeland Security, and the FAA expressing concerns about airlines operating or attempting to operate outside of the appropriate regulatory structure for scheduled passenger carriers, namely operating as DOT 380/Part 135 charter carriers with more than nine passenger seats rather than as Part 121 airlines.

Another carrier that’s exploiting the loophole recently attacked ALPA in this DOT case. JSX is a charter operation in name only that’s expanding its business operation throughout the United States with advertised routes and departure times. The Association responded that JSX is approximately the same size as Piedmont and CommuteAir and applied to operate 110,305 scheduled departures in 2022 with its 37 aircraft that have 30 seats—yet it calls itself a charter operation. ALPA asked the DOT to stop the abuse of this Part 135/DOT 380 loophole by closing it.

While Part 135 operators have an appropriate, limited role in the national airspace, the numerous and significant aviation safety improvements enacted in 2010 have helped strengthen pilot training qualification and experience requirements by including, for example, specific training for stall recognition and recovery and flight in adverse weather conditions. These increased pilot certification requirements have made U.S. skies the safest in the world.

Secondary Barriers

After years of inaction and industry stonewalling, the DOT issued a final rule in June for the implementation of secondary barriers on all newly manufactured passenger airliners. The rule calls for aircraft manufacturers to install the barriers within two years. ALPA has been advocating for secondary barriers for more than a decade when, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent requirement for a hardened flight deck barrier, it became evident that a secondary security was necessary due to the opening of the flight deck door during flight.

Congress mandated secondary barriers for newly manufactured passenger airliners as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. In 2022, the Biden administration issued a proposed rule after seeking recommendations from industry stakeholders, including the Association.

The secondary barrier final rule is the culmination of years of advocacy for the Saracini Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911/S. 911) since the 114th Congress when it was introduced in the House of Representatives by Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and in the Senate by Bob Casey (D-PA) in commemoration of the lives lost on 9/11, including Capt. Victor Saracini, who was piloting United Flight 175, which was overtaken by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center.

Since the enactment of the secondary barrier requirement for newly manufactured passenger airliners, ALPA has shifted its advocacy to lobbying for secondary barriers on all passenger airliners so that the existing fleet of aircraft will have the same level of security as those coming on the line in two years. The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911/S. 911) is currently pending in Congress.

The Association is also prioritizing legislation to require primary barriers on all-cargo aircraft and supports the Cargo Flight Deck Security Act, which is pending in the House of Representatives. The Cargo Flight Deck Security Act mandates the installation of a hardened flight deck door on all newly manufactured all-cargo aircraft to address a serious security vulnerability in the all-cargo sector and to advance one level of safety and security.

“With this action today addressing the installation of secondary barriers on newly manufactured passenger aircraft, we must redouble our efforts to pass the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911/S. 911) to address the retrofitting of existing airliners and work to install primary barriers on cargo aircraft,” said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, on June 14. “Because ensuring that no terrorist—domestic or international—breaches another aircraft flight deck door again should be one of this nation’s highest security priorities.”

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

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