AN INSIDE GLIMPSE OF A PROFESSIONAL PILOT ASSOCIATION
An inside glimpse of a professional pilot association
Who would have thought that a 600-foot alteration of the departure track out of Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., could make the difference in almost completely eliminating accidental incursions of the infamous P-56, the prohibited airspace over the White House? As an added layer of prevention, pilots are also provided with better visual awareness via flight displays and procedures. How was this done? My pilots union, through coordination with our airline’s flight department, the FAA and the Secret Service, found the solutions. But this circumstance is just one of many in which my union has been an active participant.
Some of you might have preconceived notions when the word
union is mentioned. It conjures images of Jimmy Hoffa and corruption, picket signs, strikes and work stoppages. Union work is unfairly associated with inefficiency and lack of production. “It must be a union job,” is a catchphrase oftentimes used when the work involves higher wages and/ or the work is behind schedule.
Unfortunately, a handful of labor associations have contributed to these connotations, so all unions get lumped into one category. But all are not the same. Granted, a labor organization’s primary purpose is to collectively represent and bargain for its members, but unions exist because employers don’t always treat their employees fairly.
Beyond wages and work rules, labor organizations have been responsible for positive changes in their industries. In that regard, I’d like to present just a small sampling of the positive contributions that my pilots union is making to the airline industry and to the pilot profession. You can be the judge as to the value of my organization. A majority of the credit described in the next few paragraphs belongs to the volunteers of the safety committee.
In an effort to keep track of events affecting our airline in real time, my association constructed a safety operations center using the latest in available technology. Everything from an accident to a security event to a hurricane can be monitored.
We have an active committee involved in accident investigation, participating as third-party representatives under the jurisdiction of the National Transportation Safety Board. Our union’s mobile application has a selection that provides the appropriate information and hot-linked phone numbers in the event one of our crews is involved with an accident or incident.
Participation in a turbulence task force has helped to mitigate passenger and crew injuries by using technological tools along with procedural changes.
For the past several years, the FAA has put emphasis on the effect of fatigue, mostly because of the factors discovered in the Colgan Air crash on February 12, 2009. As a result, the new rules, FAR 117, dictate regulations to mitigate fatigue degradation in the cockpit. Circadian rhythm was finally factored into the equation, for which many pilot associations advocated during the notice of proposed rule making process. Most airlines have integrated a fatigue risk management program into their FAA required safety management system.
Our pilots now have a nonjeopardy procedure in which they can declare fatigued before or during a trip. With the cooperation of the airline, my union analyzes fatigue calls with the objective of reducing the costly events by determining common denominators for their causes, such as an unrealistic trip schedule, a noisy layover hotel and so on.
At the Denver International Airport, our airline had some taxi safety issues. Working with the flight department, our union helped to change the taxi procedures and, as a result, saved the company approximately $1.8 million per year.
The RNAV/ATC safety team subcommittee, along with our airline management, the FAA, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Air Line Pilots Association and Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, is actively involved with certain IFR procedural aspects that include phraseology for SIDs and STARs. This subcommittee is also involved in large metroplex redesign projects, which as of this writing include Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Through the monitoring of onboard airplane data and ATC reports, a safety concern regarding incursions outside the floor of Class B airspace became apparent. When an IFR airplane leaves Class B airspace, it is no longer protected. This lack of protection can cause a conflict with VFR aircraft operating just outside the airspace. Most of the incidents occurred after a given flight was cleared for a visual approach. To mitigate this type of event by making crews more aware of the boundaries, the safety committee got Jeppesen to include Class B chart depiction for every airport included in that particular airspace rather than just for the primary airport. And with iPad geo-referencing available and FAA approval, the own-ship display will further enhance situational awareness.
On another front that has gained momentum because of an increase in reported incidents, the union is addressing the fume-event issue. A new checklist is in development for the Airbus to mitigate the potential effects of a fume event. New procedures are being formulated to address reporting and documentation. Training for pilots encountering fumes is being designed to educate them with reference to potential health reactions at the time of the incident and subsequent to the incident.
Our airline’s flight department publishes an online magazine highlighting various safety events and procedural issues that crews have experienced. The union has contributed numerous articles that provide realworld insight into colleagues’ cockpits with the intent of highlighting, and thus preventing, similar mistakes.
One of our hubs has been experiencing growing pains mostly related to volume of traffic in the ramp area. With joint cooperation from the company, members of the safety committee assisted in streamlining the operation by addressing problems with ramp entry and exit, hardstand markings, taxi-line markings, communications between ramp control and the ATC tower and appropriate verbiage between the cockpit and ground personnel.
Our airline’s Boeing 737s were occasionally experiencing hard landings and tail-strike events. (Although not uncommon, these events are rare and do not involve passenger or crew injuries, but mostly embarrassment for the pilot and high maintenance costs for the company.) Through the Flight Operations Quality Assurance program, analyzed data obtained from on board the airplane provided the factors involved with such occurrences. A downloadable FOQA computer profile was established that identified flights at risk so the crew could be called to discuss the circumstances and prevent a future event. This awareness was also incorporated into 737 training.
Beyond the safety aspect of union contributions, the association also uses volunteers in the “professional standards” committee. As with any workplace environment, conflicts occasionally occur. The objective of professional standards is to find a solution for such conflicts so that a full-blown company disciplinary proceeding doesn’t occur. Our domicile chief pilots oftentimes rely on the judgment of the committee and are advocates of its methodology.
And yes, the union does bargain for our lifestyle and compensation. But perhaps when you see a group of us holding a picket sign, rather than feeling resentment, you’ll consider the other contributions the union makes to ensure your safety and comfort as a passenger on our flights. We are your biggest advocates.