Flying - - CONTENTS - By Les Abend

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.

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