Above & Beyond: Why Trained for Life Matters

ALPA pilots are the best trained and most prepared in the world. They receive extensive training and flight experience – cross country, at night and by instrument – before they are qualified to be your pilot. All that training represents more than a smooth flight, it means they are ready when the unplanned happens. In this series, see how training and experience matter when pilots encounter the unexpected at 30,000 feet.

Keep Flying Safe

Don’t let Congress reduce first officer qualification requirements or eliminate pilots from our airliners with FAA Reauthorization. The safety of Americans should always come first.

Three Things Congress Should Do to Keep Flying Safe: ALPA opposes three threats to the safety of American skies

By: Captain Tim Canoll, Air Line Pilots Association President

America’s skies remain the safest in the world, in large part because they are filled with highly trained and skilled pilots who bring years of flying experience to the cockpit.

These pilots are the most critical safety feature on any airplane. Whether they carry passengers or cargo, today’s airliners have highly sophisticated technology designed to keep them on the flight path and their systems running smoothly through every kind of weather. But nothing beats well-trained pilots working together. A commercial pilot flying in the United States today is required to have a minimum number of flight experience hours, and every commercial flight must have both a qualified pilot and copilot at the controls.

But unfortunately, I fear that many people take for granted how confident they can be in the safety of their flights. They certainly aren’t aware that today’s strict safety regimen is due in no small part to the persistent advocacy of pilots. And I think they would be surprised and alarmed to learn how vulnerable these essential safety requirements are to change by a Congress responding to pressure from special interests.

The Threat to Air Safety

From where I sit, there are three ways the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization that Congress is moving forward could fundamentally undermine the integrity of flight safety:

1. By reducing the amount of flight experience required for first officers

If pilots are not properly equipped and trained to operate technology and experienced in its use, then the plane doesn’t work at all.

One of our top priorities is to uphold the current experience and qualification standard for pilots because of what we intuitively know: well-trained pilots enhance safety. If pilots are not properly equipped and trained to operate technology and experienced in its use, then the plane doesn’t work at all.

But there are some in our industry who believe that reducing the amount of flight experience and qualification requirements makes good business sense—because it will make filling vacant pilot positions easier by getting pilots in the cockpit faster. We couldn’t disagree more. In the 20 years before these high standards were set, more than 1,100 passengers lost their lives in airline accidents. Since the United States boosted pilot qualification requirements eight years ago, there has not been a single passenger fatality on a commercial airline as a result of pilot training. It’s not even a close call.

No one is more committed to ensuring that we have an adequate supply of pilots and other aviation workers to keep aviation strong, but that should never come at the expense of air safety.

2. By requiring a program to remove pilots from the cockpit and rely on computer programmers to fly planes

Single-piloted operations should be totally unacceptable to the American public because they are unsafe.

All pilots agree that there is no scenario in which one pilot in a cockpit is safer than two. Yet some lawmakers are proposing to move forward a program that would support single-piloted flight operations. And they want taxpayers to fund it.

A recent NASA study that simulated single-pilot flying with today’s flight decks has already concluded that it is “not nominally acceptable due to the significant task demands and workload.”

Flight safety requires split-second decisions, tightly coordinated collaboration between copilots, and a high degree of nonverbal communication. Our current remote-flying technology does not allow those conditions. And just because some planes can fly remotely and autonomously today doesn’t mean it’s the right or safe thing to do on cargo or commercial fights. Single-piloted operations should be totally unacceptable to the American public because they are unsafe.

3. By failing to close a loophole that allows airlines to pick a “convenient” country as home base to avoid tough tax, labor, and safety regulations

When carriers look to base their airlines in a country that provides a beneficial regulatory structure, their operations could have less oversight and lower standards for safety.

This scheme that some foreign airlines use goes by an unusual name: flags of convenience. These airline companies select countries where they base their operations, even if it’s not their actual home, to take advantage of weaker regulatory regimens.

Doing this threatens passenger safety and the jobs of 151,000 U.S. airline employees. We cannot risk the U.S. airline industry for the benefit of foreign air carriers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation should be required by law to close the flag-of-convenience loophole by ensuring foreign air carrier permits are in the American public’s interest and, as a result, preventing the further proliferation of airlines with this business scheme from flying to and from the United States.

We believe that, like pilots, Congress has the best interest of the American public in mind. We don’t believe they would knowingly put passengers at risk. But they don’t have the front-row seat to the realities of air safety that pilots have. By sharing our unique perspective, we passionately remind our representatives what’s actually at risk. They need to know how some industry interests threaten to undermine the best air safety record in the world.

We’re speaking out because maintaining that record is part of our job.

Airline pilots make our skies the safest in the world

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