Thursday, June 4, 2009

An Open Letter to Senator Dorgan

May 31, 2009
4204 Lakeside Way
Newnan, Georgia 30265

Senator Byron L. Dorgan - Chairman
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510


Dear Senator Dorgan,

I write to your office today regarding your upcoming June 10th subcommittee hearing on behalf of several former airline pilots whose airline careers were truncated as a consequence of their attempting to address aviation safety issues within their individual airlines via normal communicative channels legally encompassed by Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121, but were ignored, suppressed, or terminated from employment at their airlines. It has come to our attention the past few years that our cases are not isolated incidents of alleged government and airline wrongdoing, but has occurred numerous times over many years.

Because our careers were ruthlessly destroyed in this manner, while realizing that this method of suppression still exists within the industry, it is for this reason that it is hoped that you will permit others and myself to testify before your subcommittee on June 10, 2009, or at least consider this correspondence with attachments for inclusion in subcommittee documents as part of federal public records. As you well know, each airline has assigned an FAA Principle Operation Inspector (POI), whose oversight function is to ensure that all aspects of air carrier operations are conducted in a manner commensurate with the FAA mission statement:

“Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.”

In light of the fact that it was widely reported in the media that in the very recent past, Colgan Air pilots who attempted to report safety concerns at their airline were allegedly either fired, punished, and suppressed for speaking out while allegedly the FAA delayed processing of their Federal Aviation Administration Whistleblower Protection Reports, gives further evidence that this problem is systemic throughout the airline industry, which endanger the lives of the travelling public and aircrew members, and must necessarily be addressed by your subcommittee and others.

Additionally, as you may or may not realize, last year the pilot unions at Delta, UsAir, and American Airlines cancelled their Aviation Safety Awareness Programs (ASAP), an internal safety communicative process established to address pilot concerns within their individual airlines that implicates their assigned POI, as a result of recriminations suffered by reporting pilots. Several months ago, Delta Airlines reinstated their ASAP, but UsAir and American pilots have not yet done so. We can both agree that the travelling public would be outraged to learn that the US Airline Pilots Association, the union representing the 5,200 pilots at UsAir, cancelled ASAP just twenty-four days prior to Captain Sullenberger’s heroic and successful ditching of his A-320 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

Please be advised that I am in contact with numerous active airline pilots and retirees from all air carriers across the industry who have personally expressed their safety concerns regarding these matters to me and their desire to publicly address these same issues, but feel threatened and intimidated if they were to do so, given what has happened to those like me whose careers were destroyed by alleged collusion between airline management, the FAA, and possibly the pilot union at their carrier.

In my particular case, although it commenced in mid-2003 in the midst of the United Airlines bankruptcy, it must be emphasized that I was in fact addressing legitimate safety concerns in my ASAP reports, and allege that my reports were suppressed by United Airlines upper echelon management as a direct result of financial pressures being exerted in bankruptcy court, which denigrated the unions’ ability to represent my concerns. Please know also that I have credible supporting evidence and witnesses who will attest to this fact. The relevant issue here is thus. Unless I am mistaken, federal bankruptcy law does not trump Federal Aviation Regulations in the reporting of issues that address commercial aviation safety involving the safe carriage of passengers on commercial jet aircraft. If this is the case, then federal regulations must be amended to reflect this fact to preclude other pilots from reporting safety issues when perhaps their airline is in the midst of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings sometime in the future.

I have appended my personal affidavit, which has also been forwarded to Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and recently confirmed Federal Aviation Administrator J. Randolf Babbitt, as well as my home state of Georgia representatives Senator Saxby Chambliss, Senator Johnny Isakson, and Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, and a whole host of other government officials that have been copied on this letter and more.

On January 25, 2009, after the UsAir 1549 ditching, I wrote to Mr. Scovel the attached letter requesting a copy of an FAA Whistleblower Report that I had filed in April 2006, to which I had not received a response. On February 12, 2009, I received the attached email response from his office advising me that there was no record of my submitted report, while advising me to contact the FAA on this matter. Because of the almost two year delay since my first report, I filed a second FAA Whistleblower Report that only contained my affidavit and received an immediate email response from DOT that I have included as an enclosure, but have reiterated below:

“We have reviewed the information that you provided and entered your complaint into the OIG Complaint Center Operation's System, and will be directing an inquiry. Your hotline case number is 09IH-C24-000. Please refer to this number in all future correspondence with this office. The complaint process is sometimes lengthy due to the high volume of complaints our office receives and the time and effort required to ensure that all inquiries thoroughly address raised allegations. It is our policy not to provide updates during an open inquiry. When our inquiry is completed we will notify you in writing of our results. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.”

My concerns regarding aviation safety and the FAA oversight role in this matter are thus. Since my original 2006 report was ignored and supposedly lost, and since there has already been an almost two year delay, given that I have recently been advised that this review process ‘is sometimes lengthy due to the high volume of complaints’, will I be required to wait an additional two years before highly time-sensitive issues concerning the suppression of whistleblower complaints both within the airline, as well as the FAA, are thoroughly investigated by the DOT Office of Inspector General wherein I receive an appropriate government response? The court of public opinion will judge harshly should the next major commercial aviation air disaster involving a wide-body hull loss was the result of a previously reported safety issue that may have been suppressed by airline management and/or the FAA. I pray that this does not happen and hope that your subcommittee will address this very issue.

As mentioned previously, I am in contact with other airline pilots who would be willing to testify before the subject subcommittee hearing, but could also provide written testimony with supporting documentation, witnesses, and depositions for inclusion in committee records in lieu of public testimony. I have left voice mail with your senate staffer Frannie Wellings yesterday; whom I was informed was your subcommittee staffer that was receiving this information. Her voice mail recording indicated that she would be in North Dakota till June 1st and I was not certain of the deadline for submission of materials, hence I have written you today.

Please recognize that my aviation career commenced over forty years ago and crash-landed to an ending over five years ago, and from my first walk around a Cessna 150 in 1968 and throughout my Naval and commercial aviation career, safety has been engrained in my soul as a pilot, as has it been for all pilots throughout the industry. While recognizing that commercial aviation, unlike that of military aviation, is a bottom-line oriented commercial enterprise, airline managers and the FAA consistently resound in their public remarks that safety is their first and foremost priority in the conduct of their businesses. This smacks of hypocrisy, given what we have observed of late at Colgan Air, UsAir, and American Airlines and the testimony of many other pilots who have been suppressed or their careers ended for speaking out on public safety issues. Is the current actual level of quality of safety that passengers have been been promised by airline managers and the FAA truly commensurate with their corporate and mission statements? We think not.

Kindly recognize that my intent in addressing these issues is not to seek publicity or celebrity, reinstatement in my previous position as a United Airlines B-777 captain or financial remuneration of any type, but to address critically germane and time-sensitive issues of safety in the industry that others and I strongly feel must be addressed by your subcommittee. I could have turned my back and walked away from a 35-year career in aviation five years ago, but my conscience will not allow it, given what I have learned. Passenger lives are at risk and, although I may be ‘retired’ from the left seat, I will always be a pilot at heart and do not want to see other pilot’s careers truncated like mine and others.

In closing, if others and myself are not permitted to testify in either open or closed sessions of your subcommittee hearing, please include this correspondence with enclosures as part of your hearing documentation as part of public federal record. On behalf of over 60,000 airline pilots in the U.S., as well as the many other stifled pilot whistleblowers, thank you for holding this very much needed hearing on the FAA oversight of commercial air carriers. My involvement in this is but my small parting token gift in the name of aviation safety as a pilot in closing the final chapter of my long forty year career in aviation. I will patiently await a response from your senate subcommittee staff.

Very respectfully submitted,

Dan Hanley
Former United Airlines B-777 Captain and Naval Aviator

Encl: My affidavit dated February 16, 2009
Letter dated January 25, 2009 to Department of Transportation IG Calvin L. Scovel III
Email dated February 12, 2009 from the office of Department of Transportation IG

Cc: Senator John Rockefeller – Chairman, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and
Calvin L. Scovel III – Inspector General, Department of Transportation
Ray LaHood – Secretary, Department of Transportation
J. Randolf Babbitt – Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
Francis Wellings – Staffer, Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and
Glenn Fine – Inspector General, Department of Justice
Eric Holder – Attorney General of the United States
Robert Mueller – Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Kenneth Kaiser – Assistant Director, FBI Criminal Investigative Division
Robert Grant – Special Agent-in-Charge, Office of the Chicago FBI
Senator Claire McCaskill – Member, Senate Subcommittee on Transportation
Senator Johnny Isakson – Member, Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations,
Safety, and Security
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Senator Charles Grassley – Ranking Member, Committee on Finance
Senator Daniel Akaka – Chairman, Committee on Homeland Security/Govt Affairs
Congressman Jerry Costello – Chairman, House Aviation Subcommittee
Congressman Lynn Westmoreland – Member, House Aviation Subcommittee
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Transportation
Security and Infrastructure Protection
Barbara Hollingsworth – Reporter, Washington Examiner
Tom Devine – Legal Director, Government Accountability Project
David Hunter – Chairman, Project on Government Oversight
Gabe Bruno – Member, FAA Whistleblowers Alliance

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