Sunday, June 14, 2009

Editorial Comment

----- Original Message -----
From: Dan Hanley
Cc: Calvin L. Scovel ; Senator Byron Dorgan ; Rich Swayze ; Senator Johnny Isakson ; Senator Daniel Akaka ; Captain John Prater ; Senator Claire McCaskill ; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee ; Congressman Jerry Costello ; Congressman Lynn Westmoreland ; Congressman Westmoreland ; FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt ; FAA Whistleblower Alliance ; Matthew Wald ; David Cay Johnston ; David Cay Johnston ; Rocci Fisch ; Captain Steve Wallach ; Captain Jeff Barath ; Captain Joseph Genovese ; UAL Board ; Pete McDonald ; Paul Lovejoy ; Glenn Tilton
Sent: Sunday, June 14, 2009 2:02 PM
Subject: Whistleblowing Airline Employees Association


"Patriotism and Freedom of Speech in Action"

Editorial Comment

On June 11, 2009, the United Airlines Board of Directors held their annual shareholders meeting in Chicago where many of its employees were seen picketing, in addition to attending the meeting during which select employees were given the opportunity to pose questions to senior level management regarding operational concerns that included alleged degradation of airline safety as a direct result of decisions reached by upper-level airline managers who have no direct experience as a line captain at that airline.

Below is a direct quote excerpt from the website of the Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing United Airlines flight attendants, including 55,000 flight attendants at 21 carriers in the United States.

“Some pilots expressed concern about being scrutinized and intimidated after making decisions to refuse aircraft for safety concerns. The response from Kolchak, the Senior Vice President in charge of maintenance, was that United would change its training so that every pilot accepts an aircraft when the minimum equipment list standards are met instead of allowing Captains to use their discretion as empowered by the FAA. Kolchak said United would never put a plane on the line that wasn’t fit to fly and acknowledged the Captain’s discretion was being questioned.”

In July, 2008, United Airlines filed suit in Chicago resulting in a federal judge ruling that implicitly added undue pressures on line captains with regard to ensuring on-time departures from the gate for fear of being held in contempt of the judge’s ruling perhaps sometime in the future. Recently, United Airlines management suspended continued legal response to a threat of appeal of this ruling by ALPA until a contract settlement might hopefully reached sometime late this year, but with the impending threat of potential legal action should the need arise.

Reports have been received from United Airline line captains of flight managers appearing in the cockpit just prior to aircraft pushback to question the captain’s judgment and authority for delaying a flight for operational safety, but in compliance with federal aviation regulatory requirements.

Conversely, a report was received from one United B-777 captain of a situation at the gate in San Francisco with an FAA Air Carrier Inspector occupying the cockpit jump seat for a routine check ride of the cockpit crew. Just prior to pushback, the purser entered the cockpit to advise the captain that a light bulb in the forward lavatory had burnt out, but there was still adequate illumination in this facility. The FAA Air Carrier inspector informed the captain that this discrepancy must be entered into the aircraft log book and signed off by maintenance personnel or the light bulb replaced before pushback. He went on to remark that if one of these actions were not performed, then the captain would receive a flight violation for noncompliance with federal aviation regulations pertaining to this situation. Other similar reports have been received also.

Additionally, it was recently reported in the news of an incident involving a United captain several years ago that was allegedly removed from the line for reporting unsafe conditions at United Airlines to United Airlines management, ALPA, and the FAA-appointed Principle Operation inspector, but was subsequently placed in a ‘medically grounded’ status at that airline. The Department of Transportation Inspector General and the FAA are currently investigating this matter, and relevant congressional committee chairmen have been advised. But recent advisement from a DOT IG staff member has suggested that this investigative process sometimes takes as long as 30-180 days.

If Mr. Kolchak’s statements above are interpreted correctly, is it reasonable to assume that senior level United management with no line experience as a captain are now apparently abrogating the authority and discretion of the captain in questioning his operational decision to delay the departure of an aircraft from the gate for maintenance reasons? Although maintenance clearance of an aircraft for flight in consonance with Minimum Equipment List (MEL) for that segment of the flight is the responsibility and authority vested in that department, it is ultimately the authority and responsibility of the captain in making the final decision regarding brake release based on his assessment and analysis of the condition of the aircraft, but including other operational requirements he deems essential, above and beyond MEL requirements and in keeping with federal aviation regulations regarding maintenance issues that must be repaired before departure, lest he receive an FAA flight violation as noted above.

With the pressure exerted by threatened future legal action of contempt of court, coupled with this increased purported pressure by senior level management that apparently enables maintenance personnel to question captain’s discretion, it has become apparent to many that United Airlines pilots are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard spot. The implicit suggestion here is that situations could arise in the future where a captain is held in contempt for delaying a flight, or be violated for noncompliance with federal aviation regulations. What is the legal position of the FAA Principle Operations Inspector at United Airlines in this matter? If this persisting and degenerating situation continues, at what point in time will the Department of Transportation Inspector General and relevant congressional committees intercede on behalf of aircrew members and the travelling public? Hopefully this will occur immediately.

The recent Colgan Air tragedy divulged alleged suppression of line pilots and a maintenance inspector, which purportedly, as reported by the media, were issues that were ignored by the Federal Aviation Administration. Although recently confirmed Federal Aviation Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt affirmed that Aviation Safety Awareness Programs would be instated at all airlines in the United States, the issues addressed herein are very time-sensitive requiring the immediate attention and rectification of potential conflicts of interest regarding the safe carriage of passengers in commercial jet aircraft, while protecting the rights, responsibilities, and authority of pilots occupying the left seat.

At what point in time will members of Congress, the Department of Transportation, and senior level airline management come to grips with the reality of the potential threats to aviation safety, given the present reality for line aircrew members and employees? Hopefully, this awareness will not be presented to them with the loss of a wide-body aircraft sometime in the not-too-distant future. Government officials and airline management boast of the past record of safety in the industry, without recognition of the fact of the massive degradation of safety that has resulted from external threats and pressures being exerted. It has been duly noted by many that not one single active line or retired airline pilot from a trunk carrier, whose cumulative pilot experiences totals millions of years of line flight experience, have been permitted to testify before relevant congressional committees. Why? It is surmised by many pilots within our association and elsewhere that the travelling public would be more than a little disturbed by what they might learn from testimony of experienced line pilots, particularly with regard to what has transpired concerning external pressures that have been exerted during and after the post-9/11 bankruptcies to present.

With all due respect to their offices, members of Congress and the Department of Transportation have limited knowledge and no line experience as a commercial pilot. Consequently, it would seem reasonable that these agencies of government would be most eager to receive testimony from all available sources, given what has been reported recently in the media of pilot suppression and other matters in the aftermath of the Colgan Air disaster. Hopefully, Captain Sullenberger will address these same safety concerns in his upcoming book.

Numerous trunk airline first officers have privately admitted working full-time jobs outside their airline pilot employment as a result of taking up to a 60% reduction in pay the past several years. These outside jobs provide their primary source of income as augmented by their airline salary. Some of these same individuals have started their own businesses with the intent of resigning from their airline jobs at their earliest convenience, admitting that the continued harassment and intimidation, poor morale, working, and pay conditions, coupled with the instability within the industry no longer make the pilot job and extensive family separation attractive to them.

Additionally, senior active airline captains from trunk carriers are working minimum schedules to escape this hazardous environment, but must remain employed because they cannot afford to retire as a result of their pension and, in some cases ESOP stock loss, during the post-9/11 bankruptcy processes. Contrary to what some might imagine, it does count just how many times a pilot walks down the jet way in their career with regard to airline safety issues. Degradation of morale amongst cockpit and cabin crew as a result of extraneous pressures serves as a distraction and degradation to issues of safety. Anyone who has ever occupied either seat of a commercial jet aircraft realize this, while others with no line experience as a pilot cannot conceive of this being the case.

Unequivocally, issues of commercial aviation safety must necessarily be maintained in a vacuum without the impediment of external financial, legal, and political pressures and influences exerted on aircrew members wishing to report known safety deficiencies for fear of undue recriminations by management, the FAA, or contempt of implicit court ruling pressures, or possible dismissal via the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), as has been reported in the media of late. Unless current federal aviation regulations are amended to reflect a change in this regard, appropriate and immediate redress by some agency of the federal government is immediately imperative. Employees cannot afford to wait an additional 30-180 days for a DOT or congressional response. Airline pilots’ careers and passenger safety are otherwise at risk.

The first few sentences of the Air Line Pilots Association Code of Ethics thus state:

AN AIRLINE PILOT will keep uppermost in his mind that the safety, comfort, and well-being of the passengers who entrust their lives to him are his first and greatest responsibility.

He will never permit external pressures or personal desires to influence his judgment, nor will he knowingly do anything that could jeopardize flight safety.

He will remember that an act of omission can be as hazardous as a deliberate act of commission, and he will not neglect any detail that contributes to the safety of flight, or perform any operation in a careless or reckless manner.

Consistent with flight safety, he will at all times operate his aircraft in manner that will contribute to the comfort, peace of mind, and well-being of his passengers, instilling trust in him and the airline he represents.

Once he has discharged his primary responsibility for the safety and comfort of his passengers, he will remember that they depend upon him to do all that is possible to deliver them to their destination at the scheduled time.

If a disaster should strike, he will take whatever action he deems necessary to protect the lives of his crew and his passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration website contains the following statement:

Our Mission

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

Our Vision

We continue to improve safety and efficiency of flight. We are responsive to our customers and are accountable to the taxpayer and the flying public.

Our Values

· Safety is our passion. We are the world leaders in aerospace safety.

· Quality is our trademark. We serve our stakeholders, our customers, and each other.

· Integrity is our character. We do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

· People are our strength. We treat people as we want to be treated.

There are many in the airline industry who believe that careless misinterpretation and potentially harmful ignorance of federal aviation regulations that enables horrific and reckless scheduling of aircrew members resulting in crew fatigue, while usurping the authority of the captain, coupled with the incapacity of senior level airline management to recognize the inherent dangers in the situations that they have created as a result of poor decisions has created a potential recipe for the next major commercial airline disaster. Airline employees do, but need a voice in government to speak out on their behalf, as well as the millions who travel by commercial air.

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

~ Captain A. G. Lamplugh circa 1930 ~

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