Science Over Politics: Confirm Landsberg to NTSB

Congressional questioning of NTSB nominee reveals Congressional hyprocricy

By Kathryn B. Creedy

A slightly refreshing breeze wafted through Capitol Hill recently during Senate hearings on the nomination of Bruce Landsberg to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). He comes to the post after a distinguished career as president of the AOPA Foundation, executive director of the AOPA Foundation Air Safety Institute and long years ferreting out the cause of fatal accidents and offering up solutions to prevent future accidents.

Why is he so refreshing? He bluntly called the 1500-hour rule a solution in search of a problem and the lack of pilot qualifications a non-issue, echoing numerous other aviation safety experts, including the NTSB, who have dared to say the same thing.

 

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NTSB Nominee Bruce Landsberg took fire from senators for his comments the 1500-hour rule is a solution in search of a problem.

Of course, this opinion raised the ire of senators who asked for an explanation. Most vocal was Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) who attempted to score political points by lambasting the nominee’s position.

The hearings also served to expose Congressional hypocrisy.

Ironically, Duckworth outed her own contradictory positions on aviation safety since it is Congressional meddling that has inserted politics into aviation safety.

Congress sends mixed signals on NTSB

“Congress has given NTSB a unique mission to prioritize safety above all other concerns,” said the Senator from Illinois. “And NTSB’s role in providing clear guidance to Congress and the public on what is the safest course of action, irrespective of costs or political hurdles, is incredibly valued.”

Congress should heed its own advice – prioritize on safety above all other concerns – including politics that falsely suggests Congress is looking out for aviation safety. For the past seven years, it has preferred politics over safety and studiously ignored studies warning the rule has been counterproductive and actually compromises safety.

On one hand, she lauds the impartiality of the NTSB yet ignores the opinion of then-board chair Deborah Hersmann, who testified against the 1500-hour rule. By criticizing Landsberg, she again signals this supposedly impartial, do-what-is-best-for-safety agency should not do its job in applying science to this controversial rule.

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Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) There is so much to admire about Senator Duckworth but her stance on aviation safety is not one of them.

Likewise, she, conveniently uses NTSB’s impartiality as a reason to oppose Landsberg but then, just as conveniently, ignores it when those at NTSB – the real arbiters of aviation safety – who testified an arbitrary minimum number of hours is a poor metric of pilot quality. Congress also ignored protests by the FAA, which echoed Hersmann’s testimony that there have been many accidents where pilots had 20,000 hours and still made mistakes. The FAA’s Office of Accident Investigation and Prevention (AVP) found little relationship between the 1,500-hour requirement and airplane accidents.”

In questioning Landsberg’s contentions about the 1500-hour rule, Duckworth, in fact, is violating her own stated desire to keep politics out of the NTSB because she does not like what it says. This is ironic, especially since the two pilots involved in the crash had far more than 1500 hours. In fact, the Colgan accident had far more to do with commuting than hours, which immediately became victim of the Congressional and ALPA politics despite NTSB findings commuting was an issue in the Colgan accident.

To his credit, Landsberg said he believed in “performance-based regulation as opposed to an arbitrary, one-size-fits-all rule.”

Indeed, that is exactly how aviation safety was once governed. Apply rules in a common-sense way to fit the operation. What would work for the major airlines would not necessarily work for the regionals or general aviation so tailor the goal to meet the differences in the operation so safety can be improved at all levels.

That is not what happened in 1994 after the industry experienced four accidents – two at the major airlines and two at regionals. Conveniently ignoring the mainline accidents, ALPA again went after the regionals and turned on its head the reasoning that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all safety regulation. The result was more abandoned communities.

Landsberg elaborated on his comments, saying all pilots (that means both before and after the rule) face the same certification requirements. He added pilots could take different paths to prove their skills, just as members of other professions don’t all go to the same schools.

“I don’t want this to be construed as I’m not in favor of high standards. I am,” Landsberg testified. “But I think it becomes no degradation of safety — that’s my litmus test — that people can meet the performance requirements as opposed to just saying you have to have 1,500 hours no matter what.”

Finally, he promised legislators he would “give independent safety recommendations on flight training without regard to industry wishes or political considerations,” according to Politico’s Morning Transportation Report (MTR). Let’s hope so.

Just the facts, Ma’am

Duckworth also needs to get her facts straight. MTR reported Duckworth cited 154 accidents in the eight years before the rule. The NTSB cited only six, three of which had nothing to do with pilot skills but were mechanical.

I queried Duckworth’s office suggesting such an important data point would have shown up before. I was right to question the gentle lady from Illinois. Turns out it was not the number of accidents but the number of fatalities illustrated by a chart, you guessed it, supplied by ALPA, according to her spokesperson Mark Copeland. Hardly an unbiased party given its entire effort was specifically designed to create a pilot shortage to win back regional flying for major airline pilots, however economically nonsensical that is.

Duckworth said the lack of accidents after the rule was proof enough that the rule worked, a favorite message from ALPA. But, anyone who has been in aviation safety for more than a minute knows there is always more to the story and restricting your argument to a single factoid is inaccurate if not, as in this case, purposely misleading.

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Source: Office of Tammy Duckworth Numbers don’t lie. They do if you leave out the rest of the story.

A quick look at the chart reveals a few things. First, is attributes the lack of accidents since 2010 solely to the 1500-hour rule. You will note that no accidents – regional or larger – happened after 2009. But the rule did not go into effect until 2013. What happened?

Airlines were incorporating safety procedures such as safety management systems and other data-centric safety programs along with new technology in addition to the industry-led increased training footprint which added roll upset and stall recovery, two recommendations from the NTSB. These are recommendations aimed at the entire aviation industry, by the way, not just regionals, because pilot skills have been cited as causative in larger airline accidents. Ms. Duckworth and ALPA conveniently ignore the hard industry work because it had nothing to do with hours.

ALPA titled this chart Numbers Don’t Lie, ironic since it ignores one simple truth – the industry got the job done without the 1500 rule. But that doesn’t fit to ALPA’s narrative which also does not recognize industry efforts to increase safety in the immediate wake of the Colgan accident. If Duckworth and ALPA were truly honest they would have pushed the vertical dash line to the right to 2013 when the 1500-hour rule became effective.

No one will argue there should be zero fatalities, but, using Duckworth’s own yardstick, Landsberg is right. The rule is a solution in search of a problem. 

What also bothered me about Duckworth’s misrepresentation was the assumption regionals were hiring 250-hour pilots. While that may have been allowed under the old rule. Does she have stats to suggest they actually were?

Why would airlines hire 250-hour pilots when there has been a surplus since the late ‘90s. The industry has been warning about pilot shortages for decades but it dodged three major pilot shortage threats, which meant airlines had the pick of the litter.

When pilot supplies tightened in the late ‘90s, the economy nose-dived with the Dot.com bust. That was followed shortly thereafter by 9/11 and the serial bankruptcies and industry consolidation that ensued when pilots were screaming about furloughs.  Regionals were able to find plenty of pilots with plenty of time. The industry did not truly stabilize until about 2014/15 and so, too, did airline employment which was followed by true industry growth that was more than just recovery from the Great Recession.

Erring on the side of true honesty in this debate you should know regionals were advertising for 250-hour minimum for right-seat pilots. Even so, the fact that Colgan pilots had many more than 1500 hours makes that irrelevant, as noted by both the NTSB and FAA when they said pilots with thousands of hours still make mistakes.

Focusing on the goal – improved safety

Landsberg has yet to be confirmed which is a shame. During the RACCA annual meeting in 2016, NTSB’s Deputy Director Office of Aviation Safety John DeLisi made it clear the yeoman work done by the commercial aviation industry has paid dividends in improved safety. He said this allows the board to concentrate on general and business aviation.

Landsberg’s experience in this area is needed and he would be a valuable asset to the board’s efforts. The sooner he is confirmed the better.

 

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Regional operators vital to UPS operations, small communities

 

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By Kathryn B. Creedy

Few understand the critical nature of regional air cargo operations in the United States better than UPS, which delivers more than 2.7 million packages by air on an average day. The express giant relies on these partners to deliver time-sensitive shipments, including medical supplies and other life-sustaining products to local hospitals around the country. Its regional partners, most members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), also help it fulfill the demands of online shoppers who increasingly expect fast delivery for their orders.

With multiple regional carriers serving small-town and medium cities around the world, UPS has 100 gateways just in the United States in addition to hubs at Ontario, CA, Rockford, IL, Louisville, KY, Philadelphia, PA, Columbia, SC and Miami, FL. And it is working with regional carriers to ensure the next generation pilot pipeline.

“Regional cargo carriers are an important part of the UPS network,” said UPS Spokesperson Jim Mayer. “They are an important part of our network throughout the US, in less populated areas where it is impractical to use a UPS cargo jet or to ferry packages over the road. Without regional carriers, large geographic areas of the country would not have access to UPS’s express network, which offers next day delivery nationwide. Because of the distances involved, ground transportation is not a feasible alternative. In order to be delivered by the following day, the volume must go by air. Healthcare shipments to rural hospitals are an example of the critical packages carried by regional cargo carriers.”

Mayer pointed to one route that could not be served without its regional air cargo partners. “One of our longer feeder aircraft flights is Winnemucca, NV (WMC) to Ely, NV (ELY), to Salt Lake City (SLC), UT,” he said. “An express package shipped from Winnemucca would go via small feeder air carrier to Salt Lake and, depending on the final destination, would head via a UPS jet to our regional hub in Ontario for Western delivery or our Worldport hub in Louisville, for delivery to the rest of the country. WMC to SLC is 353 miles or a five-hour drive. Given the distance, it is not possible for a package shipped from Winnemucca and transported over the road to make it to SLC in time to make the connection with the UPS jet. Transportation by small feeder aircraft is the only feasible way to ensure that package is delivered overnight.”

Developing programs for the pilot pipeline

The relationship with “Big Brown” and regional carriers goes far beyond how regionals deliver for UPS, however. UPS and Ameriflight, one of the largest regional cargo carriers, recently announced their intent to expand a pilot development program put in place earlier this year. Ameriflight, along with all regional carriers, has had a difficult time staffing its pilot corps.

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There are two phases to the gateway program with Phase One being for UPS interns who fly for Ameriflight for a number of years and then flow back to UPS Airlines. “Phase Two of the program is for any current or future Ameriflight pilot who wants to eventually move on to UPS and much larger aircraft,” said Ameriflight CEO Brian Randow. “We feel it will be a true success in helping with the pilot shortage. Phase Two will be completed by the end of the year and pilot selection begins in January.”

The UPS-Ameriflight Pilot Gateway Program is the first in the major/regional cargo industry, and helps to address that shortage.

“Promoting pilot careers is important for the long-term health of the aviation industry, and this program is a unique strategy to help ensure highly skilled pilot staffing into the future,” Capt. Roger Quinn, UPS Airlines Director of Training.

The practice of developing pilot gateway programs has gained increasing popularity amongst regionals and the UPS/Ameriflight effort means Ameriflight pilots who successfully complete the program qualify for the guaranteed interview with UPS Airlines, subject to its hiring needs and the candidate meeting all program and hiring requirements. Ameriflight has similar arrangements with Allegiant Air, Omni Air and Frontier.

While specific details for Phase Two have yet to be completed, Phase One of the UPS/Ameriflight Gateway Program offers a path under UPS Airline’s Intern Program. After completing a UPS internship, pilots get Part 135 flying experience at Ameriflight while preparing for a potential career at UPS. Pilot candidates get the benefit of UPS mentorships with the giant freight operator’s flight-qualified management team and chief pilots.

“We are particularly excited about this partnership with UPS and the opportunity it affords us,” says Ameriflight Chief Operating Officer Bill Poerstel. “This agreement will allow us to turn UPS interns into Ameriflight pilots, ultimately helping to support UPS for years to come.”

After completing the UPS internship, pilots are eligible for employment at Ameriflight where they gain the type of experience – keeping to schedules, decision making and building hours – that airlines are looking for. Pilots who work for regional carriers are seen to be far better prepared for an airline career than those who build their hours in non-airline pursuits such as towing banners or traffic reporting.

Regional cargo operators and large integrators such as UPS have created a symbiotic relationship not only to serve the critical, life-saving needs of the medical community as well as consumers but to encourage pilot careers and ensure a steady pipeline of professional pilots into the future.

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Ameriflight sees airline workforce crisis

Pilot shortage puts break on economic growth

By Kathryn B. Creedy

What would you say about a company that had to pass on a 12% growth opportunity, which would yield 60 new, high-quality jobs? Crazy, right?

Well, this is the case for Ameriflight, which is suffering the worst pilot shortage in its history. Without enough pilots, it is unable to grow its business for its major customers, which include FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Dallas-based airline Ameriflight is an illustration of what ails a critical part of our economic infrastructure, the cargo industry — specifically the small-package cargo delivery systems that connect consumers with their online orders and the medical community with life-saving medicines that cannot be shipped by ground. In fact, it is likely that that package you ordered online may not get there as fast as it does now.ameriflight-logo-fathead-high-res-transparent“I see air cargo continuing to grow which will significantly increase demand for additional lift,” said President and CEO Brian Randow. “We are constantly asked to do more, and are watching very closely as Amazon adds a fleet of 40 new 767 cargoliners to the industry. As online shopping continues to grow, more and more overnight demand will be needed. Additionally, the U.S. economy is starting to see positive growth driving demand for air cargo up. The problem is there aren’t enough pilots to meet the demand.”

Why it matters

So what if small package and regional airlines can’t find captains and first officers to pilot their planes? That means that, without pilots for such airlines as Ameriflight and the rest of its brethren in the regional air cargo industry, air cargo cannot expand even as online ordering is exploding. It means that some communities will be out of reach of the long arm of package delivery services.

An acute pilot shortage has already meant more than 30 communities have lost their connection to the global air service with the resulting negative impact on their economies. And, it means that both regional passenger and cargo carriers have to turn away business because they simply cannot find pilots.

It won’t stop there, however, because experts expect U.S. low cost and major airlines will have to stymie their growth plans for the same reason, putting a considerable break on the overall economic growth. Delta’s recent pronouncement that it may hire 25,000 pilots is laughable since there are only about 18,000 pilots in the entire regional airline industry from which they get many of their pilots.

“We had the opportunity to bid on 15 new routes in the last year,” said Randow. “But we had to turn down the bidding. Those new routes would have meant a 12% increase in business and hiring 20 pilots, 30 aviation maintenance technicians and 10 line service and administrative personnel.”

“We’ve been short pilots for the past year,” he continued. “We’ve been forced to turn away new business, and get very creative in finding ways to cover our existing business. Our studies suggest that a pilot looking for a new flying job gets four offers before accepting one. We hold new-hire classes each month. For those classes, 25% of the pilots that accept a position do not show up. When we ask them why, they tell us they got another offer that they liked more.”

Pay no longer an issue

Ameriflight is one of the largest members of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA), employing 450 full time and 90 part-time and temporary staff while its 163 aircraft fly nearly 80,000 flights annually.

Some say the problem is pay but that’s baloney. New-hire salaries average above $60,000 annually in the regional industry. This is a new phenomenon as federal regulations have severed the pipeline between fledgling pilots and professional flying jobs. In fact, regional airlines are rivaling their major-carrier counterparts in the double-digit percentage increases in pilot pay during the latest pilot contract cycle.

Surprisingly for such a high-tech, high-skill profession, pilots are paid by the hour. Today, new-hire regional pilots are averaging between $40 and $80 per hour, according to Airline Pilot Central. That rate would be the envy of many middle class workers.

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Ameriflight, like many airlines, is boosting pay by 30%, expanding signing bonuses and offering $20,000 retention bonuses. Its starting salary for new hires may be $44,000 but, with bonuses and credits, salaries average $55,000 to start a career that has the potential to pay over $200,000 annually. And, pilots only have 80 hours of flying duty per month with major carriers.

Ameriflight created a world-class recruiting department, expanding from a single recruiter to a seven-person department focusing on providing opportunities for students at its 10 partner schools.

It created the Ameriflight Pulling for the Future Scholarship Program in 2016 and awarded $21,500, providing much needed funding for students.

It has established new flow-through agreements with Omni Air, Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines through which pilots can not only be hired by Ameriflight but be streamlined to airline partners when they are ready. Ameriflight is now working closely with current customers to develop new flow-through programs that have already seen pilots move to the major cargo carriers.

Pilots demand better quality of life 

But pay is not the only consideration for would-be pilots. In a significant departure from previous generations, pilots worry as much about quality of life as they do about pay, which has resulted in a seismic shift in employment policies at airlines.

“Quality of life basically means days off and the ability to live in the place of their choosing,” said Randow. “Our goal is to get to a pilot schedule that is four days on and three days off each week. We are working with our partners to create schedules that are four-day work weeks based on flight schedules that operate Monday afternoon to Friday morning giving the pilot Friday afternoon to Monday morning off.”

Randow, however, is not standing still. Last year, in an effort to centralize operations in the middle of the country, Ameriflight completed its move from Burbank, CA, to Dallas.

“Our focus in 2016 was to increase safety performance, improve employee satisfaction, define and improve how we do business and upgrade the tools we use,” Randow said, adding the company could not have accomplished what it did without strong support from its major customers. “We invested over $1 million in a new pilot training program, redefined our pilot work rules, and either promoted from within or brought on new leadership in many key positions. This is a new Ameriflight positioned to succeed in these very challenging times.”

The millions who shop online do not think about the cargo industry, despite the fact it moves $5.7 trillion worth of goods worldwide ever year. That is 35% of the world trade by value, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Consumers take for granted that the order they placed last night will arrive in a couple of days. But the growing shortage of pilots puts all that in jeopardy.