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

 

747-8F First Flight

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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The care and feeding of the NeXters you want to hire

By Kathryn B. Creedy

During the annual meeting of the Regional Cargo Carriers Association in Scottsdale, Dr. Mark Taylor regaled attendees about the characteristics and issues of GenXers/Millenials, how they differ from previous generations and what recruiters can do about it.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

As I read over his comments, I couldn’t help but remember an old friend from the bookshelf – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The story is about a mouse who takes more and more – If you give a mouse a cookie…He’s gonna want a glass of milk….

It struck me that this might just be a way to recruit and engage potential and current employees. If there were a bottom line to Dr. Taylor’s comments is that NeXters – those born between 1987 and 2005 – it is the fact they want a mission. Give them a mission and they will focus on how they can contribute to that mission.

Understanding what makes them tick

So, what is a recruiter to do? First understand where they are coming from and the fact that we created them by insulating them from the dangers and realities we perceived in the world. We also overindulged them by giving them trophies for participation rather than achievement. This resulted in an inflated vision of their importance and their value but also created fragile egos that must now be stroked.

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NeXters have fragile egos but overinflated sense of their skills and abilities.

They are a fragile and anxious preferring technology to socialization. That means employers have to socialize them and teach them the realities and expectations of the workplace without discouraging them. They are tech oriented, used to high stimulation and multitasking but that doesn’t necessarily translate into effective contributions to the company.

The mission for regional cargo operators is to help them understand your role in the economy and how they can not only maintain that link between Amazon and a consumer’s order but deliver important medical supplies that can save lives. But that has to be laced with a healthy dose of the NeXter’s perspective which means they want to know one thing — WIIFM – what’s in it for me.

It must be understood that their number one goal is economic because their situation is compounded by high college debt. While high salaries are hard to do, companies can focus on the mission and their role.

What’s in it for them? The value of cargo carriers is they give pilots the type of experience that airlines demand. They gain schedule, PIC and leadership/decision-making experience that airlines want in their new hires. They gain the discipline and airline culture that they can’t find as a flight instructor, traffic reporter or by flying banners. Working for you makes them more marketable.

There are a few things that are important to know about the talent that is out there. The personal leadership, interpersonal skills and institutional knowledge which characterized Baby Boomers is retiring and taking everything with them. Indeed, according to Taylor, they had no one to whom they could pass it on to because GenXers didn’t want the added responsibility or commitment that came with it. That means these boomers can play an important role in mentoring the NeXters, who want to be involved in the mission.

What characterized GenXers was their work-to-live mentality compared to Baby Boomers who were all about the big picture and contributing to the success of the organization. Boomers were live-to-work but the GenXers swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. They were loath to take on responsibility much less the big picture. They also rejected President John F. Kennedy’s message – ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country.

Treading carefully

Today, the NeXters, as Dr. Taylor calls them, are the Xers 2.0 and they exhibit what recruiters already know – quality of life is all important to them.

“NeXters and Millennials are same age cohort,” he said. “X came before but are not better or worse. X came up in a tough time to be a kid and tend to be adaptable pragmatic scrappers. Very direct and task oriented. My only concern is that their task orientation may not inspire NeXters at the mission level, and that they may be a little too blunt with NeXters. NeXters can do great things if properly inspired and have a great future because they are so skilled and in demand.”

NeXters are adaptable, however. They must be engaged with both important tasks and with people. They are willing to accept additional responsibility and have a healthy mix of motivations which combines what is in it for them with the willingness to contribute to the cause.

They, said Taylor, want to change the world and, because they don’t know how, it is up to employers to help them do it. He advised talking about the mission at the company level, the department level and their task level and how it all contributes to the mission.

Taylor said the most important thing is to get them involved quickly with people and meaningful tasks. Employers should also let peers establish the work expectations.

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Source: Dr. Mark Taylor

“Employers only have to train one employee,” he said. “Then that employee, who is also a peer, can train the others. It is much more effective since they might respect what the hear from someone that is like them.”

He also cautioned against rushing them ahead of their abilities but, instead, gradually increasing responsibilities. NeXters also want a positive atmosphere which is why Silicon Valley has been so successful – it creates a positive atmosphere and sees to the needs of employees that helps them be more productive.

Taylor also cautioned that criticism should be replaced with effective correction given the inflated self esteem but fragile egos these employees have. He also said employees hold the balance of power – they can quit – because they are in greater demand than ever before so these techniques are becoming increasingly important.

Employers, he advised should defer rewards like starting bonuses but that is easier said than done in today’s hiring environment. Such rewards are here to stay and must be offered to remain competitive.

He advised hiring fast because there are a lot of opportunities out there for the most qualified and in-demand applicants. Of course, operators already know that from viewing the empty seats in training classes for new hires that decided not to show up because of a better opportunity. But constant communication from the interview on could help bridge the gap between interview and reporting for duty. Each communication should emphasize the mission and their role in completing that mission. These constant touch points help to build a relationship and by extension a nascent loyalty. It helps them feel needed.

Taylor makes three main points about hiring and working with NeXters:

  • Recognize that they are less experienced with workplace structures, expectations and “authority” issues than earlier cohorts
  • They need to connect with positive people (peers and mentors) who are free with praise and encouragement, especially early
  • They need to understand and buy into the mission/purpose of the company.  How does this company make the world a better place?

He advised companies might consider something between an internship and full-time employment to help them ease into the workplace and to help the company evaluate and socialize them. Maybe half time at lower pay with a three-to six-month bonus when they go full time.

“The whole deficit of pilots and pilot students is somewhat mystifying,” he said. “I would love to fly and am getting my mind around that too few young people seem interested. What we did with STEM for a similar problem was reach back to high school or even earlier so that is something companies should consider. Develop a model to start Flying Clubs in high schools, connected with local pilots and instructors to engage and mentor prospects early.

In fact, this “reach-back” strategy is perhaps one of the most important things any aviation company can do – promote themselves in their local communities, become embedded in local schools since superintendents nationwide are now scrambling to create STEM programs that offer meaningful life experience. It is in fostering the aviation interest in the next generation that will reap the largest rewards because that close relationship will create the loyalty that otherwise may not be there.