The Way It Has To Be

An ALPAWatch Think Tank Paper


Executive Summary

Left unchecked, the downward pressure on the airline pilot profession will most likely result in these two situations:

  • A less safe airline industry
  • A less stable pilot workforce for that industry. 

The downward pressure presents itself in the form of greatly reduced wages, pensions, lifestyles and general disrespect for the profession.  The source of this pressure comes from a hostile economic environment for the industry, questionable airline management relying on short term goals, and bankruptcy laws.  To date, the pilot group/unions have had very limited success at resisting these forces.

Nevertheless it is in the best interest of the profession, the industry, the public and in the long term, even the shareholders, to return the pilot profession to a stable and sustainable position.  This proposal makes the case for and provides the concepts ALPA (mostly DAL ALPA) must embrace to return the pilot profession to a stable and sustainable position, thus ensuring that the pilot component of safety is as good in the future as it is now.  Among those concepts are:

  • Showing correlation and possible causation between pilot compensation and safety.
  • Reshaping the mindset of both ALPA and its members about what the union is and its role in their careers.
  • Explaining why it is the pilot’s responsibility to take the lead in returning this profession to a stable and sustainable position.
  • The reality of pilot compensation as a component of operating costs.
  • Why it is in Delta Air Lines best interest to adopt these concepts.
  • The average line pilot’s role in this proposal.

Objective of this Proposal

To return the Major Airline Pilot Profession to a stable and sustainable position.

This objective is attainable through these steps.

  • Define what elements cause a stable and sustainable pilot profession.
  • Re-organize the union (ALPA in this case) as necessary to peruse these concepts:

 

    • The long term goal is to bring about contracts that reflect a stable and sustainable pilot profession, verses the old school ideology of pattern bargaining, demand bargaining, value added, or just old fashion money grabbing.  Stable and Sustainable provides both the Motivation and Justification for setting the pilot compensation rates of the future.

 

    • The union is a business tool, a tool that collectively assists thousands of small business people (individual pilots with multi-million dollar careers) in managing those businesses.  The union is a white collar organization in partnership with airline management. 

Overview

In recent years, the airline industry, especially large major airlines, has been enjoying the greatest safety period in history.  The pilots flying the airplanes for the major airlines make an important contribution to this remarkable safety record.  They are an integral part of the system that is providing this safety record.  Unfortunately, that part of the system is in its early stages of decay.  Unless this profession is repaired, this decay will negatively impact the safety of commercial aviation in the future.  Preventing this from happening provides the pilots of Delta Air Lines with the justification and motivation for returning this profession to a stable and sustainable position. In other words, guide this profession to the way it has to be.  Not necessarily the way it was, not the way the pilots wish it to be, but the way it has to be.

Two U.S. accidents that occurred in early 2009 broke the longest accident free period in U.S. air travel history and stand in stark contrast to one another.  An Airbus 320 loses all thrust over one of the most congested metropolitan areas of the US and everyone survives a landing in the Hudson River.  A few weeks later, a mechanically sound Bombardier crashes, killing all aboard.  What is the stark difference between these two accidents?  Pilot experience.

Returning this profession to a stable and sustainable position will help assure more of the former outcomes and fewer of the later.

Making the Case

Does high or low pay really affect airline safety? How?
January 24th, 2009 Captain Sullenberger of the famed US Airway’s flight 1549 eloquently addressed a congressional committee.  He laid out his concerns about the future safety record of the airline industry.  He clearly let it be known that he believes the current economic status of the airline pilot’s careers will lead to degradation in safety.  Captain Sullenberger concluded his statement with this simple but very accurate statement. 

“In aviation, the bottom line is that the single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot.” 

 

His venue did not allow for him to fully explain why and how he believes this is true. (Click here for Captain Sullenberger’s complete testimony)  Captain Sullenberger can no doubt complete his thoughts on this subject and ALPA should ask him to do so.  In the meantime, here is ALPAWatch’s assessment.

There are three issues that go to the heart of this subject; Performance, Retention and Attraction of major airline pilots.

Performance
A public statement that high pay improves airline safety by assuring high performance on the part of pilots, and conversely low pay assures low performance falls flat.  It falls flat because that argument is not only simplistic but ludicrous.  Positive or negative correlations do not prove or disprove causation.

Nonetheless, the above statement is probably true.  Why?  Airline pilots are professionals, but that alone does not explain the great lengths they go to, to assure a safe operation.  Airline pilots jump through thousands of hoops everyday to safely execute their jobs.  Why?  Partly because they know those hoops make the operation safer.  But the bigger reason is to assure their continued employment.

As airline pilot professionals, we do everything we can to assure the safe outcome of every flight.  We don’t take chances.  We know that the best way to stay out of trouble in an airplane is to never take unnecessary risks.  That attitude carries over into how we conduct ourselves as employees.  Think about all the things you do just to make sure you stay out of trouble.  You never want to find yourself in the Chief Pilot’s office.  Most pilots don’t even want him/her to know their name.  The question is, why?

Think about all the things you do to make sure you are not the reason for a delayed or canceled flight, leaving the house early, back up flights, checking and rechecking your schedule.  Think about how you conform with the thousands of rules in the FOM that have nothing directly to do with safety, but have plenty to do with protecting your job.  Why do you do it?  Even though you might not have consciously thought about it, you do these things because you realize that this job is not replaceable, or at least that used to be the case.  The combination of compensation, lifestyle and seniority system made this job irreplaceable.  Even with all the missed Christmases, children’s activities, and nights in hotels, few ever quit this job.  Most considered quitting sometime in their careers, but viable options for similar pay were not available.

That is changing.  What if we lived in a world where it was replaceable?  What if your friend or neighbor said he could start you tomorrow at his firm for similar money?  Every night at home, holidays off, no roller bag attached to your hand, not having to take off some of your clothes to get into the office, no tests every year to see if you get to keep your job, no threat of having to go back to introductory wages if your employer runs your company into the ground.  Would pilot turnover (currently unheard of in our industry) increase?

The gap between what the airline profession currently has to offer and what other professions of similar education and responsibility pay has been working against the pilot profession for decades.  The Wall Street Journal ran an article in 2000 showcasing the top 10 professions that gained and lost the most earning potential in the 1990’s.  Airline pilots topped the list of losing the most earning power.  What do you think a similar study will show for the past decade?  Combine this loss of earning potential with no current plan to change it and the fact that other professions continue to pay more and more and you have a situation that is unlikely to attract the same caliber of people as it once did.  And don’t forget about fewer and fewer pilots available from the military. Those that are attracted don’t have the Delta, United or American at the top of their wish list for employment.  Today its FedEx, UPS and Southwest.

When this career provided the compensation, lifestyle and respect it once did, it was a job so good that no one in their right mind would do anything to risk losing it.  This is a tough industry with rigorous standards; standards that are demanded without question or exception.  Airline pilots, as a part of their everyday professional life, faithfully live up to those standards, and that is one of the greatest proponents to safety there is.  Pilots constantly study, review, and prepare themselves mentally and physically to perform all the required tasks as flawlessly as possible.  They come to work at any hour, at any location in the world, totally ready to do their jobs…and all completely unsupervised.  They do this partly out of professionalism but also because if they do not, they will have problems with their employer.  And as conservative as pilots are, they know that problems with their employer could lead to losing their jobs.  And that is unconscionable, unconscionable because there is no way to replace an airline pilot career.  It takes a lifetime to become a major airline pilot with any seniority.  If you lose that job, it’s over.  There is no recourse.  This looms large in the minds of pilots.  The self governance this factor plays in improving safety is incalculable, but most certainly it is a great contributor to safety and to assuring a stable workforce.
 
But what if that was not the case?  What if there was turnover, voluntary or from pilots being fired?  What if you could lose your job and easily replace the money?  What if there was an alternative career--a career that would pay the same or more?  And as an added bonus you are home for Christmas and Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July and you will not miss you kid’s birthdays, school plays and soccer games, etc? Have you ever flown with someone that would quit this job for those reasons if only there was a career alternative?  Are you one?  What problems might turnover cause for the future safety of the airline industry?  Without a plan to widen the gap between what a major airline pilot career has to offer and competing professions, the industry will suffer.

Retention
Turnover in the pilot profession at the major level is something the industry has not had to deal with in many, many decades.

Turnover would be damaging for two reasons.

First, it would break the experience base. Break that base and it will take decades to repair. The continuous flow of experience from 20 and 30 year Captains to First Officers is an immeasurable, intangible element of airline safety that can not be over emphasized.  With respect to airline safety, government requirements, technology improvements, more reliable aircraft, even exceptional training, all are secondary to the critical importance of experience.  At the major airlines that experience has been handed down in an unbroken chain for over 80 years.  Break that chain and you sail into uncharted waters.

Repairing a broken experience base rather than preventing a break from occurring, will require much more time, money and possible lives.

Second, turnover by definition means that pilots will be leaving their jobs.  When people are considering changing jobs/careers they are generally not as concerned with losing the job they have.  Would pilots of such a mind set approach their jobs with the same sense of professionalism and safety that they do today?  Would they be as worried about finding themselves in front of the Chief Pilot?  Would they miss a trip for personal reasons?  Would this decrease the stability airline managers expect and depend upon to operate an airline?

Might they take unnecessary risks in an airplane because they were not worried about getting fired?  The answer to all these questions is yes.  The lesser paid airlines and other segments of aviation provides us with many examples of this behavior.

We can get a glimpse of what turnover might do to safety by examining other areas of aviation that do not benefit from an unbroken experience base.

Commuter airlines.  The turnover at the commuter airlines is legendary, mostly because of low pay and poor working conditions.  Some get hired by the majors, but most simply go to other more rewarding careers.  They have never really enjoyed an unbroken experience base.  Their safety record reflects such.

Corporate aviation.  It seldom experiences unbroken experience base.  It often has the most up-to-date technology in aircraft.  Its safety record is nowhere near that of the major airlines (a ratio of accidents to either flight hours or flights).

General aviation.  This is mostly a single pilot; learn as you go, trial and error operation.  It has an abysmal safety record.

Statistics show that commercial airlines are the safest segment of aviation while owner flown has one of the worst safety records.  Why?  Many reasons but pilot behavior and experience is certainly a big one.  One large contributor to owner flown accidents is referred to as “get there’itis.”  I have an important meeting to get to, the weather is bad but I’m going anyway.  I must get to that meeting.

Airline pilots are often confronted with similar dilemmas.  You are taxiing out and you have a mechanical issue.  All your experience tells you that the problem is not serious and has almost no chance of impacting the safety of the flight.  But the rules say return to the gate for maintenance.  If you go back to the gate, you miss your commute flight home and that will cause you to miss a big event you have planned with your family.  You return to the gate.  Why?  You return because you know that not following the rules could lead to employment problems.  But if that was not a concern, what decision might a pilot make?

There is no way to know how many times a day this kind of scenario plays out.  And almost every time, the right decision is made.  The positive impact this has on safety is impossible to calculate, but obviously a poor decision would have a negative impact on safety.  And in aviation, isn’t the tie breaker always decided by “which is the safer course of action?”

So isn’t also true that the safer course of action, with respect to the pilot profession is to return this profession to a stable and sustainable position?  Wouldn’t this help ensure that the pilots of the future will continue to make the right decisions?

Attraction
We know that in the past, an airline pilot’s compensation, lifestyle and respect attracted the pilots we have today.  What we do not know is if this profession will have the same highly trained, highly skilled, and most importantly highly experienced pilots in the future.  If not, it is doubtful that the industry will enjoy the same stability of long term pilot employment and safety that it has for decades.  Should the industry take that chance?  In aviation, we always err on the side of safety.  If we know one method is safe and different method is proposed, we stick with what is known to work, unless this new method can be proven to be safer.  We know that the pilot compensation, lifestyle and status in place for decades gave the industry the pilots we have today.  We know that works.  The current level of compensation, lifestyle, and respect the pilots of major airlines experience today may not provide the same levels of safety and stability in the future.  In aviation, when it comes to safety don’t we always stick to proven methods verses taking a chance on the unproven?  Why should this aspect of safety be dealt with any differently?

Yes, flying will always attract new pilots, but what kind?  How many of tomorrow’s pilots will stick it out for a full career?  How many will put themselves through the years of sacrifices it took to get a major airline job.  How many will pay $ 100,000 in education for a career that might not ever pay $100,000 a year?  What will happen if the industry cannot attract the same qualified applicants it once did?  What will airlines do? Lower their hiring standards?  Hire the pilots they once considered unqualified? Pay more?  Even paying more will not solve the problem if the industry waits too long to address this issue.  If the industry waits too long to correct this problem, it may not matter what the industry offers for pilot compensation because the pilot candidates they once had their pick of, simply will not exist. Right now, the pipeline is still full of experienced pilots. That will change.

How do you explain the negative correlation of safety records having never been better while pilot compensation has been drastically reduced?

The short explanation is that the industry is enjoying a grace period.  We are living on borrowed time.  Pilots are still performing as they did when they were properly compensated because they are trapped.  They are too old to change careers and they are too professional to not perform as the professionals that they are.  They not only approach the job with the same commitments as always, but they are going the extra mile.  They have risen to the challenge in the face of a hostile work environment…all for 40% less pay and little or no retirement.  What more could you ask from an employee group?

But what if most pilots were 20 or 30 years younger?  If you were 20 or 30 years younger, and you knew what you know now about the airline industry and you had the opportunity to change careers for equal or more money, would you do it?  Would you have gotten into aviation in the first place?   If you and many others like you decided on another career, would that have hurt the industry?  Do you know any pilots that encourage young people to become pilots?  Is it more likely pilots today tell them to stay away from aviation?

If there is no viable plan in the works to restore this profession, are the talented 20 something’s of today going to choose aviation?

The clock is ticking.  Solve this problem quickly, and it will not do any long term damage.

Changing the mindset of pilots and ALPA about their career and the union

The mindset of some pilots is outdated and flawed.  ALPA is not a fraternity and it’s not a labor movement, ALPA is a business tool…or it should be.  The union is nothing more than a set of laws, recorded in the United States Federal code.  It is a business tool to help you manage your career…or it needs to be.

You don’t need a fraternity.  Flying for a major airline is the only club you need, and a great club it is!  Let that club be your fraternity.  The union is for business.  Standing together to achieve common goals is a good business decision, but that does not make it a fraternity.

As an airline pilot, you have two jobs.  Flying airplanes is one job, managing your career is another job.  Both of these jobs should be thought of as white collar jobs, but without question the management of your career is a white collar job.  As a Delta pilot, you are one of 12,000+ individual business professionals, all with multi million dollar businesses called your career.  The labor laws that exist in this country are a tool, a tool you use through a union to manage that career.  That is what the union really is, nothing more, nothing less.  Trying to pretend that tens of thousands of millionaire business professionals are some kind of a labor movement is silly and degrading.  Acting like the business professionals you are.  Expect the respect that such business professionals routinely receive.  The pilots and ALPA need to adopt an elevated mindset that the union is a business tool and your career is white collar.  This will improve the effectiveness of the union because it will force it to focus on reality and its purpose.

You are far more invested in your company than most managers or executives.  You are here for life.  They come and go.  You live with the ups and downs, the successes and failures of your company.  Executives get bonuses for joining the company and again when they leave.  So I ask you, which group has the greater good of the company at heart, the life-long employee or the temporary manager? 

Drawing this distinction is not promoting class warfare.  Management and pilots are cut from the same cloth.  They simply pursued different professional paths.  Pilots need to recognize their place in the company.  They have a vested interest in its success.  They demonstrate this everyday with their professionalism, but they also need to recognize their responsibility to creating a stable and sustainable pilot profession.

The Numbers

There was the day when pilots had the power to deeply affect the bottom line of airlines.  Due to a 30 year slide (adjusted for inflation) in compensation and a dramatic increase in fuel costs, that is no longer the case.  This is truly the double edged sword.  The bad news is major airline pilots don’t make that much money.  The good news is major airline pilots don’t make that much money so increases are possible.

At this point we don’t know what pilot compensation has to be to make the profession stable and sustainable.  That will be determined by the research required to implement this plan.  But in the absence of that hard data, let’s play with some numbers.  If the pilots of Delta Airlines (pretending for a moment that Delta and NWA were merged for all of 2008) had worked for free, Delta would not have made a profit.  On the other hand, if they had received 50% more pay, it would have meant an additional $800- 900 million cost to Delta.  For the 12,000+ pilots of Delta, the total compensation is less than $ 2 billion a year.  Let’s examine that number as it relates to fuel costs.

From Delta's 2008 annual report filed with the SEC…

“During 2008, fuel prices fluctuated dramatically. Fuel is one of our most significant costs. At the beginning of the year, crude oil prices hovered around $100 per barrel, escalating to $145 per barrel by mid-summer.”

“Throughout the summer months, fuel prices remained at record high levels and were forecasted to continue to rise. Based on this outlook, we added fuel hedges to protect against further escalating fuel costs. However, fuel prices fell dramatically during the third and fourth quarters, creating sizable losses on our fuel hedge contracts in the fourth quarter.”

“In 2009, we expect to use approximately four billion gallons of jet fuel. At that level of consumption, a $1 change in the average annual per barrel price of crude oil can impact our financial results by approximately $100 million. Accordingly, the volatility of fuel prices will continue to have a major impact on our financial results.”

Using these numbers, the Fluctuation in Fuel Cost for Delta (not total fuel costs, but only the change in price) would have been about $10 billion in 2008, excluding any hedging.  Let’s assume for a moment that the entire increase in pilot compensation necessary for stabilization and sustainability of the industry is a 50% increase in pilot compensation, and the current total compensation is $ 2 billion a year on the outside, then that would mean a $ 1 billion increase in cost to Delta.  Putting it another way, the total increase would be 1/10th of the fluctuation in the price of fuel for 2008.  Then consider the probability that any increase in compensation would be phased in, over several if not many years and the argument of non-affordability becomes laughable.

What is the take away message?  Reasonable changes to pilot compensation rates do not and cannot make Delta profitable or unprofitable to any significant degree.  The biggest determining factor in the profitability of all the major airlines lies in its ability to properly manage fuel costs, not the level of pilot compensation.

Of course we are making the assumption that there will be customers and the airline will have a reliable, safe service to offer them.  However, there is no guarantee that Delta will survive the extreme turbulence known as the U.S. airline industry.  There is no guarantee that Delta will not be forced back into bankruptcy at some point.  But the two salient messages are, without the right kind of people in the cockpits, there is no chance for success and low or appropriate pilot compensation does not guarantee profit or loss for any given year.  Proper pilot compensation will not cause Delta’s demise but putting experienced, well-trained pilots on the flight decks will enable Delta’s long-term success.

How much should Delta Pilots be paid?

This has always been one of the hardest questions to answer.  Under the concept of stability and sustainability, there are several approaches to that answer.  Both seek a solution that places the pilot profession on par with other professional choices.


One approach is a comparison study that would examine the requirements of the pilot profession and compare those requirements to other professions.  From that, inferences could be made as to what the profession would have to pay to attract its share of talented people.  Given the uniqueness of the pilot profession, such as the fact that no matter how educated, experienced, or determined a person may be there is no guarantee of landing that major airline job, it seems unlikely that such a study could answer this problem.  Nonetheless, ALPA National has the means to conduct such a study and that should be done.

In the absence of a clear answer from the comparison study, another method would be to go with proven, historical results.  Every pilot at Delta hired on knowing what the pay rates were at that time.  It is fairly safe to assume that a similar rate (adjusted for inflation/CPI) would attract similarly qualified pilots now and in the future.  It would be a simple process to take the pay rates in effect at the time each Delta pilot was hired, adjust those rates for inflation and come up with an aggregate pay rate for today as well as the future.  That would establish a pay rate for today the next contract and all those to come.  The only question left to negotiate would be how many years it will take to phase in those rates.  Equally over several years?  Front-end loaded to make up for all that we have sacrificed to help Delta?  The timeline becomes the negotiation, not the pay rates.

One other very important element is not just how much but when.  These pay rates need to take effect now.  Waiting for the next contract could mean a delay till sometime in 2014.  You don’t know what that rate will be then.  You don’t know what negatives might occur between now and then that could wipe out any chance of an increase and because of the future value of money, the pay rates then would have to be much higher (about double) in that contact to equal the same amount today.

Whatever method is used to set the rates our negotiators will approach the company with, it needs to happen quickly.  We have a very narrow window of opportunity.  An opportunity exists now because of Delta’s positive trend of profitable quarters, a well functioning MEC, the absence of a number of other negative factors that have finally abated, and the mindset of the pilot group.  The pilot group feels that they have sacrificed, adapted, and invested greatly in the last 8 years.  They see the recent successes of Delta as evidence of the investments they have made.  Currently they are willing to be reasonable about a return on those investments, but if the union fails to engage the company about mid-contract pay rate increase or if the company declines, they may not be so reasonable going into next contract.

The window of opportunity is small because if this process drags on till late this year without results, the debate will shift to an early contract opener (Railway Labor Act Section 6, April 2012), which could easily postpone a result till the summer of 2014.

How does this plan help Delta?

Delta Air Lines needs a Stable, Sustainable pilot workforce to produce reliable, safe air travel it can sell to the public.  Assuring stability and sustainability are long term benefits.  In the short term this proposal offers Delta the very attractive possibility of predictable and stable labor costs for the next 7 years or possibly much more.  One of the points of this plan is that any and all increases in pilot compensation costs will be orderly phased in over time but starting immediately.  This would be done by jointly agreeing to amend the pay rates in the current PWA.  The amendment could cover just the remaining time in this PWA, but ideally it would set the rate for much longer.  There are several formulas that could set the base line of pay rates for now on. 

Mid-contract pay rate changes would not necessarily change the amendable date of the PWA, December 31, 2012 but it could.  If the new pay rates agreed to went far enough into the future and were sufficient, then the PWA amendable date (Section 6) the compensation section of the PWA would be complete before negotiations started and therefore no adjustments to that Section would be needed.  This should be our Plan A.

The alternative method is Plan B, the traditional contract negotiation route.  The problem with the traditional approach is that it usually ends in a confrontation.  Neither side wins in these battles.  Such confrontations do not serve either party well.  If Delta management were to pursue this option for the next amendment of the PWA, it could be a disaster.

In this situation, the only way Delta management could avoid a huge money grab by the pilots would be if at the amendable date, Delta is a financial failure.  In such a climate, management would probably be successful in avoiding a money grab by the pilots, but would nevertheless suffer from the confrontation.  On the other hand, if management’s plans for Delta are a success (as recent profits seem to indicate), then expectations for increased compensation combined with a sense of righteous indignity on the part of the pilots will rule of the day.  The pilots will be incensed if the pay increases sought in Plane A are rejected.  The stakes will go up.  The end result will be either a crippling work stoppage or a pay out far in excess of the sane, moderate, sustainable compensation this plan proposes.

Management could think of Plan A as insurance policy.  Not only would it give Management the ability to do long-term labor cost (for the pilots) planning, but would almost assure a smooth, reasonable contract process at the amendable date or an extension to that amendable date.  One other benefit, of Plan A would be a highly motivated, energetic pilot workforce, a workforce that could greatly benefit Delta, its customers and its investors.

Why is it the pilot’s responsibility to take the lead in returning this profession to a stable and sustainable position?  Why isn’t the responsibility of all parties involved, and who are those parties?

The five parties that have an interest in this problem, even if they are unaware of it, are: major airline pilots (in this case Delta pilots), US Congress/President, the FAA, the flying public, and airline managements.  Let’s analyze each of their rolls and responsibility to airline safety.

The FAA.  They are paralyzed by their own dual mandate.  The FAA has a dual responsibility to Regulate Safety and Promote the Economic Viability of Aviation.  Not only does economics win that debate in all but the starkest instances, at the major airline level their minimum standards for pilots are inconsequential.  According to the FAA a B-747, with 400 passengers, flying across oceans and foreign lands requires two pilots with a total experience of 1700 hours, 1500 for the Captain and 200 for the First Officer.  Thankfully, the real world market forces have always demanded much more experience, or at least they once did.  So long as the airlines meet FAA minimums, the FAA’s hands are tied.

The Flying Public.  They want cheap airfare.  They don’t care what the pilot’s salary is and they never will.  Or worst yet, each time they travel, they fully expect to cross the entire US in a matter of hours for the same or less than it cost last time and usually for little more than the parking expense they will have upon return.  Each time they do this, they add to the problem.

They also have every expectation of arriving safely.  Why?  Because we do our jobs so well.  We make it look easy.  We are victims of own success.  But that is the nature of the beast.  The Public will not change and no one should expect them too.  Forget about the public as source of support in this battle.

The US Congress/President.  As long as commercial aviation is seemingly safe (not too many accidents) and their constituents are getting cheap fairs, they are content.  Even if they knew that current conditions in the industry would lead to a less stable airline industry or at worse, more accidents, they would not act to change it because they are afraid any increase in ticket fairs would be blamed on them.  Besides, they know that if safety becomes a headline, they will be the first to grandstand on the subject and take credit for helping to solve the problem.  They are useless in this debate.

Airline Managements.  With recent history as a guide, it is all too evident where they stand of the issue of assaulting the airline pilot profession.  Most demonstrate short term thinking.  If they are aware of the long term consequence of what they are doing to this profession, they have not demonstrated any concern for addressing the problem.  In short, this year’s bottom line rules the day.  This is one of the key areas the must change.  First we must be certain that airline management understands the long term consequences of not taking action on this issue.  Secondly we must assist them in investing in a long term strategy.

And that brings us to the airline pilots, Delta Airline Pilots to be more specific.  We are the only participants in this saga that both understand what is happening to this profession, what that will do to safety and stand in a position to return it to the way it has to be.  Return it to a stable and sustainable profession that will continue to attract and retain the same caliber of people is has in past decades; the caliber of people key to long term safety, and therefore success of the airline business.  This is our battle.  No one else is going to fight it for us.  Not the flying public, not the FAA, and not the Government.  However, if we do our work correctly, we can partner with airline management in returning this profession to the way it has to be.  Yes, we said partner with airline management.  It is in airline management’s best interest to return this profession to the way it has to be, thus assuring long term stability and safety for the companies they manage.  It is our job to bring them to this conclusion.

Very early on in the process returning this profession to the way it has to be, DAL management needs to be brought in.  This should not be done in secret.  We are talking about a new day, a new way--a cooperative relationship between the pilots and management.  Sneaky, covert plans to improve the contact don’t work.  Abandon those old ways of thinking.  Approach management with a business deal.  Act like the white collar professionals we are.  Act like the partners in DAL that we are.  Play the game cards up.

Additionally, the pilots need to be kept informed and on board.  Keep the expectations real.  This will be much easier because the process will be in the open, in the open with management and in the open with the pilots.

It is your duty to return this profession to The Way It Has To Be

The sad state of this profession is none of our faults, but it is our responsibility to fix it.  Whether you have 1 day or 30 years left in your career, you have a responsibility.  While this is not your fault, you must take an active role in fixing the damage.  It happened on your watch.  At some point in time, a group of pilots will have to fix it.  Now you can kick the can down the road, to the next generation of pilots, a generation that is truly innocent, or you can accept your responsibility.  Almost every pilot on the Delta property today had very reasonable expectations of a fantastic career.  Those expectations are no longer valid.  That has to change.  The next generation of pilots needs to have the same opportunities you did.  We can not leave a mess that happened on our watch for the next generation to deal with.  We can not do that to them and allow the flying public to be put at unnecessary risk that is bound to happen if this profession is not restored.

Is it unfair that your career has been decimated and now you are being asked to work all that harder to restore it?  You bet it’s unfair.  But that is the hand you have been dealt.  You can slink away and let others take the responsibility or you can step up to the plate.

The Pilot Image

When was the last time you felt good when some asked what you did for a living?  When was the last time you encouraged a young person to pursue a pilot career instead of steering them away?  Do remember the days, not that long ago when you held you head high?  You were proud of what you did.  You were proud to wear the uniform.  You were admired, even envied by your acquaintances.  Now when someone asks you about your job, you hang your head and grumble something about how it isn’t what it used to be.  That has to change.

As part of this plan, we need to look at what makes the airline pilot.  Every element.  Not just how much money they make, but what makes them tick.  What made them the characters they were just a few years ago.  How did they carry themselves?  What did their peers think of them?  How did they think of themselves?  What defines the airline pilot?  We must re-create the elements that made those larger than life airlines pilots that most of us once were.  We must reinstall that sense of pride.  We must do it for ourselves, for the profession and so we can be better emissaries of our company and our profession.