ALPA Brings Pilots’ Perspective To FAA Safety Symposium


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ALPA Brings Pilots’ Perspective To FAA Safety Symposium

Steve Hall

August 2010 - The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) brought the views of nearly 53,000 airline pilots to the FAA’s Partnership for Safety Symposium, held this week in Washington, D.C., and made clear the importance of ensuring that every professional involved in the operation of a flight adheres to the highest possible communications standards. 

“Airline pilots learn the importance of adhering to standard procedures and phraseology in their communications and the value of training and discipline early in their basic flight training,” said Capt. John Prater, ALPA’s president, at the conclusion of the FAA symposium.

For professional airline pilots, that knowledge is expanded and reinforced as new first officers also receive mentoring from captains. “These principles remain essential to safety no matter how experienced an aviator becomes,” Prater noted.


ALPA maintains that throughout the national and international airspace system, the fundamentals of undergoing thorough training, adhering to standard operating procedures, employing standard phraseology, and capitalizing on techniques for good radio discipline that have been developed over decades are vitally important. From using clearly defined call signs to accurately understanding clearances and ensuring that all parties have a common understanding of radio transmissions, the major topics that were discussed at the symposium hinge on these fundamentals. 

While air transportation remains extremely safe, ALPA urges the aviation industry to continue efforts to ensure that pilot—controller and other flight operation communications are as relevant and accurate as possible. ALPA pilot safety representatives participated in the FAA symposium to discuss pilots’ concerns and best practices in communications issues such as hear-back/read-back between pilots and controllers, standard phraseology, similar-sounding call signs, and sharing of critical information. 

“Safety is enhanced when pilots receive as much critical information as possible regarding runway assignments, weather, turbulence, and other operational issues,” said Capt. Rory Kay, ALPA’s Executive Air Safety Chairman. “Providing pertinent information to the flight crew proactively and in advance of critical phases of flight avoids distractions once the flight is under way and enhances safety for passengers and crew.”


ALPA representatives underscored the need to ensure that the large amount of information that pilots receive in the cockpit, including NOTAMS, is prioritized and as tailored as possible to the safe operation of the specific flight. 

“Pilots receive a huge amount of information when planning a flight—some of which is critical to its safe operation, while some information may not be especially relevant to the individual flight,” Kay continued. “Pilots need the information we receive to be prioritized so that we can quickly determine what is of greatest importance to the safety of our flight.” 

Additionally, all of the working groups highlighted that communications can be significantly enhanced when pilots and controllers clearly understand each other’s roles and responsibilities. ALPA representatives were encouraged by the universal stakeholder agreement that allowing a controller to observe flight crew training in a flight simulator or to sit on the flight deck during a familiarization flight ultimately increases flight safety. Such exposure to the operational environment and the opportunity to see how air traffic control instructions come across in the cockpit provides invaluable insight that cannot be obtained any other way. 

“ALPA supports the FAA’s efforts to swiftly reinstate the air traffic controller familiarization flight program as one tool to do even more to enhance flight communications,” said Kay. “We commend the FAA for holding the symposium, and we look forward to continuing to work with the aviation industry to ensure all flight communications provide the highest level of safety possible for our passengers, crews, and cargo.”


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