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Statement of Airline Dispatchers Federation
National Civil Aviation Review Commission
October 8, 1997
The Airline Dispatchers Federation represents the professional interests of airline dispatchers, dispatch managers, and related professions. On behalf of the ADF membership I thank you for allowing us this opportunity to address safety issues.
As aviation has progressed in this country the role that accurate and timely aviation reports play in aviation safety seems to have been lost. Replacing licensed and trained weather observers with the Automated Surface Observation System, ASOS, has degraded the safety of airline operations because of inaccurate weather information being disseminated by a system the even GAO says has inaccurate sensors. Aviation weather reports that are inaccurate are such a concern that the FAA and NWS last year created a hierarchy of airport weather reporting requirements. Major airports will now have ASOS plus an observer and report all the weather information that was available from every reporting site before ASOS. Other categories of airports will have less weather reporting capabilities and be more dependent on ASOS with all its problems. While their are many worthy safety efforts being promoted in aviation today they will all be for naught if we do not provide in the year 2000 at least the same caliber of aviation weather reports we had in 1950. The ADF believes the ASOS experiment has failed and the FAA and NWS must find the means to insure accurate and timely aviation weather.
Another area of concern for ADF members is FAA oversight of airline operational control. The FAA has experienced cabin attendants who inspect cabin safety requirements, experienced pilots who inspect flight safety issues, and experienced maintenance personnel who inspect airline maintenance. Under FAR Part 121 no scheduled flight operates unless it is specifically authorized by an FAA licensed dispatcher who is jointly responsible with the captain for the safety of the flight. If the dispatch office from which these decisions on how, when, and where to operate is flawed the entire operation is jeopardized. The FAA has no experienced dispatcher on staff to help POIs oversee their air carrier's dispatch office. You would not ask a maintenance inspector to monitor flight crew procedures or a cabin safety expert to monitor maintenance procedures. The FAA sorely needs to acquire experienced dispatchers who can assist the FAA in monitoring all aspects of airline operational control.
One instance where experienced dispatchers would have assisted the FAA is in certifying air carriers using GPS as their primary means of navigation. The POIs and other inspectors in the FAA who worked on this thought of the problem like the pilots they are. They made sure that the certification included procedures to insure GPS navigation along the route of flight, which is their forte and area of expertise. As dispatchers we handle more diversions and flights with engine failures in a year than a line pilot will see in their entire career. An experienced dispatcher would have required the air carrier to also show that adequate GPS navigation existed from any point along the flight route to any planned alternates. The worst case scenario is over the Atlantic in a two-engine airplane operating under 180 minute ETOPS. The engine fails at the critical point and the flight drifts down on one engine to 2000 feet above sea level in clouds and on instruments. This is no time to discover that GPS navigation will be unreliable for 30 minutes in this area as the crew gropes its way to its ETOPS alternate. GPS navigation certification must be strengthened and additional safeguards put in place for commercial air carrier use. Experienced, licensed dispatchers must be part of the FAA inspection force to insure adequate oversight of this and many other areas.
The life blood of aviation safety is real time, accurate information. For many years we have seen little improvement in the basic systems to transfer safety related aviation information. As part of the collaborative decision making effort ADF supported and is pleased that a new FAA to user intranet is now in place and information is being exchanged between users and the FAA. The air carriers and FAA jointly built this system to transfer information that will improve safety and the efficiency of the air space. We ask your support for the necessary funding to get safety related information such as low level wind shear alerts, severe icing reports, severe turbulence reports among others distributed through this new system. We also ask your support for the new routing concepts from the CDM effort that ADF has long been involved in.
In conclusion the ADF membership has many concerns about aviation safety and we are
working to improve the system and solve these problems. Today in fact ADF officers and
members are meeting with FAA inspectors to discuss these and other issues such as
corporate culture, certification of automated tools, and access to new weather sources. We
appreciate your allowing us to express our views and ask that we be allowed to submit more
detailed information in writing.