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EDWARD WYTKIND, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
TRANSPORTATION TRADES DEPARTMENT, AFL-CIOM
BEFORE THE NATIONAL CIVIL AVIATION REVIEW COMMISSION
AVIATION SAFETY TASK-FORCE
October 8, 1997
My name is Edward Wytkind. I am the Executive Director of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), whose 29 affiliated unions represent several million workers employed in all areas of our nation's transportation system including several hundred thousand in the aviation industry. On behalf of aviation labor, I want to first thank the Commission for its continuous work on aviation funding and safety issues which are critically important to the working men and women employed in the aviation industry. It must be remembered that the workers I represent depend on a strong, safe and reliable aviation system for their livelihood and we have a vested interest in the work of this Commission. I therefore want to thank Chairman Norman Mineta and the members of the Commission for giving us this opportunity to express our views on the current area of discussion--how do we work together to make air travel as safe and secure as possible.
As the members of this panel are well aware, Congress mandated that the report submitted by the Commission "shall include an assessment of--
(i) the adequacy of staffing and training resources for safety personnel of the
Administration, including safety inspectors;
(ii) the Administration's processes for ensuring public safety from fraudulent parts in civil aviation and the extent to which use of suspected unapproved parts require additional oversight or enforcement action; and
(iii) the ability of the Administration to anticipate changes in the aviation industry and to develop policies and actions to ensure the highest level of aviation safety in the 21st century."
It is extremely gratifying for aviation labor that Congress chose to mandate the specific examination of the adequacy of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety personnel and the threat of fraudulent parts to aviation safety. TTD has a long history in advocating changes to our aviation system to address these specific concerns as well as supporting measures that fall under the broad mandate of the Commission. The following, therefore, is intended to articulate transportation labor's recommendations that will: (1) deal with the issue of fraudulent parts; (2) give FAA safety personnel the resources they need; and (3) help ensure that the United States meets the highest level of aviation safety as we approach the 21st Century.
Aviation employees have continuously pursued legislative and regulatory changes that will cut down on the use of fraudulent and substandard aviation parts. Every time a "bogus" part is used, it jeopardizes the lives of employees and the traveling public and threatens the confidence that all Americans have in our aviation system. It is therefore imperative that the Commission, in meeting its mandate from Congress, support specific measures that can be taken to address these concerns and make air travel safer and more secure.
Foreign Aircraft Repair Stations - FAR 145
One of the main legislative priorities of TTD is legislation that will change Federal Aviation Regulation Part 145 (FAR 145) that currently allows unneeded and possibly substandard foreign aircraft repair stations to get certified by the FAA, thereby making the use of fraudulent parts more likely and difficult to police. In 1988, the FAA changed the criteria it uses to determine whether it is appropriate to certify foreign stations to work on U.S. aircraft. Before these changes took place, a foreign station could only get certified if it could demonstrate that there was a legitimate need to service aircraft engaged in international travel. Once it received its certification, a station could only work on aircraft that were actually engaged in international travel or perform emergency repair work on any airplane. This system allowed stations to be certified that were essential to support our network of international flights, but limited these stations so that the FAA was not overwhelmed with oversight problems. In addition, FAR 145 ensured that to the extent possible, U.S. registered aircraft were repaired by mechanics meeting the highest standards in aviation safety.
But today, a foreign station can get certified even if there is little or no international travel expected in the area and can work on any aircraft for any reason. This means that an aircraft that flies between Washington, D.C. and Chicago can find its way down to Mexico, Brazil, or Costa Rica to receive regularly scheduled maintenance and overhaul work. The results of this regulatory change are predictable - since 1988 the number of foreign stations has increased 150 percent as these facilities compete for lucrative U.S. repair work.
The problem is that the FAA does not require these foreign stations to meet the same safety standards that domestic stations must follow. For example, while U.S. mechanics must undergo drug and alcohol testing, no such comparable requirement exists in foreign countries in which U.S. certified stations do business. In addition, at a domestic station, supervisory and inspection personnel must be certified by the FAA, yet a foreign station can operate without a single certified mechanic. These double-standards are contrary to sound aviation safety policy. If it is determined that safety is enhanced by instituting drug and alcohol testing and to insist on mechanic certification, then why shouldn't these requirements be applied to all stations regardless of their location? Both foreign and domestic stations certified under FAR 145 can do the exact same type of maintenance and therefore should be held to the exact same standards.
The problems created by allowing two different sets of standards is further complicated by the fact that with the dramatic rise in the number of foreign stations, the ability of the FAA to adequately oversee and supervise these facilities is being called into question. In the wake of last year's ValuJet accident many questioned the effect that contracting-out maintenance work was having on our ability to maintain the highest level of aviation safety. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that one of the probable causes of the crash was the "failure of ValuJet to properly oversee its contract maintenance program...." The NTSB also concluded that "contributing to the accident was the failure of the FAA to adequately monitor ValuJet's heavy maintenance program and responsibilities...." With the challenges facing the FAA regarding its responsibilities to oversee domestic facilities, it makes no sense to exacerbate this problem by allowing a regulatory scheme that permits the unnecessary certification of facilities that by their very nature need additional oversight.
Even more troubling is the fact that while FAA inspectors charged with overseeing foreign repair facilities are dedicated professionals, they face a number of challenges outside of their control that does not allow them to inspect stations to the same degree as their domestic counterparts. For example, most foreign stations only receive a visit from a U.S. inspector once a year for the purpose of re-certification. This visit is usually announced well in advance giving the repair station time to prepare and to take steps to ensure that the FAA inspector will only see a station that is in top form. There is little guarantee that a foreign station will maintain this high-level of preparedness and there is every opportunity for station resources to be diverted to other facilities or simply not maintained to the high level that the FAA inspector encounters during his or her yearly visit. U.S. stations on the other hand are not subject to yearly re-certification visits - the FAA inspector assigned to that area can and does simply stop by, sometimes unannounced, to ensure that FAA standards are being maintained.
With foreign stations using the relaxed FAR 145 regulations to open up shop all over the world and the FAA's inspection resources already stretched, the possibility that a foreign facility can utilize fraudulent parts without detection only increases. A partial solution to this problem is to limit the number of foreign stations that can get certified to those that are genuinely needed and to ensure that when a station is discovered using substandard or bogus parts, that the response of the FAA will be swift and sure. Fortunately, Representatives Robert Borski (D-PA), Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Phil English (R-PA) and Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Wendell Ford (D-KY) have introduced The Foreign Aircraft Repair Station Safety Act (H.R. 145/S. 1089) which will meet these objectives. Specifically, the Borski/Specter bill will:
As the Commission makes its assessment of the FAA's ability to protect the public from the use of fraudulent parts and to offer suggestions on how to address this problem, we urge it to support the passage of this commonsense legislation. It has the support of over 158 U.S. Representatives and Senators, American Airlines, and the thousands of mechanics, flight attendants, pilots, and inspectors that TTD represents. While the Gore Commission called for a review of the "FAA's certification and oversight of any and all companies performing aviation safety functions, including repair stations certified by the FAA but located outside the United States," (Section 1.3) the agency has taken no positive action on this recommendation. If we are serious about stopping the use of fraudulent parts and making sure our aircraft are repaired and maintained by qualified, supervised mechanics, then we must quickly pass H.R. 145/S. 1089. We urge the Commission to join us in pursuing this objective.
There is no question that the nature of aviation is rapidly changing into a truly global industry. Aviation labor welcomes this expansion, with the understanding and recognition that we cannot allow the drive of international aviation growth to interfere with our desire to remain the safest aviation system in the world and in fact to improve on that record.
Currently the FAA and the Joint Aviation Authority have been working on a program to harmonize their respective aviation regulations. As this program is pursued, the FAA must insist that harmonized regulations are the higher of the two authorities, thus ensuring that aviation safety will be enhanced worldwide. The harmonization process is complicated and requires substantial study, debate and input from all interested parties including aviation labor. The FAA must not prematurely rush to complete the harmonization process simply to meet the call for international expansion. Instead, the policies and regulations must be carefully examined and not accepted until there is widespread agreement that aviation safety in all countries involved will be improved.
TTD does object to the aspect of harmonization that includes policies adopted under Maintenance Implementation Procedures (MIP). Under the terms of a MIP agreement, the FAA and the national civil aviation authority of a particular nation can agree to accept each other's inspections and monitoring for each other's repair stations. There has been an argument made that this could be utilized to reduce some of the workload of the FAA as it pertains to the inspection of foreign facilities. We believe that this type of agreement should not be utilized as a substitute for FAA facility inspection. If there are too many foreign stations for the FAA to adequately oversee, the solution should not entail turning the job over to someone else, but instead only certifying stations that are absolutely necessary (as H.R. 145/S. 1089 would require) and that the agency can properly monitor with an adequate inspector force.
RESOURCES FOR FAA SAFETY PERSONNEL
Regardless of the actions the FAA or Congress take on the matter of FAR 145, the resources granted to safety inspectors and other FAA safety related personnel must be enhanced if we are going to keep up with the demands on our aviation system. I know that the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents FAA inspectors and technicians, will testify later today. While they are in the best position to offer the Commission specific recommendations that need to be implemented, I want to briefly touch on a few points that should be emphasized.
FAA inspectors have a tremendous responsibility and a workload that will only increase as we approach the 21st century. Today, FAA inspectors oversee 7,300 scheduled commercial aircraft, 11,000 charter aircraft, over 184,000 active general aviation aircraft, 4,900 repair stations, over 600 schools for training pilots, 200 maintenance schools and over 665,000 active pilots. These figures are indeed staggering and it is unfortunate that Congress has not adequately invested in an aviation safety inspector program. While that appears to be changing, it must be understood that the commitment from Congress must be long-term, consistent and include resources dedicated to support staff so that inspectors can do the job they are hired to perform.
In addition to staffing resources, additional money must be allocated to the task of training the new and existing inspector workforce. By FAA directive, newly hired inspectors must attend initial training in their specialty and then are required to be kept current on the latest aircraft and technologies. Unfortunately, the FAA has failed to meet these training requirements due to lack of funds specifically targeted for initial and ongoing training activities. Our aviation system is ever expanding and becoming more and more complicated and technologically advanced. If we want to preserve aviation safety, we must be willing to invest in the workers charged with ensuring that regulations and procedures designed to enhance safety are properly followed.
Currently, there are 5,888 field maintenance employees, which represent a 50 percent decrease from 1981, while the number of facilities and equipment that need hands-on maintenance has doubled. Unless technician staffing and training levels are increased to meet modernization needs, more and more new systems will sit in boxes awaiting delivery into the field. Meanwhile, the current technology will become outdated and modernization efforts will be slowed.
Like the misguided idea of allowing other nations to inspect FAA certified facilities, the solution to this problem is not to implement contracting-out schemes that out-source work to contractors and subcontractors with vague cost saving promises. The fact is that the FAA employees represented by PASS provide a valuable and cost-effective service to all users of the aviation system. Instead of throwing money away in the pursuit of downsizing and privatization, we should invest our resources in the workforce we already have and depend on. When a computer system malfunctions, will the traveling public patiently wait for the various contractors and subcontractors to be assembled to address the problem? Or instead do we want a team of experienced professionals on site that installed the system, know how it works and therefore can repair and maintain it quickly and efficiently? I think the answer to that question is simple and I would urge the Commission to resist proposals to contract-out these valuable safety professionals' jobs.
AVIATION SAFETY IN THE 21st CENTURY
In its report released last February, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety, Chaired by Vice President Albert Gore, correctly noted in the introduction that, "the Administration, the Congress, the entire aviation industry and its employees must work together ..." in finding solutions to security and safety challenges. Aviation labor could not agree more. As this Commission examines policies that will allow the FAA to ensure the "highest level of aviation safety in the 21st century" there are a number of proposals that I hope the Commission will consider and adopt. Aviation employees are on the front lines of ensuring a safe and secure aviation system and we are able to offer this Commission a unique perspective on some commonsense policies that will help the Commission meet its broad objective of finding solutions to current and future safety challenges.
Unfortunately, there currently exists a barrier that prevents many aviation employees from becoming fully involved in the process of finding solutions to safety and security problems -- the lack of whistleblower protections. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), most employees are protected from being fired, disciplined or harassed for filing a safety complaint. However, Section 4(b)(1) of the Act limits the jurisdiction of OSHA when another federal agency is involved in regulating conditions of a group of employees. Because the FAA has asserted its right to regulate aviation employees, the health and safety protections contained in OSHA, including whistleblower protections, do not apply. Unfortunately, the FAA to date has not decided to close this loophole, thus creating the ridiculous situation where there are no federal laws or regulations which would prevent aviation employees from being fired simply because they report a legitimate safety concern.
The Gore Commission recognized this problem and recommended in Section 1.12 that "legislation should be enacted to protect aviation employees who report safety and security violations." The report went on to state that "the Commission believes that aviation safety and security will be enhanced if employees, who are a critical link in safety and security, are able to report unsafe conditions to the FAA without fear of retribution from their employer." The Gore Commission recognized what aviation labor has long known - it is patently unfair and contrary to sound aviation policy to ask employees to choose between their jobs and reporting potentially unsafe conditions.
To address this problem Representatives Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and James Clyburn (D-SC) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) have introduced the Aviation Safety Protection Act of 1997 (H.R. 915/S. 100) which would protect aviation workers when they report safety violations to federal authorities or otherwise assist in the disclosure of safety and security problems. It is significant that Congress has already chosen to provide other transportation workers with whistleblower protections in addition to the basic protections that employees receive under OSHA. It makes little sense to deny workers in the aviation industry, where safety is the number one concern, this same level of protection. Transportation labor strongly urges the Commission to adopt the position that a worker cannot be legally fired, disciplined, or harassed for simply reporting a safety or security problem.
In addition to the lack of whistleblower coverage for workers in the private sector, FAA employees who normally can go through the Merit Systems Protections Board (MSPB) to adjudicate a disciplinary action are now denied this right due to a legislative provision enacted in the FY96 Transportation Appropriations bill (P.L. 104-505). This action by Congress, although unintended, is already having a chilling effect on a system that has permitted rank-and-file FAA employees, including safety inspectors, to step forward with crucial safety information. Like the situation with private employees, this is unacceptable and presents an aviation safety risk that can and should be quickly rectified.
The fight to secure whistleblower protections highlights the problems and frustrations that employees and their unions face in attempting to advance changes in FAA regulations. The process is slow at best and offers few opportunities to question the FAA's lack of action or final decisions. A perfect example of this is the Association of Flight Attendants' (AFA) 1990 petition to the FAA to adopt OSHA's health and safety regulations, including whistleblower protections, and apply them to flight attendants. Last June, seven years after the petition was filed, AFA received a letter from the FAA denying the petition. Not only did it take seven years for the FAA to respond to an important safety and health petition but the denial included no substantive justification. Without any justification for the denial, FAA effectively closed the door on the issue and left AFA with few options to protect their members' safety and health. The regulatory process needs to be improved or the process will continue to offer little relief and much frustration to petitioners.
Collision Avoidance Systems
As the Commission explores ways to enhance aviation safety in the 21st century it must be recognized that there are a number of proven technologies that have yet to be adopted by the industry or mandated by the FAA. For example, the FAA has yet to require the use of Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System II (TCAS II) in aircraft flown in all-cargo operations. TCAS II is currently mandated on passenger aircraft with over 30 seats and has proven its effectiveness time and time again. Because aircraft of all sizes and purposes share our airspace it makes no sense that the burgeoning cargo segment of the aviation industry isn't required to apply TCAS II in their cockpits.
Mandating the deployment of TCAS II on all-cargo aircraft is consistent with the FAA's "One Level of Safety" policy intended to eliminate safety gaps and double standards in our aviation system. Not only will cargo operations benefit from the application of TCAS II, but the entire aviation community -- flight crews, all air carriers and the traveling public -- will reap the benefits of a safer industry. TCAS II is being supported by virtually every pilot union, including ALPA-- the nation's largest -- and has the strong endorsement of TTD's Executive Committee.
Small Airport Certification
Airport safety will also be enhanced if the issue of small airport certification is finally dealt with in a satisfactory manner by the FAA. In the FAA Authorization Act of 1996 Congress wisely gave the FAA the authority to certify airports that service planes with 30 or fewer seats. This safety measure also advances the FAA's One Level of Safety program by calling for new regulations to impose higher safety standards at smaller airports. We urge this Committee to work with the FAA to ensure this rulemaking is initiated without further delay.
Crew Member Protection
In the course of enforcing safety and security regulations, aviation crew members frequently deal with passengers that become confrontational or even violent. This is becoming a growing concern as workers cannot be expected to meet their safety obligations if they themselves are subjected to criminal conduct from those they are seeking to protect. The Gore Commission recognized this problem and stated that "the Department of Transportation should work with the Department of Justice to ensure that airline crew members performing their duties are protected from passenger misconduct." (Section 1.11) We will continue to work with the appropriate government agencies to seek solutions to this problem and hope that this Commission will lend its support to ensuring that crew members who are simply trying to do their job are adequately protected from physical attacks.
Airport Fire Safety Standards
The current FAA regulations that govern aircraft rescue and fire fighting are inadequate and do not require sufficient personnel levels, training or equipment to meet the growing challenges that fire fighters at our nation's airports must face. The mission of the airport fire fighter established by the FAA is also troubling. The FAA does not direct fire fighters to rescue the crew and passengers, but instead states only that they provide an escape path from a burning aircraft. The responsibility for evacuation is therefore left to the flight crews.
These deficiencies in regulations are especially problematic since the vast majority of aircraft crashes take place at take-off and landing, precisely when fire and rescue teams are in the best position to respond. At a time when the FAA and aircraft manufacturers are cooperating to make the passengers' chance of survival greater than ever, it makes little sense not to invest the time and resources necessary to ensure that rescue and fire fighting personnel are prepared to meet the challenges of responding to aircraft emergency. One of TTD's affiliates, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), represents fire fighters at airports throughout the country and is currently working with a number of our aviation unions and other interested parties to offer sensible solutions to this problem. We urge the Commission to further examine this issue and to adopt positions established by these parties.
Child Restraint Seats
As more and more people utilize our nation's aviation system, it is inevitable that more young children will be included in this increased traffic. Unfortunately, the FAA's policy that allows a child under the age of two to be placed on a parent's lap instead of in a child restraint seat, jeopardizes the safety of our most vulnerable passengers. It is an unfortunate fact that far too many unrestrained children have been killed or injured as a result of crashes or heavy turbulence. For example, in July 1994 during the fatal crash of a USAir plane in Charlotte, North Carolina, an unrestrained infant was killed when her mother could not hold onto her on impact. The NTSB, which supports the use of child restraint seats, believes that if the child had been secured in the next seat in a restraint system, she would have survived the accident. Again, the Gore Commission wisely recognized this problem and correctly observed that it is "inappropriate for infants to be afforded a lesser degree of protection than older passengers." (Section 1.13)
Because the FAA has failed to act on this recommendation, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) have introduced S. 398/H.R. 754 which would mandate the use of child restraints for children under the age of two. Even the airline industry showed its support for the use of child restraint seats when this past summer major airlines announced a 50 percent discount fare to all children under two flying with their parents. This will make it more affordable for families flying with small children to place their child in a restraint system. We therefore urge the Commission to follow the lead of the Gore Commission, the NTSB, and transportation labor and endorse this proposal.
The Gore Commission also made a positive recommendation when it concluded that there must be a "development of uniform performance standards for the selection, training, certification, and re-certification of screening companies and their employees." (Section 3.20) . While the safety and security of our airports would perhaps be better served by bringing these workers in-house as permanent employees of our airports, at the very least we should impose more rigorous standards on those companies permitted to carry out this crucial and extremely safety-sensitive task. Clearly, these companies and their workers are our airports' first line of defense in ensuring that dangerous items and individuals do not enter secure areas. For this reason, federal policies must require the highest standards for these companies including the compensation and training provided to these employees. Transportation labor urges you not to overlook the important role that airport screeners play in our drive to increase and maintain aviation safety and security.
Fire Detection and Suppression
The Valujet crash in May, 1996 not only highlighted problems in oversight of contract maintenance, but also demonstrated the need for sufficient fire detection, control, and suppression in cargo compartments for both passenger and cargo aircraft. Even before the ValuJet crash, the NTSB had determined that safety would be improved if smoke detectors and/or fire suppressors were required in Class D cargo holds. These recommendations stemmed from a 1973 Pan Am accident that killed the cargo crew and a 1988 American Airlines incident involving an in-flight fire that was not discovered until the plane landed.
The FAA recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (Docket No. 28937) concerning this issue and it is my understanding that they are currently reviewing comments that have been filed. While aviation labor supports some aspects of this rule, it simply does not go far enough in reducing the risk of in-flight fires. It must be emphasized that cargo holds must have adequate fire detection and suppression systems. It does little good for a pilot to know that there is a fire on board if there is not some ability to address the problem. Often times, immediate landing is not a workable option, and based on the contents of the cargo, the fire may spread rapidly, jeopardizing the ability of the aircraft to remain operational. Adequate detection equipment should include the capability of monitoring compartment temperatures as well as smoke detection. In the suppression phase, temperature monitoring provides ongoing information as to the spreading of the fire; resurgence of the fire after initial knockdown; or the absence of heat reoccurrence after a knockdown.
As the aviation system is used more and more to transport cargo, it is incumbent on the FAA and the nation's air carriers to ensure that this practice does not threaten the safety of pilots, flight attendants, or the flying public. The technology available to detect and suppress cargo fires should be immediately installed, and the Commission should urge the FAA to accept the suggestions offered by our nation's pilots as a final rule is drafted.
Revisions to flight and duty time regulations for flight deck crew members are long overdue. Public comments on FAA proposed rules to prevent crew fatigue and increase flight safety were due on June 19, 1996. The FAA had requested comments for new limits on flight time and duty time, reserve duties and crew rest after repeated recommendations by the NTSB, unions and Members of Congress. Previous efforts by the FAA to alter rules to address crew fatigue have been opposed by industry groups, resulting in only minor changes.
Fatigue has recently received greater recognition as a factor in aircraft accidents. Much more is now known about the adverse effects that lack of sleep and working at night, during normal sleeping hours, can have on workers than was known 20 years ago when these regulations were devised. Fatigue is also a significant safety concern across the entire transportation industry. Pilots and crews frequently cross time zones, which affects alertness. Changes in flight technology must also be taken into account as the new regulations are developed. The FAA's final rule should restrict flying during normal sleep hours, known as "back side of the clock flying" and set reasonable limits on maximum duty time and provide sensible rest periods. Current rules are out of date and inadequate for one level of safety.
Criminal Background Checks
So far I have talked about proposals that TTD supports and believes will increase aviation safety and security. I want to touch briefly on an issue that we believe will have the opposite effect -- mandating intrusive criminal background checks on all aviation employees. It must be understood that the FAA and the carriers already have in place a system that checks the background of applicants and, thus, transportation labor believes the current system is sufficient. Mandating intrusive checks on all aviation workers with unescorted access to secure areas, including veteran employees, is a solution in search of a problem. Career aviation employees - for example, a 30-year pilot at United Airlines - are already among the most heavily regulated and supervised in the world and simply do not pose a credible threat to security. Moreover, at a time when Congress, the FAA and, in fact, this Commission is grappling with the challenge of financing a more aggressive federal safety and security program, it is an enormous waste of precious resources to expand the criminal background check program beyond its current scope and mandate.
The men and women who work in the aviation industry, whether they are pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, safety inspectors and technicians, air traffic controllers, or airport employees, have long been involved in the pursuit of making our aviation system safer. Our members have a first-hand perspective on what works and what needs improving as we seek to enhance aviation safety. The proposals discussed in these comments, while not a complete list of every issue workers are concerned with, do represent measures that employees have identified to make our aviation system as safe as possible. As the Commission examines the countless proposals and suggestions it has received, we hope that you will consider the views and concerns raised by those individuals who show up at airports or board aircrafts to go to work every day. They need and deserve a workplace that is as safe and secure as possible, and we urge you to help make this a reality.