Release #09.006
February 24, 2009

Well-Trained Crew is Airliner’s Greatest Safety Asset
ALPA Testifies Before Congress on US Airways Flight 1549

WASHINGTON – In his testimony [written/oral] before the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee today, Capt. John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), pointed to the value of a well-trained, professional crew as the most important safety asset on any airline flight, including on US Airways Flight 1549.

As president of the largest non-governmental aviation safety organization in the world, Prater also noted the importance of a thorough accident investigation and the need for the highest safety standards regarding water survival training and equipment. He also underscored pilots’ continuing concerns about wildlife hazards (click here to watch C-SPAN’s coverage of the House Hearing on US Airways Flight 1549).

Prater urged the FAA, working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, to conduct a thorough analysis of the requirements for, and capabilities of, the various water-survival provisions on commercial aircraft. “The aviation industry has been provided with the extraordinarily rare opportunity to analyze a relatively intact airliner that not only successfully landed on water but also retained enough structural integrity to give all the occupants time to evacuate safely,” said Prater after his testimony. “We must learn everything we can from this event.”

For decades, ALPA pilots have been concerned about, and worked to address, wildlife hazards including bird strikes. Prater commended airport operators who administer Wildlife Hazard Management Plans and who are testing new technologies that the FAA will develop into an airport bird strike advisory system.

ALPA is also doing its part by releasing a publication titled ‘Wildlife Hazard Mitigation Strategies for Pilots,’ the very latest action in the union’s continual efforts to improve safety.

“However, the most important safety issue that emerged from this accident involves the human element,” said Prater. “When both engines failed, Capt. Sullenberger, First Officer Skiles, and the flight attendants used their training and worked as a team to make split-second, life-or-death decisions that literally determined the fate of 155 souls.”

Prater explained that the pilots, flight attendants, and others involved in the US Airways water landing do this job day-in and day-out, 24-7, 365 days of the year—often without recognition. He highlighted the fact that many airline pilots have lost pensions, wages, and medical benefits over the past eight years. Furloughs, bankruptcies, and near bankruptcies have further damaged many pilot contracts.

“These conditions have eroded the piloting profession to the point where our union has raised legitimate questions about whether the industry is capable of attracting and retaining the next Capt. Sullenberger,” said Prater. “While the traveling public might appreciate cheap seats in this economy, they need to know it comes with the hidden fee of losing quality pilots and making it nearly impossible to attract the next generation of pilots to fill the shoes of the crewmembers before them.”

“As the professional aviators who help keep this industry safe, together with the strong support of Congress, we can ensure that pilots can do the job they love for a decent living,” concluded Prater. “Our success in this mission is vital to our nation, our industry, and the safety of the traveling public.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilots union, representing 52,250 pilots at 35 airlines in the United States and Canada.

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Contact: Linda Shotwell, 703/481-4440 or