Committee Corner
News from ALPA's Committees

Maintaining the Standards of the Profession

Professional Standards

By Gary DiNunno, Editor-in-Chief
Air Line Pilot, August, p.27

As a licensed professional, an airline pilot is required to meet certain standards before being able to truthfully say, "I’m an airline pilot." To obtain certificates and ratings, airline pilots must meet training standards, medical standards, mental standards, education standards, nationality standards, and more. ALPA’s pilots monitor those standards and ensure that members of the profession meet or exceed those requirements or are getting training to help to bring themselves back to that high level of professionalism.

Fortunately, most airline pilots never falter and never require a colleague’s help for a professional course correction. Those few who do need guidance can turn to ALPA’s Professional Standards Committee. Peer volunteer pilots are trained to correct problems, to guide back toward acceptable work habits those who stray from the path, and to sustain, maintain, and strengthen the code that ALPA members have set for themselves—all before any ethics or work practices problem can rise to the consciousness of airline management, government agencies, or the traveling public.

Many line pilots who volunteer to be Professional Standards Committee representatives find out from their Committee predecessors, who have years of professional standards experience, what’s acceptable and how to redirect a colleague who has strayed. In addition, ALPA conducts an annual seminar to provide volunteers with the latest successful techniques, reoccurring issues, and tools for their use. More than 160 participants from different airlines and professions attended the 2004 Conference in Seattle, Wash., May 11–13.

First Officer Bernie Sanders (Alaska) is chairman of ALPA’s Human Performance (HUPER) Committee, which oversees ALPA’s Professional Standards, HIMS (an alcohol-abuse rehabilitation program), Critical Incident Response Program, Aeromedical, and Pilot Assistance Committees. During the 2004 gathering, F/O Sanders said, "This is an important gathering for anyone doing professional standards work. Coming to this session for updates on procedures, techniques, and tools that are available is important. This year we added an advanced seminar session for people who have been to this Conference several times before. So we stepped up the level of training available to our veteran volunteers."

Noting that the then-current Professional Standards Committee chairman, Capt. Mike Calabrese (America West), was retiring and passing the torch to Capt. John Rosenberg (Northwest), F/O Sanders said the change will be smooth. "Capt. Rosenberg has been part of the professional standards team for 25 years."

F/O Sanders observed that other changes facing professional standards volunteers include dealing with the effects of the turmoil in the airline industry. "Our volunteers must be prepared to help pilots who are on furlough or seeking employment with a new airline," he warned. Another new issue that may arise is the presence of Federal Flight Deck Officers on a flight. F/O Sanders said, "Armed pilots in the cockpit, and the procedures that they must follow, may present challenges that require peer mediation."

Capt. Rosenberg, who as of May 13 is the new Professional Standard Committee chairman, said, "The two-tiered structure for this year’s Conference has received a lot of compliments from participants. The idea began several years ago, when the very experienced professional standards volunteers who attend the Conference each year began seeing the same format and attending the same seminars about fundamental issues. We realized that we had to change our menu to make better use of our time."

Capt. Rosenberg said, "Over the course of my involvement in Professional Standards, I feel strongly that no more singular succinct statement defines what it is to be a professional airline pilot than the ALPA Code of Ethics. The Professional Standards Committee is the guardian or gatekeeper of that Code.

"I have gleaned two things that stand out more than anything else in capturing the essence of the professional standards approach: one, peer intervention is a very powerful tool in helping to modify behavior—much more effective in most cases than discipline by management. Pilots, in particular, are loathe to feel that they are not measuring up against their peer group. When the Professional Standards Committee contacts a pilot, what we are saying, in effect, is ‘We represent the collective voice of your fellow pilots, and a perceived problem with your conduct is unbecoming and unprofessional. You are not measuring up to ALPA’s Code of Ethics and are making us all look bad in the eyes of your peers and the traveling public.’

"The second benefit," Capt. Rosenberg said, "is the forum we provide to give our pilots an opportunity to confidentially discuss with a peer, any problem of an ethical or professional nature. Confidentiality is the cornerstone of professional standards work. Often, a pilot’s family or acquaintance outside aviation can’t always appreciate the problem, especially if it is technical in nature, because they simply don’t ‘speak the language.’ The peer volunteer not only can, but may empathize as well. Two mandatory attributes of a Professional Standards Committee volunteer must be patience and the willingness to be a good listener. In addition, peer volunteers should be non-judgmental and neutral. Often a pilot needs an outlet to simply vent."

Capt. Rosenberg added, "I believe we will see this concept grow to include more airlines and more employee groups outside of ALPA. That, in turn, will create larger and more complex training Conferences. In the past, we could always count on large contingents from our older carriers at these conferences. Some of those carriers no longer exist. We see many more of ALPA’s smaller pilot groups represented at the Conference and taking part in developing and promoting the professional standards process."

Courses offered during the 2004 Conference included discussions that Suzanne Kalfus, an ALPA senior attorney, led with new volunteers on maintaining confidentiality and on preventing sexual harassment. Capt. Bob Lynch (United, Ret.) presented the basics of professional standards methods, and discussed listening skills and the importance of body language. Capt. Michael Sigman (American) reviewed the manual provided to professional standards volunteers. Capt. Nancy Novaes (Continental), ALPA’s Pilot Assistance Committee chairman, discussed the expansion of training sessions held in Canada. Capt. Ron Nielson (America West) presented proven methods for motivating people to accept change; Dr. Dan Zenga, a psychologist, worked with the group on conflict resolution. Capt. Cholene Espinoza (United) discussed the mediation process that volunteers can use to defuse conflict. The more-experienced participants discussed interacting with repeat offenders. The veteran professional standards volunteers then led participant teams through nearly 9 hours of deidentified case studies that included role playing, suggestions for problem solving, and follow-up.

First Officer Steve Mikkelson (Alaska) noted, "I got involved in professional standards last year. We had our own introduction to the ALPA process in Seattle. I came to this Conference to gain more insight." He went on to add, "Fortunately, in Los Angeles we don’t get a lot of work. But when the day comes that I am called, I want to be as prepared as possible to provide the best services that I can. I hope to take back to my pilots the ability to provide mediation so that issues can be handled among ourselves rather than turned over to management, who might require punitive solutions." He noted that the Conference reinforced the procedures discussed last year. F/O Mikkelson added, "Because I have not had much opportunity to practice techniques and procedures, the mock sessions here are very valuable."

First Officer Tom Brunke (Northwest) said that this was his third Conference. He added, "Regrouping every year, getting recharged, and refreshing the tools we use to help pilots on the line is very important. I hope to gain from this Conference some new techniques and different skills. Meeting people from different airlines helps me get different perspectives on the problems all pilots face.

"I’m glad to see that we have such a good turnout for the Conference—management reps and reps from non-traditional airlines," F/O Brunke added. "It’s good that we are all working on these professional standards issues from the same checklist."

Capt. Lauren Elliott, the Professional Standard Committee chairman for Atlantic Coast/Independence Air, said this was her third Conference. "I have five committee members and two chief pilots with me this year." She added, "This is a great Conference every year. I get motivated by the training to reeducate the pilots about what our Professional Standards Committee is trying to accomplish and what we offer the pilots as a resource."

Capt. Elliott noted that the pilots of Atlantic Coast have an active program. "With 9/11, and now with our move to Independence Air, we have been experiencing a lot of stress. But we have also been able to build upon the Committee’s credibility with both the pilot group and the chief pilot’s office. The members of our pilot group know that their peers are taking care of them."