Numbers Speak Louder than Words
Enjoy the Journey
By Improving the Cultural Environment
Last week in the post: Mental Health and Culture, I presented the negative impact and power that corporate culture has on the mental health of a pilot, and how a toxic work environment can negatively impact any employee. Today I want to share how airlines could improve the mental health of pilots, and the entire workgroup overnight, if they were truly concerned.
1). Sign the pilot contract and remove uncertainty. There is absolutely no reason that airline pilots should wait 4-5 years, or longer, to get a contract to improve working conditions. The stress of this uncertainty is impacting the mental health of all your pilots, and contractual requirements are necessary to reduce fatigue.2). Airline management should honor Federal Regulations and stop extending flight crews to ungodly hours on duty via corporate "workarounds" despite the FAA's approval. Placing pilots on duty over 24 hours may be deemed a workaround, but that practice is in violation of any SMS. This practice is causing excessive fatigue and is a safety concern.3). Staff the airline properly to enable employee downtime. Granted, airline management allowed early retirement of far too many pilots to rid itself of the most expensive pilots, despite being allotted government money as a result of Covid. But two wrongs don't make a right. Fix your mistakes, don't cover them up with pilot pushing.4). Pay all pilots adequately versus paying some double time to incentivize pilots to fly fatigued. This statement circles back to point 1: Sign your contract.
5). Management should be held to higher standards than those they lead. Hypocrisy angers most people, and the double standards of ethics and compliance sets the bar for other employees very low.6). Scrap the doctor note requirement (that is easily obtained) and treat your employees with respect. Every U.S. pilot is required to sign a release asserting that they are fit to fly prior to departure. Unfortunately, some airline management has determined that these professionals cannot make that determination prior to arriving to the airport. Perhaps we should have a doctor sign the release at each departure certifying pilots are fit to fly, if pilots cannot be trusted to know their health.
7). Allow pilots to use their allotted sick leave for mental health days without question. If a pilot were to have an argument with their spouse that has put them on edge, is dealing with a troubled teen, a crying baby, or just wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, that pilot should be able to use his or her allotted sick days for a mental health day. Those who know they should not be in a plane will act accordingly and call in sick anyway. If required, they will find a doctor to write them a note. No doctor will ever force a pilot to fly. My question is, why is the company forcing pilots to lie so the pilot can ensure a safe operation?
8). Management should practice what they preach. Nothing sickens people more than observing behavior that contradicts the marketing mantra that is known to be false.
9). Stop paying doctors to falsely assert pilots are alcoholics or mentally unfit because they report safety concerns. Meaning, stop retaliating and just solve the problem instead of killing the messenger.
There will always be pilots with multiple issues outside the workplace that they are trying to deal with. The FAA wants those pilots to come forward if they need help. Everyone, management included, advises us to seek help before it's too late. The problem is, if all a pilot needs is some time to deal with issues at home, to exercise, sleep and get physically and mentally healthy, then wouldn't the first step be to take some time off? Why wouldn't that first step be to use their sick leave to get some much needed rest? If a pilot has sick-leave available, why is that pilot prohibited from using that time until he pushes himself to sickness or mentally breaks?
10). The FAA should mandate that any pilot who needs time off should be allowed to use company allotted sick leave without question.
Of An Airline
A Sickness in the Aviation Industry
Friday May 6, from 2-5 pmSaturday May 7, from 10 am to 5 pmSunday May 8 from 1pm to 5 pm.
I will be there to show the house, sell books, and do a bit of studying. If the dates and times don't work for you, and you are a serious pre-qualified buyer, please email me and I will schedule a private showing. Karlene.Petitt@gmail.com
Due to the Airline/Pilot Contract
A Failure in the AIR21 Statute
AIR21 is known as the whistleblower law for airlines. Most recently, because of the cover-ups at Boeing and the ensuing MAX crashes, aircraft manufacturers were brought into the AIR21 statute to protect those employees as well. But how effective is this law? While it appears that employees are protected, in truth, the AIR21 statute enables employers to retaliate with minimum risk to their bottom line and zero accountability.
The ARB has confirmed the company violated federal law with high-level executives’ knowledge and involvement. Those executives paid a doctor $74,000 to give a pilot a false medical diagnosis. That doctor even forfeited his medical license to avoid prosecution for his actions. However, the executives, in-house attorneys, and in-house doctor who instigated the deception and deceit, by paying the doctor for a false report, are another story. Most of these people have been promoted within the company. Now you ask… how could any of this occur in todays world? How could any judicial body challenge an award, asserting under these Godforsaken circumstances that the pilot did not suffer enough for what transpired? The company’s appeal likely cost more than $500,000.
The door to that case is not closed. The ARB compared the pilot’s pain and suffering to a manager at the Georgia power company who was awarded $250,000 back in 1989. The equivalent to those dollars in today’s market is approximately $465,000. Yet, the question must be asked, why aren’t punitive damages also allowed for AIR21 complaints? They are in other statutes.
Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are an award of money over and above compensatory damages. The purpose of these damages is to punish for violations in which respondents are aware that they are violating the law or where the violations involved egregious misconduct…
Punitive damages are awarded when the respondent’s conduct is motivated by evil motive or intent, or the conduct demonstrates reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others. In determining whether to award punitive damages, investigators should focus on the character of the respondent’s conduct and consider whether it is of the sort that calls for deterrence and punishment over and above compensatory damages. (Whistleblower Manual pg 143).
Believe it or not, the very law that is designed to protect the traveling public has no teeth to protect those who step forward. AIR21 is a statute under OSHA. And OSHA allows for punitive damages for other statutes, just not for the AIR21 statute. Ironically, those employees that are protected with punitive damages include: Federal Railroad Safety Act Whistleblower Protection Provision (FRSA), National Transit Systems Security Act (NTSSA); and Seamans Protection Act (SPA). These statutes allow for punitive damages for egregious and illegal behavior. But not in the airline industry. Why not?
To put this in perspective… travelers by sea, the railroad and the transit system are protected because employers are less apt to retaliate against employees for bringing forth safety due to the availability of punitive damages, more than those passengers flying on an airliner. Airline employees, and now aircraft manufacturer employees, despite the law, are silenced daily. They will continue to be silenced unless this law is changed.
In those other statutes, punitive damages are awarded "when a management official involved in the adverse action knew the adverse action violated the relevant whistleblower statute before it occurred, or the official perceived there was a risk that the action was illegal but did not stop or prevent the conduct." (Whistleblower Manual pg. 144).
However, in the airline industry even if top level management such as a VP or SVP of flight operations were the very people who retaliated against an employee, and the CEO sat on the sidelines watching and did nothing to stop it, there are still no punitive damages, despite the egregious and illegal behavior of those airline executives. Grounding of a pilot that may last for years, or termination of a mechanic or flight attendant is unconscionable.
Imagine a young man with a family to feed, a mortgage to pay, and he loses his job because he refused to sign off an un-airworthy aircraft. Without an income how does he employ an attorney? Attorneys cannot take these cases on contingency. Not only is there no endgame reward, but the employee is only awarded “reasonable” attorney fees, not necessarily all they incurred. Whereas the airline can throw any disgusting amount of stockholder profits to outside law firms, even if they have an indefensible case. How does an airline hide money they pay to a doctor for such corrupt actions from the stockholders? They itemize the doctor as a “vendor”. How does an airline hide money for attorneys in such cases? That is simply a business expense. What recourse does an employee have?
Imagine a pilot who was unjustly removed from duty for 2 years. Then spent six-years of pain and suffering while fighting for his career, fighting for justice, battling the stress that consumed his health and the health of those that he loves. Legal fees well over the half-million dollars continued to accumulate. Not knowing if he will ever get his attorney fees returned. Mortgaging his home and selling another to finance the challenges. Then the administrative review board (ARB) confirms that top level executives’ behavior was egregious, and they were guilty of federal violations. Yet, this body determines the employee did not suffer enough to deserve the compensatory damages that had been awarded. However, if punitive damages were allowed, legally they would have been the highest level based upon the facts of the case.
Now imagine that pilot was a woman, and a HIMS AME (FAA doctor) told her that airlines buy doctors and it was “a dirty business” they all knew about. That her airline had attempted to engage him, but he could not be bought, only silenced. The company went elsewhere. He then tells her that all the doctors are talking about her. He also wrote on an aviation social media platform that the pilot is medically unfit to fly, and she only returned to the airline because she was in bed with management. How much pain and suffering must a pilot endure?
Furthermore, do you believe that if an airline spends millions to destroy a pilot, loses in court, and then loses their appeal as well, and they are only slapped on the hand with limited compensatory damages, that this law will deter them for repeating their illegal behavior? I don’t think it will. While the AIR21 statute does not limit compensatory damages, those subjective views can, and to the detriment of safety and pilots willingness to report.
The AIR21 Law could simply be a placebo for the traveling public and naive employees who think they are protected. Granted this is all we have. However, one might think a pilot would be crazy to take on an entire airline with the entire executive force involved, all the way up to the CEO, as well as the knowledge of the Board of Directors. Add the FAA administrator into that mix.
What I have learned about this law and perhaps the legal system in general, is that even when you win you lose. Because, without punitive damages the airlines and manufacturers will continue to play their illegal games, working around federal regulations, and threatening employees who have no real protections if top-level management is involved. When those very people who are proven in a court of law have committed federal violations that impact passenger safety, are allowed to be promoted or continue on status quo who does the pilot turn to?
Is it a Planned Event?
There are many pilots motivating kids to join our much-loved profession. I being one of them. However, my fear is that these young people won't have a job by the time they reach their dreams. The pilot shortage was not an overnight event, but has been a process in the works for many years. At the end of the day, I predict the FAA will state,
"Due to the pilot shortage, highly advanced aircraft, and the implementation of NextGen we don't need a full crew complement. In response to economic interest and the requirement of the traveling public four pilot crews are replaced by three pilots, three to two, and two to one."
Thus far, my predictions have been more than accurate. I believe, eventually there will only be one individual on the aircraft monitoring the automation. Airlines, supported by the FAA, will use the thousands of ASAP reports to prove that pilots make errors and automation is much safer. Far from the truth. If ALPA and other pilot unions don't start taking this threat seriously, we may not have any pilot jobs in the future.
I often receive emails from pilots from other countries wanting to fly in the U.S. They are hopeful that the U.S. government will make this happen due to the pilot shortage. Unfortunately, the facts reveal that the government may have been helping to drive the pilot shortage in order to support NextGen and the removal of pilots on behalf of airline management. Some may think that assertion is a plot point in a novel. Yes it is, but the truth is, my novels reveal industry goals and associated actions.
Due to the delay of NextGen, the industry is behind schedule and feeling the pain of the agency-induced pilot shortage. Then airlines retired too many pilots due to Covid, that exacerbated the problem. Despite the billions of dollars provided to U.S. Airlines, airlines are crying a pilot shortage because they did not plan. Or did they?. Even SkyWest attempted to cut service. While the industry is not ready for the fully automated aircraft to take over, it's coming.
Over the previous dozen years the evidence has been presenting itself piece by piece. It's nothing short of a puzzle that when enough pieces are put into place the picture eventually unfolds. I believe we are there.
The FAA asserts that they instituted the 1500-hour rule because of the 2009 Colgan Air crash. That is a false assertion, and was nothing but marketing propaganda. That crash did not occur because of either pilot's lack of flight time. That crash was due to poor training and lack of understanding that resulted in poor performance with fatigue involved. It was also the prologue of my first novel, Flight For Control for a reason.
Increasing pilot flight hours was in the works far before that crash occurred, and was later used as an illusion that the FAA was taking action to solve a problem that served their goals and pacified the Colgan Air families. Thus, the pilot shortage began when young people realized the expense and difficulty to obtain their goals of becoming a pilot with that lofty hourly requirement. Ironically suicidal pilots were introduced in this first novel, and later the Germanwing's crash occurred. Who would have known how that plot point would come full circle... but it did in Flight For Sanity.
The FAA approved "train to proficiency" with AQP (Advanced Qualification Program). One of the mandates with AQP was training as a crew concept. Meaning, AQP required the Captain and First Officer to train as a crew because 50% of that training was to be the pilot non-flying duties in their respective seat. The FAA knows that highly automated aircraft incidents and accidents are due to communication errors that could be mitigated by line-oriented training. But the FAA has never enforced the respective seat requirement. I believe they may have dropped it altogether. Train to proficiency means that airline's save money on training that may be less than sufficient, as identified by an astounding number of ASAP reports.
Flight For Safety identifies inadequate training, highlighting an incident that was exactly like the events that brought down AF447. Who would have known that AF447 crash would become a thread in all the ensuing novels that would ultimately identify the corruption of the FAA, that becomes part of the newest novel Flight For Discovery. The FAA had more than a dozen ASAP reports that identified the exact problem that brought down AF447 and killed 228 people. There was no training and no fix until after 228 people died, despite their knowledge through the ASAP program. Not unlike the MAX crashes.
As we will learn in the next novel, Flight For Justice, a Federal Judge who was once an FAA prosecuting attorney is extremely disappointed in the ASAP program because the incidents are on the rise and fixes are at an all-time low. I do not believe this is a coincidence.
With all that was occurring in the aviation world, I decided to increase my knowledge and began my PhD at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. What I learned was both interesting and frightening, I presented my research in a non-fiction book: Normalization of Deviance, a Threat to Aviation Safety. I also learned about Safety Management Systems (SMS). Transport Canada implemented SMS in 2000, and ICAO's requirement began in 2006. Not until 2015 did the FAA make SMS an FAR Part 121 regulation, with full compliance mandated by 2018. A requirement of SMS is to train all employees on SMS.
If you ask a pilot what SMS is, and they believe it's an acronym of a component of the aircraft or a messaging system, then that airline is not in compliance. This testimony comes to light in the next novel, Flight For Justice. However, Flight for Survival was the novel I wrote during my advanced education, highlighting areas of industry concern focused on Safety Culture and SMS and how that applies to pilot training. With a little drug smuggling on the side.
Retaliation of a pilot bringing her concerns forward found their way into Flight For Sanity, that resulted in Darby being grounded for two years in a corporate effort to silence her. We learn about the Whistleblower Law, AIR21, in Flight For Truth, and the real-life challenges of any pilot who is retaliated against for safety concerns, calling in fatigued, or concerned about training.
The MAX crashes and the FAA's lack of oversight became part of the newest novel, Flight For Discovery, as did the AF447 crash. SMS requires a positive safety culture. And when airlines or manufacturers can retaliate to silence employees, we have a problem. The AIR21 law is not solving that problem because it's nothing more than a slap on the hand for management. But that doesn't stop Darby Bradshaw to hold them accountable. Sadly, when a female pilot is raped, we learn how airline management and their union, ALPO, utilizes the HIMS program to retaliate and control pilots in their effort to improve safety.
The pieces to this puzzle are forming the picture. The pandemic allowed airlines to retire the vast experience at the top of the airline, despite the billions the government gave them to survive, but still resulted in the perpetuation of the pilot shortage. However, the plot thickens when you look at who was involved in the real life events.
There was one FAA administrator who implemented the 1500-hour increase. He denied mental health testing for pilots overall, but then still allowed airline managers to use those tests in retaliation to remove pilots--despite his assertion of the tests not being effective. He was also the administrator during the lack of oversight for the MAX development, and he left office 6 months before the first crash. His administration failed to enforce AQP as mandated by the regulation. Yet, while he implemented SMS he failed to enforce that as well. Where is he now? Rumor is, he sits on the Board of Directors of one of the airlines he served, when he was an administrator.
ALPA has chimed in to assert they support "Two pilots always on the Flight Deck". The union is also against reduced crew operations. However, I am uncertain if ALPA realizes that they could be part of the problem by not advocating for greater proficiency through improved training that would reduce ASAP reports. ALPA could mandate proper crew complement during training by ensuring a Captain is paired with a First Officer. They could also mandate duty time limitations, to reduce fatigue, which the FAA is currently looking the other way while pilots are on duty for up to 20-hours and calling it a "workaround" on behalf of the airline. Clearly any workaround of an FAR is in violation of SMS. How is it possible to mitigate risk, the primary goal of SMS, if you don't honor the very regulations designed to reduce risk?
Despite what ALPA is or is not doing, the fact is, no FAA representative is allowed to take money or a reward of any kind from any airline--so says the law. I believe a delayed payment if the form of a board of director's position, after retirement from the FAA, is in fact taking money for having created rules and regulations that served the airline's bottom line versus improving safety. You'll love the prologue of the most recent novel, Flight For Discovery.
We have a challenge ahead, and I invite you to