ALPA Annual Air Safety Awards Banquet

ALPA honors its members who advance aviation safety while flying the line or in volunteer work on their days off.

Air Line Pilot, November/December 2002, page 19
By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

"Tonight is a night of great celebration as we conclude a very successful Air Safety Forum—our 48th," the Association’s president, Capt. Duane Woerth, began. "This year’s theme, ‘Safety and Security—Meeting the New Challenge,’ reflects the reality of our aviation industry post-September 11. The paradigm shift that occurred on that day forever changed the way that we do business—from the way we approach our jobs as pilots to the way we interact with passengers and cabin crews."

Addressing an audience of more than 500 line pilot air safety representatives, their spouses, family members, and friends, plus guests from the aviation industry and government agencies, Capt. Woerth welcomed attendees to ALPA’s annual Air Safety Forum Awards Banquet.

This year, the ceremony was held in mid-August at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Capt. Woerth took a few minutes to reflect on the challenges ALPA has faced—and its successes—in dealing with the wide variety of issues that have confronted flight crew members as a result of the terrorist attacks.

ALPA’s successes in improving aviation safety and security, Capt. Woerth asserted, are "based a lot on the individual members of ALPA who volunteer their time and expertise. ALPA’s pilots step up to the task, work behind the scenes, attend myriad meetings, often appear first on the scene at airline accident sites, and make positive changes that make airline and airport operations safer.

"Many of you in the audience tonight," he added, "and many others around the United States and Canada who are not here tonight—are airline pilots who decided to do something of substance—individuals who wanted to and did make a real difference through their efforts."

Keynote speaker: Norman Y. Mineta

Noting that his two sons are airline pilots, and that his wife was a flight attendant for more than 30 years, the keynote speaker, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, asserted, "Nothing showed the world how well you do your job more than September 11.…More than 4,500 of you landed your airplanes in under two-and-a-half hours—without a single accident or injury. This act was unprecedented in history. You are among the heroes of September 11."

Turning to the ongoing debate about arming airline cockpits, Mineta said, "You are the last line of defense against terrorists who want to take control of the airplane. We want you to be prepared for that possibility. At the same time, we are working hard to do everything possible to see that you are never put in that position…."

He added, "The TSA’s study on weapons in the cockpit is all about… helping us help you do your job. We are honestly looking for the best way to do that."

Lamenting that he can no longer ride airline jumpseats to chat with flight crews as he did while serving in Congress, Mineta asked Capt. Woerth "for a favor: Every few weeks, let’s…get a small group of pilots together and have them come over and see me at the Department of Transportation. It’ll be an off-the-record chat. The pilots can tell me what’s on their minds, and I can tell you what’s on my mind."

Capt. Woerth agreed to do just that. Then he presented the following awards to well-deserving Association members:

ALPA Presidential Citation

Capt. Gene Couvillion (United) has served on a number of different committees in support of the United pilots’ Master Executive Council. These have included the Contract Audit Committee, Scheduling Committee, and Professional Standards Committee. He also served on the ALPA Election Ballot Certification Board and the Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) Exceedance Guidance Team.

On the national level, Capt. Couvillion served on the FOQA Monitoring Committee and on the FOQA/ASAP Task Force. He also participated in the FAA’s FOQA Aviation Rulemaking Committee. All told, Capt. Couvillion has volunteered for more than 20 years of his 37 years with United Airlines to support ALPA and his fellow pilots.

"Many of you may not know," Capt. Woerth pointed out, "that Gene’s work, along with that of Capt. Bill Brashear (United, Ret.), developed the first fully functional, up-and-running FOQA program. He was instrumental in developing the interpretative language for industrywide FOQA aggregate data sharing under the recently issued FAA rule on FOQA."

The ALPA Presidential Citation for Outstanding Service is "given in recognition of unselfish personal dedication and longstanding service in the advance of air safety in the world’s air transportation system with resulting benefits to all who fly."

Accepting the citation, Capt. Couvillion said, "Thank you very much. To be recognized by a group of your peers is the best award you can ever get."

Superior Airmanship Award

On the night of Oct. 13, 2001, Capt. David Vick and First Officer Jason Foley had just leveled off at 5,000 feet, inbound to Newark International in their Continental Express ATR 42, when they felt and heard a very large bang. Flight 3354 was suddenly no longer uneventful.

The airplane yawed to the right, rolled, and pitched down. The autopilot disconnected, and the airplane rolled to a bank angle of about 35-40 degrees and a pitch angle of 5-8 degrees nose down.

Capt. Vick had to use all his strength to control the yoke.

Also, the right power lever was jammed; the right engine was stuck at 68 percent torque.

Capt. Vick asked F/O Foley to declare an emergency. He did.

F/O Foley turned on the wing light and saw that the outer 2 feet of the right wing had "imploded." The right engine, spinner, and propeller appeared to be undamaged, but the airplane was shaking violently.

"The right wing seemed like it was stalling every second or two," F/O Foley recalled later, "and there was vibration between the stalls."

Capt. Vick told F/O Foley to brief air traffic control, call the company, talk to the flight attendant, and brief the passengers. After completing those tasks, F/O Foley managed to work the right power lever back to about 50 percent by pulling with both hands.

Though the buffeting decreased and control improved with 15 and then 30 degrees of flap, the airplane was still a handful. Capt. Vick flew the approach about 20 knots fast to maintain control. In the flare, the buffeting on the right wing resumed, and he needed both hands on the yoke to keep the airplane level.

Subsequent investigation showed that the airplane had suffered two strikes from Canada geese—one to the outboard leading edge of the right wing, the other to the center wing fairing. The latter strike jammed the right engine’s power lever cables and created a basketball-sized hole that acted like a huge scoop.

Capt. Woerth presented both pilots with ALPA Superior Airmanship Award plaques "for demonstrating superior airmanship and professionalism" in bringing the severely damaged ATR 42 to a safe landing.

Capt. Vick thanked an impressive number of individuals and organizations, including Capt. Woerth "for bringing us home to ALPA."

F/O Foley thanked "the New York controllers for helping us get back safely on the ground that night." He quipped, "I’d also like to thank the two geese that made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could receive this award."

Superior Airmanship Award

Capt. Steve Norris, First Officer Blaine Comfort, and Second Officer Scott McDorman were the flight crew of DHL Airways Flight 951, a DC-8 cargo flight scheduled to fly from Mexico City to Cincinnati on the rainy night of Sept. 25, 2001 (see "That Was Close!" September/October).

As the freighter accelerated through approximately 100 knots during its takeoff roll, S/O McDorman saw a broadside Air France B-777 blocking the entire runway ahead. He screamed "Airplane!" and pointed down the runway.

Capt. Norris took over the controls from F/O Comfort and almost instantly pulled the thrust levers into full reverse and applied maximum braking. Seeing that the badly hydroplaning DC-8 was barely decelerating, he steered the 250,000 pounds of airplane, fuel, and cargo off the runway to the right at approximately 90 knots. The DC-8 missed the B-777 by an estimated 100 feet—close enough for the DHL crew to clearly see the horrified faces of passengers in the windows of the Triple Seven.

The DC-8 skidded through the rainsoaked grass toward the parallel taxiway, narrowly missing several concrete structures as it slid about 1,000 feet through the mud. The airplane came to rest with the right wingtip hanging over the taxiway, sunk in the mud up to the engine nacelles.

Miraculously, no one was injured in this near collision that resulted from the B-777 flight crew’s runway incursion.

All three DHL flight crew members received the ALPA Superior Airmanship Award "[f]or demonstrating superior airmanship and professionalism…." Their plaques noted, "Your prompt action avoided many fatalities and brings great credit upon yourself, your airline, and your profession."

Accepting the award, Capt. Norris echoed Capt. Couvillion’s eloquently concise acknowledgment: "Being recognized by your peers is a great honor."

F/O Comfort declared, "God’s hand guided us through the weeds that night—we missed several concrete structures." He joked, "This is probably the first Superior Airmanship Award given to a crew that never got off the ground."

S/O McDorman said he would "go anywhere, any time with Capt. Norris and F/O Comfort."

He thanked ALPA for "the outpouring of support" he and his fellow flight crew members received from ALPA.

"Our first call was to DHL, to let them know we’d broken one of their DC-8s," he recalled. "Our second call was to the ALPA [accident notification] hotline.

"Within a few minutes, we were on a conference call with an ALPA attorney and an accident investigator," S/O McDorman said. "Those voices coming across the international lines made it clear what you pay your dues for. The rest of the night went uphill from there."

Superior Airmanship Award

In the early morning of Aug. 24, 2001, Air Transat Flight 236, A330 service from Toronto to Lisbon, was over the Atlantic Ocean. About two-thirds of the way to Portugal, Capt. Robert Piché and First Officer Dirk De Jager noted engine gauges showed high oil pressure and low oil temperature. Then they made another chilling discovery: Thousands of kilograms of fuel were missing; investigators would later find that a rupture of a fuel line in the nacelle caused a large amount of fuel to be pumped overboard.

The two pilots quickly realized they had to divert, in the wee hours of the night, to a place neither of them had ever landed. While they were about 300 miles northeast of Terceira Island in the Azores, they elected to divert to Lajes Airport there.

About 100 miles from Lajes, the right engine flamed out. Ten minutes later, when the A330 was at 34,500 feet and 70 miles from the island, the left engine quit.

With a minimal amount of hydraulic pressure and electrical power supplied by the airplane’s ram air turbine, Capt. Piché began a long glide toward Lajes. As the first light of dawn appeared and the airplane was descending through 15,000 feet, Capt. Piché knew he could reach the airport. He decided to fly a visual approach.

During the landing rollout, the A330 blew all eight main gear tires—probably because the reduced electrical power left the antiskid system inoperative. Capt. Piché nevertheless managed to stop the airplane on the runway.

Capt. Woerth said, "The quick and decisive actions by these pilots were instrumental in saving the 291 passengers and 13 crew members" after the dual-engine flameout over the ocean at night.

Capt. Piché said he was "honored to receive this award from ALPA," and thanked F/O De Jager for having the confidence in him to make the landing.

F/O De Jager added, "Hats off to the two previous[ly honored] crews." He thanked ALPA "for all their support," and noted, "after a night like that, a lot of things need answers."

Air Safety Award

The highlight of the evening was Capt. Woerth’s presentation of the annual ALPA Air Safety Award, the Association’s highest honor for a line pilot for aviation safety work. This year’s honoree was Capt. Mack Moore (United), who received the award for "significant contributions to flight safety while representing the best interests of airline pilots through his many years of service as chairman of the ALPA Airport/Ground Environment Group and leadership of the Regional Safety Committee and Airport Liaison Programs" (see "Mack Moore: Footprints All Over the Airport," September/October).

Capt. Woerth acknowledged, "Mack has participated in so many, many air safety activities on the local, national, and international levels, we can only give you a few examples tonight—or we’d still be here tomorrow morning."

Those activities have included

• shaping International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations positions on airports standards;

• serving as the IFALPA representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization Visual Aids Panel, an international group that sets standards for airport lighting, markings, signage, and other visual aids;

• participating in the FAA’s Research and Development Advisory Committee, which provides aviation industry input to the agency in setting its R&D budget priorities; and

• playing a leading role in the government/industry Commercial Aviation Safety Team Joint Analysis Safety Team and Joint Implementation Safety Team on runway incursions, which developed standard operating procedures and an Individual Best Practices template for ground operations.

"If Mack Moore has a human shortcoming," Capt. Woerth observed, "it’s that he’s humble to a fault. Nevertheless, we’re hoping he will have a few words for us."

Capt. Moore regaled his audience with multiple tales from his early years as a pilot. Turning serious at the end of his remarks, however, he raised the award plaque over his head.

Dedicating the award to the families of ALPA line pilot safety representatives everywhere for the sacrifices they make in support of their pilot’s volunteer service, he declared, "This one’s for you!"