Airline pilots want to make a very safe system even safer
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Airline pilots may fly aircraft of different sizes, carry passengers or freight, and land in urban, remote, or international destinations––but one trait we all have in common is an intense obsession with safety. We’re highly trained professionals who constantly review our operation, identify contingencies, and seek out ways to make a very safe system ever safer. The responsibility we shoulder—and deliver on—every flight of every day 365 days a year is the reason we must be fully informed and involved in bringing the B-737 MAX back into service. Whether it’s the decision on the comeback of the 737 MAX or the decision to take off on every flight, it’s safe to fly when your pilot says it is.

From my time as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps to my years flying for American Airlines and FedEx Express, I’ve seen aviation technology advance, and with it, the level of safety in our skies. As the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), “Schedule with Safety” is not merely our motto, it’s our way of life. Why? Because history has taught us the hazards of not considering and consulting the expertise and experience of frontline airline pilots in all aspects of airline operations—especially safety.

In many industries, the end users of technology and equipment are rightfully engaged throughout the process. Their opinions and feedback form a vital information loop that allows technology developers to respond and perfect their products. If ever there were an industry where the high stakes warrant this approach, it’s aviation—and airline pilots are proud that we’re not only included but more often leading a data-driven pursuit of safety in our industry.

We applaud the fact that the United States and Canada have a safety record that is second to none and that airline travel is the safest mode of transportation in the world. In fact, ALPA pilots have helped make it that way. But we believe the question that must be asked today is: Can an already-strong system become even stronger? And we believe the answer is “yes.”

There’s no doubt that airline pilots in the United States are among the most highly trained in the world. As we take to the skies, we’re trained to respond when we encounter even the most unlikely and unexpected events. It might be a storm and adverse weather, an aircraft system failure, a passenger emergency, or an engine malfunction. The variety of events that can appear out of the blue is truly infinite, but what never varies is how pilots turn to our experience and training to respond safely. It begins with preflight and only ends when we are off duty.

The history of aviation has not been written with the pen of complacency, and aviators past and present never stop looking for ways to improve the safety and efficiency of aircraft and flight operations. This is why ALPA applauds the introduction of the Safety Is Not for Sale Act, a bill that would make additional safety information available to airline pilots in the cockpit and provide airlines with more safety data about the equipment they operate, while also making onboard safety enhancements easier to acquire.

As passengers stream one by one onto the tens of thousands of flights that take off and land every day in the United States and Canada, they often get a glimpse of the pilots—our pilots—who will fly them safely to their destinations. There is trust in those quick glances. We pilots believe it’s because our passengers know and expect that we are, in fact, safety-obsessed.

It is because of our passengers that airline pilots can be counted on to provide our expert perspective from the cockpit as the B-737 MAX is evaluated and equipped to return to service. We’re also raising our voices in support of the Safety is not for Sale Act and every method and means to make this nation’s safe system even safer.

When is it safe? When your pilot-in-command says it’s safe.

Capt. Joe DePete is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 62,000 professional airline pilots in the United States and Canada and is the largest nongovernmental aviation safety organization in the world.