This is your captain speaking: We can’t allow another government shutdown

Most airline passengers — even the most experienced road warriors — hear the words “this is your captain speaking” and recognize that what follows is going to be something they’ll want to know. The nation’s airline pilots would like to make one thing clear: This country can’t allow another shutdown. We urge Congress and the president, to provide the stable funding our aviation system requires to ensure safe, secure, and efficient air travel.

When it comes to safeguarding our skies, pilots are the final judge of what is safe and unsafe for the passengers, crews and cargo we carry. Federal regulations give airline pilots the authority and discretion to determine whether it’s safe to fly, and we exercise our experience and judgment when making that decision on each flight.

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The federal authority states that “the pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.”

Pilots are trained for life to make these critical decisions and keep our skies safe. Based on a complex system of data collection, analysis and dissemination, we exercise our judgment and draw from our experience to assess the flight and ensure that any potential safety risks are adequately addressed. This risk-predictive, data-driven approach holds true for an individual flight as well as for the air transportation system across the country.

Today, aviation is the safest mode of transportation in the world. For nearly 10 years, there has not been a single fatality on a U.S. passenger airline related to pilot qualifications. How have we climbed to this pinnacle of aviation safety? By advocating new training and experience requirements for pilots and using a data-driven approach that allows us to identify risk and address it.

With the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2018, Congress charted a course to do more to advance aviation safety — and make certain that this record continues. The reauthorization upheld the training, qualification, and experience requirements for airline pilots that resulted from the investigation of the Colgan Flight 3407 accident, which occurred on Feb. 12, 2009, and we are remembering this week.

The reauthorization also prescribed the automatic acceptance of voluntary safety reports that contribute to a data-driven approach to predict and address safety risks in the system. In addition, the act helps safeguard air transportation against undeclared dangerous goods, mandates secondary cockpit barriers on newly manufactured passenger airliners, and permits the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regulate unmanned aircraft systems or drones flown by hobbyists in the same manner as commercial operators.

The aviation safety progress brought about by the 2018 FAA reauthorization promises to take the U.S. air transportation system to the necessary next level as we work to meet future passenger and cargo demand — and we’re working to make certain the reauthorization is implemented as Congress intended

But another shutdown would disrupt the collection of data, delay improvements and fail to protect the current high safety standard at a time when the United States must not only maintain, but also modernize our system. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Deadline approaches for 2020 Dems Dems eye big infrastructure package, with or without Trump MORE (D-Ore) that would allow the FAA to carry out its mission during a government shutdown by drawing from the Airport and Aviation Trust Fund. The measure, H.R. 1108, is exactly what is needed to keep the skies safe, secure and efficient for travelers and shippers during a government shutdown and avoid forcing air traffic controllers and other aviation safety professionals to work without pay as they perform their lifesaving jobs. 

Airline pilots — along with the traveling and shipping public — understand that we can’t allow the safety, security, and efficiency of U.S. air transportation to be jeopardized by another government shutdown. As the Feb. 15 funding extension deadline approaches, passing H.R. 1108 will make certain that funding for U.S. air transportation isn’t left up in the air. Airline industry professionals will do their jobs to keep the skies safe. Will Congress and the president do theirs?

Capt. Joe DePete is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 61,000 professional airline pilots in the United States and Canada and is the largest non-governmental aviation safety organization in the world.