ADF's Response to NPRM/SNPRM:
The Airline Dispatchers Federation, a nonprofit Professional Association representing the safety interests of Certificated Aircraft Dispatchers and other Operational Control Professionals including active FAR Part 121 Dispatchers, FAR Part 135 Dispatchers, students, and retirees appreciate the opportunity to comment on the above referenced docket.
After viewing this SNPRM docket, (tagged to the FAA’s original NPRM issued January 12, 2009) ADF appreciates the efforts of the FAA on their work to improve safety, however there are parts within this SNRPM that the ADF does not agree with or endorse. In our response we will highlight areas that are improvements from current regulations and also bring to light those proposed changes that fail to meet the “FAA’s Summary Statement” listing critical areas for reducing aviation related accidents which are crucial components of any operation.
The areas within the “Executive Summary” that the ADF feels are an improvement to the regulations are as follows:
ADF agrees with this proposed concept that follows recommendation from the NTSB. As flight dispatchers are part of the flight crew and legally responsible for operational control, we propose that aircraft dispatchers must be included within the concept to close the safety gap.
ADF agrees with the NTSB and FAA’s assessment for CRM. Certified Aircraft Dispatchers are the prime resource outside of the aircraft. A dispatcher must be included within the pilot and flight attendant CRM processes to complete the team.
ADF sees adding certificated dispatchers within the supplemental operations a positive move towards safety. However, the certified aircraft dispatcher must have operational control for FAR Part 121 supplemental operations to realize the safety enhancements.
ADF suggests that Aircraft Dispatchers need to be included within the flight crew to provide a regimented and comprehensive training environment.
The ADF sees any additional training as published on page 10 (in chart) of the SNPRM as a move towards safety enhancements. Most FAR part 121 operators continually exceed the minimum training requirements; we suggest that the bar be raised towards airlines that only train to the minimums.
The ADF sees value, focus, and standardization in training approaches towards safety and less confusion when abnormal situations arise, thus enhancing safety for the in-house certificated operational control environment.
The ADF applauds the FAA in its approach towards standardization of training requirements and manual revisions, except as noted in comments above. Standardization should improve and simplify comprehension of training requirements, and its content.
The areas within the executive summary that the ADF identifies as a negative impact to the regulations and safety are as follows:
The ADF is adamantly against the use of contract dispatch. To date, there has been no study or findings that show an improvement in safety by the use of any contract services within the aviation arena. In a FAA letter to the ADF dated April 14, 2008, FAA stated their official position, “not pursuing action on contractual dispatch”. In conjunction with said letter, (original NPRM dated January 12, 2009) FAA makes no mention to this philosophy and did not include contract dispatch in its NPRM. As recently as May 11, 2011, Administrator Randolph Babbitt was quoted in a press release stating “The FAA is proposing the most significant changes to air carrier training in 20 years.” ADF sees the addition of “Deviation Authority” in this SNPRM as a blatant disregard for current established rule making process set forth by the FAA. This failure of protocol indicates more research needs to be done to establish benefits, if any, and the detriments of contract dispatch. ADF’s resolve is to have this provision for contract dispatch stricken from this SNPRM docket and placed into the standard process that all rule making changes currently follow.
ADF will now comment on the areas of concern within the SNPRM that contradict both public safety and public trust.
The areas of concern ADF has with contact dispatch are as follows:
The FAA has embraced the use of SMS within airline operations. From the FAA’s SMS website states the following:
“Facilitating collaboration among all stake holders is an integral part of SMS projects. In a consortium, this is particularly important, and successfully supporting collaboration greatly improves overall risk management efforts”.
In a contract dispatch environment how will this be accomplished? Introducing a stakeholder who is not employed or a valued employee by the air carrier puts the whole concept at risk. A contract dispatcher will have a difficult time collaborating with stakeholders (i.e. pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, ANSP) due to a lack of trust. Trust is built within an in-house environment involving applicable synergies between all parties involved. Absent from an in-house location ADF doubts SMS can be properly accomplished therefore not adhering to the policy stated by the FAA.
To date the FAA has not provided any type of language towards Ops Specs on how it would allow a contract dispatcher to perform their duties and be in compliance of joint operational control. Without a clear and concise Ops Specs it is difficult at best to be able to meet the minimal acceptable criteria for such an operation. Beyond sketchy claims by proponents of contract dispatch, it would be hard to define minimal criteria unless an appropriate Ops Specs was produced and approved through the proper established procedures authorize by the FAA. All stakeholders must be involved before any Ops Specs are authorized. This concept involving all stakeholders was recently demonstrated by NextGen workgroup Taskforce 5 in implementing transparent standards for all users within the NAS in developing NextGen’s philosophy, criteria, and implementation. Collaboration amongst users is key to ensure a foundation of safety, security, and economic savings that benefits all. One issue that needs to be addressed is how will the CMO/POI monitor and enforce current FAR’s? In addition, if needed, what corrective actions will be taken by the CMO/POI against any contract services provider? Lastly, what happens if the deviation authority has been revoked?
Aircraft Dispatchers who are trained by certificate holders on best company business practices have checks and balances set forth by executives who understand the importance of such policies, which often need to be actively adjusted to meet the nuances of that carrier’s fleet be it on a specific flight or fleet. Currently, the US Air Force chooses to use a major FAR Part 121 Carrier to utilize their in-house OCC for flight dispatch (both flight planning and following) services for their C-32 fleet. The rationale behind this decision was to utilize their worldwide resources and personnel for best business practices. This use of best practice demonstrates trust in the FAR Part 121 Operational Control.
In the current operational control environment, a certificate holder employs aircraft dispatcher, safety synergies and trusted interactions that are trained, known, and documented. Studies indicate that employees who are valued and rewarded offer our traveling public safe travel; they are also encouraged to do the best they can for their perspective employer by following policies and procedures. This controlled environment offers the best level of safety for all involved. How will one contract dispatcher working several airlines’ flights be able to offer the same level of service, given different types of operational procedures, policies, tarmac delays, irregular operations, and legality liability? Additionally, a disconnect will occur even if a contact vendor is handling one carrier. There are no known studies, to date, that prove otherwise.
Current regulations state the controlling dispatcher and PIC are responsible for an aircraft that is involved in an incident/accident. Both the certified aircraft dispatcher and PIC (if surviving) will be called into a NTSB hearing to explain their actions of said flight. In addition to the air carrier and both parties can be held civilly liable. One simple question remains in the proposed SNPRM that will need to be answered. If an accident were to happen, who is legally responsible? Is it the air carrier, the “one certified aircraft dispatcher” employed by the carrier, the contractor, or the administrator who authorized a “deviation authority” from the current qualifications? (see 121.1411 (b). Furthermore, if there is a fine or violation resulting in certificate action issued, who is the responsible party? The SNPRM does not satisfactorily address these issues, thus proving how flawed, and potentially unsafe, the scenario actually is.
Studies have shown that inter-departmental interaction of employees is beneficial to the success of any company. When a contract employee is introduced to this equation, a level of trust has been broken, thus causing potential interaction issues. Currently, a pilot trusts his/her certified aircraft dispatcher since they share the same employer, thus work, together, towards a common goal. If the PIC and certified aircraft dispatcher have different employers, the goals and level of trust will be compromised. This loss of trust can increase the workload on a PIC causing room for error, which can lead to an erosion of safety, ultimately leading to a potential accident or incident. The interaction complications will work against safety “Human Factors” and could lead to an increase in mistakes. Eventually the potential for increased errors could possibly prove fatal.
If the FAA’s current oversight concerning outsourcing of existing maintenance contractors is any indication of what lies ahead with proposed SNPRM contract dispatching, safety of the flying public will be compromised tremendously. The current contract maintenance oversight has not been kept to the promised service levels. The FAA habitually issues a record amount of fines for safety lapses to both contract maintenance providers, and air carriers, who outsource maintenance. These issues have overwhelmed the FAA and its inspectors. It’s obvious the process has been flawed from the beginning, dragged down by extensive backlog paperwork, resulting in the discovery of problems that have existed for years!
If the FAA is unable to provide adequate oversight for contract aircraft maintenance providers, then how would they be able to handle another facet of FAR Part 121 operations, contract dispatching? Additionally maintenance providers have shipped work overseas as of recent, increasing a backlog of time required for inspectors to properly complete their inspections, thus taxing our aviation system to its limit moreover eroding public confidence in maintenance safety which is the at the core of our country’s aviation infrastructure.
Americans live a different security environment after the horrific and tragic events of September 11th where we lost not only innocent lives, but also fellow co-workers, colleagues, loved ones, and friends. Aside from Aviation Safety, Aviation Security is the second most important aspect within our community! The FAA, along with TSA, outlined specific security measures needed to secure our cockpits, our records, and our borders. Any deviation from these current standards places “Risk” directly to the traveling public.
It is the responsibility of the FAA to insure it has thoroughly evaluated all aspects of the current proposed SNPRM concerning contract dispatch and security. When it comes to security, the lack of details on how the FAA plans to address security with contract employees access to sensitive areas of airline operations, including recordkeeping, employee access to vital secure information involving aircraft movement is alarming. This very important area NEEDS to be thoroughly critiqued and evaluated.
With the recent increase of incidents involving foreign air carriers in Europe, Asia, and Canada, the benefit of a Certified Aircraft Dispatcher and PIC, sharing “Joint Responsibility” per FAR Part 121 is being realized. ADF is aware that FAR Part 65, FAR Part 129, and FAR Part 135 do not offer joint responsibility, thus producing a fragmented operational structure. Numerous international carriers are now finding out flight following and aircraft dispatching are two completely different functions however, when used together, they offer the best opportunity for safety, security, and economic savings. If these two important components are separated, responsibility would be placed solely on the PIC. Many foreign carriers are adopting this important advantage of “Certified Aircraft Dispatchers” in safety. Many foreign carriers have started to implement “in-house” OCC’s including qualified and certificated aircraft dispatchers who are knowledgeable of these significant functions, collectively.
10. Termination of “Deviation Authority” (121.1411 b)
(1) The administrator may authorize a deviation from the employment requirement in paragraph (a) of this section. Before issuing a deviation, the Administrator will determine whether the certificate holder can demonstrate an equivalent level of safety of paragraph (a) of this section.
This statement within the SNPRM raises an interesting conundrum: How does the Administrator determine an “equivalent level of safety”? Specifically, how is this assessment of safety defined? Any adjustments to existing policies of current practice are put through proposed changes to rigorous testing and approval process defining reductions in existing known regulations. (i.e: 3685 rule; conditional language for temporary conditions in Aerodrome Forecast, 1-1-2 rule, alternate requirement conditions) Where is the research to support deviation in qualification requirements? Additionally, if there is challenge to a reason as stated in subpart (i) “the requirement to have one employee of the certificate holder” clearly this statement demonstrates the importance of employment solely by the certificate holder regardless of the size of the carrier. A benchmark needs to be established. Any changes to an established procedure in an existing benchmark should be tested and proven to have at least minimal level of safety, if not greater. Until such a study is completed, this provision should be immediately removed and placed through standard processes of approval or specifically placed in its own NPRM after extensive studies are established. Then the FAA Administrator should determine that a level of safety has been established, benchmarked, and documented.
11. Joint Operational Control (121.597)
The requirements for aircraft dispatcher in FAR Part 121 Supplemental Operations fails to clearly identify a provision for “Joint Operational Control” between the dispatcher and PIC. This oversight creates a “void” in specific requirements that properly identify safety standards. This omission needs to be addressed and corrected.
In conclusion, does the FAA really want to dismiss 70 plus years of known documented safety records involving FAR Part 121 Aircraft Dispatchers and replace it with contract dispatchers as stated in this SNPRM? Just because corporations insist they can offer better solutions with outsourcing or contracting dispatch doesn’t mean it should be done, particularly if there lacks published documentation proving its validity of safety. An effective dialog concerning the severity of consequences due to outsourcing of Aircraft Dispatchers should be a collaborative decision involving all stakeholders. Collaboration is key to the success of any major modification including this SNPRM. Thorough discussion and contemplation on how these changes will affect safety should be considered, along with prior documented discussions proposing outsourcing as an alternative. ADF does not support Contract Dispatching. History has proven that it is highly unusual for the FAA to not use normal rulemaking channels to implement drastic changes to safety sensitive procedures. Normally FAA explains a need for change and allows the proper channels to be followed offering proven explanation for change.
Respectfully, ADF disagrees with addition of FAR 121.1411 b and 121.1425 c 1 and 4’s mention of “or applicant” within the SNRPM 2008-0667 that removes the requirements for dispatchers, check dispatchers, and dispatch program designees to be employees of Part 119 Certificate Holders. Original language should remain intact. Contract Dispatch Services for FAR Part 121 should not be allowed as a viable alternative to current known and proven practices. Contract Dispatch language should be excluded from this docket and subsequent dockets. There are proper protocols and channels that must be followed to enhance safety. Using this SNPRM instead of following ARC and ARAC procedures/protocols will result in a “Risky Proposition” for the traveling public, and all those involved in our industry.
Thank you for considering the ADF’s comments regarding the negative impact and consequences of outsourcing Aircraft Dispatchers. We appreciate the opportunity to bring to light critical changes deviating from our current FAR Part 121 procedures.