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'We Need To Embrace Change' - ALPA President Capt. Jason Ambrosi

Capt. Jason Ambrosi (Delta) is the 12th president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l, better known as ALPA. Elected in October 2022, and beginning his four-year term on January 1 2023, Capt. Ambrosi represents more than 67,000 pilots in the US and Canada. Prior to his election to ALPA President, Capt. Ambrosi spent nearly 2 years as chair of the Delta Master Executive Council, the governing body of the company's 15,000 pilots. He continues to serve as a 767ER pilot for Delta Air Lines, for whom he was worked for 23 years.


Capt. Ambrosi was a key figure in the conclusion of ALPA-Delta negotiations over pilot salary; eventually, an increase of 34% was agreed in March 2023, worth $7.2 billion over 4 years and immediately transforming the industry standard for pilot wages.


We spoke to Capt. Ambrosi to discuss the recent Delta pilot salary deal, the challenges pilots and the wider post-pandemic aviation industry face, and how ALPA will keep up with the ever-shifting demands of aviation.


Jason Ambrosi during contract negotiations with Delta.

What are your top three priorities as the new president of ALPA?

Working to keep flying the safest and most secure mode of transportation in the

world, securing superior contracts for our pilots, and battling attempts by special

interests to lower pilot safety-training standards—or remove pilots from the flight

deck altogether—are among my top priorities. I am proud of the contracts Delta and

other pilot groups have recently negotiated, and I am committed to making sure that

all our pilots have strong contracts that recognize the extraordinary contributions

they make to their airlines and to the safety of the entire aviation system.


We must also do more to protect the safety and security of all passengers and flight

crews. There is a growing push to decrease safety protections in order to increase

airline profits, and that puts us all at risk. ALPA joined the families of Flight 3407 in

2010 to advocate for stronger training, qualifications, and experience requirements

for pilots to prevent another similar tragedy. Those changes have been extremely

effective, and we have seen a 99.8% reduction in airline passenger fatalities since

they were adopted. Despite this incredible safety record, special interests are

currently advocating to weaken these pilot-training safety rules and are even

proposing that future operations should be conducted with fewer pilots on the flight

deck. The most critical safety feature on any flight is two highly trained and

experienced pilots, and we cannot accept any changes that would reduce a pilot’s

ability to react to and safely rectify an emergency in the air. ALPA is working with our

international colleagues on fighting to make sure there are at least two pilots on the

flight deck and remain committed to advancing aviation safety, not diminish it.


Delta and its pilots have reached an agreement on a contract set to raise pilots’

pay by a cumulative 34% over the next few years. Do you expect the offer to act as

a benchmark across the industry?

Pilots and aviation workers across the board made a lot of sacrifices during the

pandemic, and are under enormous pressure as our industry quickly returns to pre-

pandemic flight levels. The contract that we secured at Delta does a good job of

recognizing the hard work of pilots and helps provide them the quality of life and

compensation they earned. Pilots across the industry deserve similarly strong

contracts and as we continue contract negotiations at many of our airlines, we will

use all the tools in our toolbox to help them achieve their collective bargaining

objectives.


Alaska Airlines pilots, members of ALPA, picket for a new contract. (Alaska AFL-CIO)

During your election campaign, you promised to bring ALPA into the 21st century.

What sort of changes do you intend to implement?

There is a generational change happening at ALPA and in the pilot profession more

broadly, and with that comes a need to re-evaluate our priorities and make sure we

are delivering for our members. Bringing in leaders with new, fresh perspectives to

help ensure we are on the leading edge of contract negotiations, service delivery,

and advocacy in Washington and Ottawa is critical to advancing ALPA’s agenda—and

the interests of our pilots—moving forward. I’m proud to work alongside Capt.

Wendy Morse, the first woman to ever serve as an ALPA national officer; Capt. Tyler

Hawkins, one of the youngest national officers in our history; and Capt. Wes Clapper,

who was instrumental in bringing the JetBlue pilots into ALPA nine years ago.


In the past, you have said that ALPA lost touch with its membership during the

pandemic. What will you do to restore this relationship?

ALPA is at its best when we work from the bottom up, listening carefully to our

members, taking note of their concerns, and working to make their lives better. We

have not done a particularly good job of keeping up with the generational change

occurring within our profession. We need to embrace this change and ensure we are

engaging all members whether they have been in our great union for decades or just

a short time. I want to make sure we remain connected to the pilots flying the line

every day, they are my priority.


ALPA pilots demonstrating the union's solidarity on Labor Day 2022. (AFL-CIO)

Airlines and regulators are pushing for select commercial flights to be operated by

a single pilot. Do you think such a flight can be operated safely, and is it in the

pilots’ best interests?

The most effective and important safety feature on any aircraft is the presence of at

least two highly qualified and well-rested pilots on the flight deck—and our

extraordinary aviation safety record is proof that the current system is working to

save lives. No matter how some companies, manufacturers, and their lobbyists

frame their intentions, decreasing flight deck crew onboard the aircraft is driven by

the desire to cut costs at the expense of safety. ALPA recently joined our

international colleagues in launching a coordinated campaign to oppose any

attempts to decrease the number of pilots on the aircraft because safety is not for

sale.


Ensuring at least two pilots on the flight deck also helps avert disaster in the

unfortunate event that a pilot becomes incapacitated. There have been several

recent cases where a pilot became incapacitated, and the other pilot used their

extensive experience, training, and resources available to successfully land the plane

safely. The redundancy of two pilots on the flight deck cannot be replaced.


The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has left airlines with a shortage of

qualified pilots. What steps do you think airlines should take to attract new

recruits?

We have more than enough pilots to meet the demand out there, and according to

the FAA, we set a record last year for pilot production—and that’s in large part

because it’s a great time to become a pilot. We’re negotiating strong contracts,

opening the doors of opportunity, and keeping flying safe. There is a training backlog

that airlines need to sort out, but the system is working to move them through the

system and this temporary backlog will self-correct. The absolute last thing we

should do is overreact and lower the safety bar and introduce unnecessary risks into

the system.


Of course, there is always more we can and must do to attract new pilots into the

profession. Being a pilot is a great job, but it can be expensive to get onto the flight

deck. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to become a pilot 30 years ago if it was as

expensive as it is today. ALPA supports breaking down the barriers that stand in the

way for some to pursue a career in aviation by bringing federal funding for pilot education in line with other highly skilled professions and providing grants to expand

aviation and flight degree programs.


Capt. Ambrosi testifying during the FAA hearing at Capitol Hill. (ALPA)

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has criticised airlines—in particular

Southwest—for disruptions to travel over the holiday period. He has since come

under fire for himself failing to reform the Federal Aviation Administration after a

technical glitch caused all flights to be grounded in early January. How can the

government work with airlines to improve productivity and minimise future

disruptions to travel?

We experienced the greatest disruption to aviation since 9/11 during the pandemic,

and we are still feeling the effects of it. Thankfully, with the help of lawmakers in

Washington, we were able to save tens of thousands of aviation jobs and keep the

aviation industry from collapsing. Once flying resumed, airlines ramped back up too

quickly and didn’t fully account for the disruptions in the pilot training and retraining

system. Again, this is a temporary situation that can be managed and will correct

itself over time.


Recently, I participated in the FAA’s safety summit and, across the industry, one of

the main suggestions that was reiterated was the crucial need for robust and stable

funding for the FAA and our aviation infrastructure. As Congress works on the FAA

Reauthorization package, this year presents the perfect opportunity to commit to

long-term investments and full funding of aviation priorities.

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