It seems that a preoccupation with federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates is interfering with commercial airline pilots' ability to safely do their jobs.
Airline workers are subject to the vaccination mandate announced by President Joe Biden last month because airlines are considered federal contractors since they operate charter flights that transport government employees and official U.S. mail. Delta Air Lines reportedly said that federal contracts are the source of "hundreds of millions'' of dollars in revenue each year.
According to USA Today, American Airlines' and Southwest Airlines' pilot unions, are self-reporting to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that discussions and concerns over the vaccine mandate are increasingly becoming a distraction while on the job.
The Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American's 14,000 pilots, issued a memo to its members on Tuesday addressing the fact that upcoming deadlines and sharply divided opinions about the vaccine mandate are dangerously drawing focus away from the performance of their duties.
The subject line read: "Distractions cannot affect safety". The union's safety committee wrote, "We are seeing distractions in the flight deck that can create dangerous situations."
Union spokesperson Dennis Tajer called the surge in reports to the FAA's Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) a "big, big deal". He explained that the program is akin to "see something, say something", in that it doesn't mean any actual safety incident occurred, but it does mean that pilots are voluntarily reporting that they're preoccupied with vaccine mandates to some degree.
Tajer opined that some level of distraction is to be expected during this "stressful" time, as some pilots worry about the loss of their jobs if they fail to get vaccinated in time. But, he emphasized that it's imperative that pilots push those thoughts aside and focus on their jobs.
"It's not a scolding message, it's a reminder message,'' he said. "I hear you, I hear you on that (vaccine mandates), but let's get back to the (flight) checklist."
Last week, amid the airline's widespread operational disruptions, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) sent a similar notice to its membership on October 9. In the memo, the union called out the fact that increased fatigue has already been a source of distraction among its pilots in 2021, as travel quickly surged with increased vaccination rates while staffing lagged behind.
The dispatch said that the present preoccupation with vaccine mandates "only exacerbates'' the situation. Like American's pilot union, Southwest's also has seen a spike in ASAP reports to the FAA, in conjunction with its other means of measuring distraction levels.
"Recent ASAP reports have shown that distractions have entered the cockpit, impeded performance, and become contributing factors to many error chains,'' the memo read. "These distractions must be mitigated.''
"We are not here to debate the merits of the vaccine mandate. We are here to emphasize that the focus of each SWAPA pilot must be on operating the aircraft at the highest levels of safety in the industry,'' the union wrote. "There is absolutely nothing more important or sacred."
Each of the major U.S. airlines is taking different tacks in their efforts to ensure that employees comply with the federal vaccine mandate. United had already introduced an internal vaccination requirement a month before Biden's federal mandate was announced. American's workers have been told that they risk losing their jobs if they aren't vaccinated by the federal deadline. Delta said it won't fire employees who refuse the jab but will make them pay a $200-a-month penalty. Southwest says it won't terminate those who don't get inoculated but didn't mention what the repercussions of shirking the federal mandate might be. Some of Southwest's current and former workers protested the vaccine mandate outside the carrier's Dallas headquarter earlier this week. The airline has been urging such anti-vax employees to apply for exemptions.
Topics From This Article to Explore