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Pilots Union Reaches Agreement With NTSB Over Recorded Accident Interviews That Led to Subpoenas

Pilots Union Reaches Agreement With NTSB Over Recorded Accident Interviews That Led to Subpoenas

airplanes parked on a runway

A major pilots union that represents aircrew at some of the largest U.S. airlines including United, Delta and Alaska Airlines says it has reached a deal with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) over a controversial measure to record accident investigation interviews with pilots.

The deal was struck less than a week after the NTSB revealed it had subpoenaed the pilots of an American Airlines flight that accidentally pulled onto an active runway at New York JFK while a Delta Air plane was speeding along that tarmac for takeoff.

Pilots at American Airlines are represented by a different union which had publicly expressed concerns about the use of digitally recorded accident interviews, fearing they would lead to pilots being less candid or even refusing to be interviewed at all.

The opposition to recorded interviews put the Allied Pilots union on a collision course with the NTSB, which ended with the safety agency obtaining subpoenas to force the pilots of American Airlines flight AA106 to provide testimony as part of the investigation.

The pilots are now said to be cooperating with the subpoena, although it’s not yet clear whether this is because of the compromise deal from the NTSB.

In a memo obtained by aviation insider xJonNYC, the ALPA union says that “after much respectful discussion and collaboration between ALPA and the NTSB, we have reached an understanding on protecting any interview recordings used for the purposes of developing the official interview transcript of pilots interviews”.

The agreement will allow the NTSB to digitally record pilots’ interviews and to use that recording to produce an official written transcript, but the recording will not be placed in the docket. The written transcript will remain the official record used by the NTSB.

“This is a positive development, and we appreciate the constructive engagement and attention to this matter by the NTSB,” the memo continued.

The NTSB had argued that digitally recording pilots’ accident interviews was essential to obtain the “highest degree of accuracy” but unions had baulked at the decision because it changed longstanding protocols with no prior consultation.

The Allied Pilots Association criticized the NTSB for its “adversarial” decision to push ahead with digital recording without first reaching an agreement with pilots.

In a statement last week, the APA said it was “confident that an acceptable solution to this issue exists that would satisfy the needs and concerns of all parties involved in these investigatory interviews”.

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