The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many elements of our country and our world — and will affect the aviation ecosystem for years to come. Creating a workable plan for this “new normal” is crucial. Several federal agencies are putting together internal task forces, while Congress has proposed legislation enacting similar advisory groups, most notably the collaborative task force established by the Restoring Safety in the Skies Act introduced by Senators Markey (D-MA) and Blumenthal (D-CT) and supported by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).
Airports, carriers, and federal agencies are already considering how to provide a touchless travel experience in the near future, which might include greater prevalence of technology such as thermal cameras and facial recognition software. Requiring face masks, social distancing, and temperature checks have been incorporated for most aviation workers already, and may soon become standard place for travelers as well.
These and other issues still to be discussed represent the many new topics for the aviation industry, and solutions should have a keen focus on the safety of the flying public as well as the safety of the essential workers that are providing air transportation. These solutions should be cognizant of preserving the aviation workforce, made up of skilled mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and safety inspectors — careers that were in high demand and low supply pre-pandemic.
A truly collaborative approach is the only way to ensure that a “new normal” is one conducive to these goals. As these task forces are built, they must include representatives from labor, who can offer an essential front-line perspective devoid of financial motive. Companies often make customers their priority (and rightfully so) while unions make workers their priority — and, in doing so, are the most qualified to speak for the essential workforce.
Simply placing one union representative on a task force made up of several other agencies and industry representatives will produce a diminished result. It is vital that all aviation career fields are represented, and as craft-specific labor unions maintain a laser focus on their constituency, they should be offered a seat at the stakeholder table.
In the case of the aircraft mechanic and related fields, AMFA is the sole craft-specific union, and therefore the best choice to represent mechanics on any task force or collaborative body. We have the requisite expertise and necessary resources to offer the mechanic perspective, essential to the future of our industry.
Ultimately, everyone in the aviation ecosystem hopes for a quick return to pre-pandemic load factors and record profits. Perhaps some even believe that task forces and the preparation for a “new normal” is an exercise that will be unnecessary in the end. But the reality is that the aviation industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis in a very short period of time, and seeks to remedy the situation as quickly as possible while avoiding this situation from occurring again. Ensuring that all integral partners are at the table, including labor (and more specifically aircraft mechanics) is the first step to recovery.