Captain Bob Vs Captain "T"


Captain Tom Bunn is another retired United Airlines pilot.  Our economic and political views are about as opposite as any could be.  Since his views are usually in sync with the most militant of Airline Union types, I am reproducing here a debate we had on a forum some time ago, about his claim that union pilots are safer than non-union pilots.

Captain Tom:

1.  Maybe this will help. An FAA inspector (who was riding in the cockpit to inspect me during a flight) and I discussed this. He said, "The FAA is a 'paper tiger.' The most powerful safety system in aviation is the unionized pilot, because the pilot can refuse an airplane that isn't right."

2.  And because the airline knows the unionized pilot can do so, they don't present the pilots with airplanes they know the pilot will give thumbs down to.

3.  You don't want to have to choose between the safety of the operation versus the safety of keeping your job.

4.  I just don't believe that you can count on most people to not do what is in their self interest if opting for safety may mean risk of losing your job.

5.  That is absurd, but the FAA allows that. The unions over the years were able to negotiate some rules which gave the pilots real protection against being required to fly your body into the ground with terrible sleep-duty-sleep-duty patterns.

6.  But then came deregulation in the mid 80s, and airlines told the pilots they had to give up those "working conditions" rules because they had to compete with airlines which did not have unions and were limited ONLY by the FAA rules. So, we had to give most of this up.

7.  So, if you stick with the real airlines, the way things are set up result in a high level of safety regardless of what the FAA does or does not do.

8.  And so now, the work rules are pretty poor, and pilots are forced - because the unionized airlines have to compete with the non-unionized ones which only go to the FAA limits which are terrible - to fly at times when they do not have enough rest.  That is the reality in todays business-is-king environment.

9.  When the AA crash happened at Little Rock and the pilot had been on duty for many hours, there was some talk about changing the rules. But it was just talk. The FAA did a study. Nothing much changed.

10.  So, contrary to what Robert says, my opinion is that since the FAA does not provide that much safety, you had best choose an airline where the pilots and mechanics can do the right thing...


Answer by Captain Bob (EditorASC):

Capt. Tom still maintains that union members will "do the right thing" (par. 10), because they don't "have to choose between the safety of the operation versus the safety of keeping your job" (par. 3).  But, in par. 6, Capt. T says Deregulation [in 1978] forced union rules down to the level of the FAA rules.  Then, in an apparent reversal of that statement, he nevertheless (in par. 7) claims that union airlines ("the real airlines") are safer.  How so?  He has admitted that both union and non-union pilots are "protected" by only the FAA rules.  He then goes on to document that with the AMR crash at Little Rock (par. 9).  That was a union airline, operating under both FAA and union rules. 

In another post about that crash, Capt. Tom tries to mitigate the failure of the first officer to put safety first, because the captain was a management captain (who was also a union member of APA, the pilots union at AMR).  How so, if union members are protected and have the power to stand up to management, that tries to operate in an unsafe manner?  Wouldn't that AMR crash provide the perfect test-tube laboratory example of  Capt. Tom's theory?  The first officer had the protection of his union contract.  Why didn't he refuse to go along with an unsafe operation?  Why didn't that union-protected first officer prevent that crash? 

This is a clear contradiction in Capt. Tom's arguments.  In logic, contradiction is always the proof of error.

In short, Capt. Tom shoots down his own theoretical argument (that union pilots are safer than non-union pilots) with contradictory sub-arguments.

In addition to the failure of Capt. Tom's theoretical arguments, I have also posted previously on the factual history of how the alleged "union safety factor" works in the real world:

Capt. Tom made essentially the same argument as to airline maintenance.  He blames the Valujet Everglades crash on that airline using non-union maintenance.  But, when I pointed out that the AMR DC-10 crash at ORD, was caused by bad maintenance procedures at a union airline, he responded that it was management's fault, since they ordered that procedure.  But, if union members can tell management to "shove it," when they want to operate in an unsafe manner, why didn't those union maintenance workers tell the AMR management to "shove" that dangerous maintenance procedure?  Call this test-tube case # 2 that also fails Capt. Tom's theory----that union members can be counted on to do the right thing.

[Note:  The ValuJet accident was caused by the illegal shipment of hazardous materials (un-saftied oxygen generators). It was not caused by improper maintenance.]

The danger of putting even one un-saftied oxygen generator into the cargo hold, was well-known by the FAA, years before that accident, but that agency failed to disseminate that critical safety information to all maintenance stations throughout the industry.

A DC-10 was entirely destroyed by fire, at the blocks at Chicago O'Hare, years before because one seat (that contained one un-saftied oxygen generator) had been placed in the cargo hold. Fortunately, no one was on board at the time the fire started. Why doesn't Capt. Tom rail at the incompetence of the FAA (and govt. bureaucracy in general) that knew about that danger, but did nothing about it until after an entire plane load of innocent passengers and crew were lost?

Further, Capt. Tom is silent about the many instances of shipping of illegal hazardous materials on union airlines, after that accident. Could that be because those kinds of errors were often made by union personnel without management knowledge or approval, even when those union employees had the rules and regulations before their very nose, that should have prohibited those kinds of shipments?

He is also silent about the American Airlines union pilot that chose to continue his flight to its intended destination, while his plane was on fire from a hazardous material shipment (another illegal one that was unknown to AMR personnel), risking the lives of all on board. The action of that AMR union captain stands in stark contrast to the actions of the ValuJet pilots (non-union), that tried their darndest to land as soon as possible, once they were informed of the danger.

I could go on and on with my own experiences about how union employees wanted to cut safety corners, but how I learned to frustrate those common tactics by phoning directly to top maintenance management types that Capt. Tom repeatedly libels.

I cannot tell you how many times I heard "Well, just write it up on the outbound," by union employees who didn't want to have to leave reading their newspapers in the maintenance shack, to fix MEL items that made the plane un-airworthy (found those on my very thorough pre-flight inspections).

I even had fellow ALPA captains give me instructions like "you can report anything you find on the outbound, but check with me on the return flight, before you report." (translation: "I don't mind delays when we are headed for the layover portion of the trip sequence, but I don't want to be delayed when returning home.")

And then there is my experience with the ALPA Professional Standards Committee, which refused to answer my complaints about a very arrogant and unsafe captain (5-pages single-spaced typed letter).

I sent that letter three different times, the last one certified mail, with return receipt. But, because I was a non-union pilot, they refused to deal with the matter, even though that captain engaged in outrageous, illegal and unsafe conduct. That tells me that ALPA places a much higher value on their political agenda than they do upon safety.

Nor does Capt. Tom talk about the time that three union pilots lost their licenses because they covered up (failed to report) the fact that their plane got too low and hit trees, causing damage to the plane, while on a landing approach. Instead of promptly reporting that damage to the plane, they said nothing. The result? That plane flew several more revenue flights with damage that made it un-airworthy, with lots of passengers needlessly exposed to increased danger.

That damage was eventually discovered by a conscientious second officer, during his preflight inspection. The fact that the plane flew several more flights, prior to the discovery of that damage, shows how incompetent were the pre-flight inspections of several previous union pilots.

But, Capt. Tom won't talk about those many instances of how union protection gives incentive for employees to cut safety corners. Once again, I recommend you read how the incentives in ALPA contracts led to the death of innocent passengers, and how both ALPA and APA refused to cooperate with the plea of the NTSB, to help to intercept dangerous captains before they caused a crash. Read that story at:

I love how Capt. Tom proves his theories: By selecting out accidents which seem to support his theory, while ignoring those that conflict with his theory. Bacon referred to that as "Counting the hits, while ignoring the misses" (a well-known tactic of those who claim to have psychic powers). Fortunately, those who create new medicines to cure/cope with our diseases, have to consider all the evidence, as to the efficacy of those medications, before they can sell them to us. That process is known as the scientific method, which is the only way human bias can be filtered out, to ensure only rational conclusions will be drawn, from all available evidence.

Capt. Tom is right about the pilots, in the AMR 1420 accident, doing things wrong and ignoring the limits imposed upon them by standard operating procedures. But, does that prove his theory----those errors occurred because the Capt. was a management pilot? If the theory is correct, then one would expect to find no instances of such incompetence where the pilots were union non-management types. Anyone who has done any research on the cause of airline accidents knows that theory is pure Bull Puckey!

One example is the Allegheny Airlines flight 485 crash at New Haven, Conn. on June 1, 1971.  It was caused by a union pilot deliberately descending below minimums, in very bad weather, because he would make more money if he didn't have to go-around to a holding pattern, or to an alternate airport. His deliberate violation of those safety rules, resulted in his death and also the deaths of 28 of his trusting passengers. He committed that act of willful misconduct, because the ALPA contract had a bonus incentive in it (as did many ALPA contracts at that time), which provided a negative incentive towards a safe operation.

The USAir crash at LaGuardia, on Sept. 20, 1989, was caused by an incompetent union Captain that, apparently, was under the influence of something. He taxied out to the runway with his rudder trimmed all the way to one side. That would produce the red flag of the rudder pedals being displaced to the extreme (one leg would be bent, while the other would be extended to the extreme). Normally, with the rudder trim centered (proper use of the pre-takeoff checklist would have caught that extreme displacement of the trim), the Capt.'s legs would be balanced when he used the brakes (he taxies with his feet on those pedals at all times, so he can control the taxi speed by periodic application of the brakes).

The NTSB wanted to test the pilots, who both survived the accident, for drugs and alcohol, but they couldn't because ALPA lawyers quickly spirited those pilots away for a few days, so they could not be tested for those illegal substances. But why would ALPA do that, when ALPA's own policy supported the testing of pilots after an accident? The only reasonable conjecture is because ALPA officials knew those pilots had something to hide. That makes it clear to me, what I have seen confirmed time and again throughout my 33-year airline career:  

ALPA places a much higher value on its political agenda than it does on the safety of the flying public.

The crash of Southwest Airlines at Burbank on March 5, 2000, was caused by the very same kind of error made by the pilots in the AMR 1420 crash at Little Rock: The refusal to go-around, after it became clear it was not safe to continue the approach. The plane was destroyed and the only reason there wasn't a holocaust, is because the fuel tanks did not rupture. The passengers really lucked out on that one:

"PROBABLE CAUSE: "The flight crew's excessive airspeed and flightpath angle during the approach and landing and its failure to abort the approach when stabilized approach criteria were not met." [NTSB report]

Those were union pilots. And, Southwest management fired them. Score one for management advancing safety, while union pilots degraded safety.

The Northwest Airlines crash at Detroit, on August 16th, 1987, was caused by union pilots rushing to takeoff, so that they would arrive before the curfew at John Wayne airport. If they arrived at John Wayne after the curfew, they would have to go to an alternate airport and that would have cost the company some big bucks. That is the same kind of motivation that Capt. Tom accuses the AMR management captain of, in the Little Rock 1420 crash. In the Northwest crash, those pilots failed to set the flaps in the takeoff position. Normally, that kind of error would be discovered by the use of the required pre-takeoff checklist. But, they were in such a rush, they didn't bother to run that checklist. That is one of the most egregious errors any pilot could make---because all the essential items for a safe takeoff are on that list. To top it off, the takeoff warning system failed to warn them of that error. That could be for one of three reasons:

a) The warning system itself was faulty (there should have been a warning enunciator light on the panel, if that was the case---that, too would have been discovered if they had run the pre-takeoff checklist as required),

b) The circuit breaker was defective, so that power was not actually provided to that warning system (again, that would have generated an enunciation light which would have warned them, had they run the checklist),

c) The pilots had deliberately pulled that circuit breaker (a real no, no, but some pilots do that on a regular basis), so that they would not be annoyed with the sound of that warning system during taxi-in, with only one engine operating (same enunciator light would have been on).

The Northwest Airlink crash of March 4, 1987, at Detroit, was caused by a maverick union Capt. (well-known for his union militancy and hatred of management), deliberately putting the propellers into Beta Mode (absolutely prohibited for in-flight operations), so he would not be forced to go-around after it became very clear he was too high, too fast and too close in for a stabilized approach. This kind of piloting is far more evil than the errors made by the AMR 1420 pilots.

The Northwest Airlink crash on December 1, 1993, was caused by a union Capt. deliberately utilizing a very high rate of descent, while on final approach (2,500 ft. per minute, vs the stabilized approach limit of 800 ft. per minute) in instrument conditions. That was apparently motivated by a desire to minimize the time in icing conditions because it was well known those turbo-prop aircraft did not handle icing conditions well. During the course of the accident investigation, it was discovered that this un-approved and dangerous method of dealing with the threat of icing, was widespread among the ALPA pilots of that airline. There was no evidence that any ALPA officials ever did anything to persuade its own union members to cease and desist from utilizing such a dangerous procedure. Further, the captain of that fatal flight was a well known "reputation" captain (as was the ALPA captain in the 1971 Allegheny crash), known for his violations of safe procedures and for his refusal to respond to CRM inputs. But again, ALPA never took any steps to curb his dangerous style of flying, presumably because he always paid his union dues........ 

My question is, that if those ALPA pilots knew about the deficiencies of those aircraft in icing conditions, why didn't they refuse to fly them in those conditions? Capt. Tom has said union pilots can tell the company to "shove it," when the flight will be operated in unsafe conditions. If that is true, then why did so many ALPA pilots choose, instead, to resort to a very dangerous and illegal procedure, to deal with those icing conditions, instead of telling management to "shove it?" No wonder Capt. Tom doesn't like to look at factual reality to see if it verifies his theory.

The Delta 727 takeoff crash at DFW, on August 31, 1988, was caused by thoroughly incompetent union pilots, that were more concerned with talking to the female flight attendants during a critical safety period (during taxi-out, which by law is a sterile cockpit period), than they were with performing their safety duties. The result was they were so distracted by those illegal conversations, that they failed to set the flaps properly for takeoff (same thing that happened to me when my militant union co-pilot got severely distracted with his ALPA-APPROVED agenda of making life miserable, in the cockpit, for all non-union pilots). They also failed to properly run the pre-takeoff check list, which would have revealed that error in time to prevent the accident.

I have already mentioned the BEA crash at Heathrow, in 1972 (no survivors), that was filled with militant union hate factors, to the point of distraction in the cockpit.

Then, there is the constant, never-ending hate mongering by ALPA in its official publications, towards all pilots that dare to dissent from the official union agenda and party line. That has resulted many times, in extreme tactics by militant unionists against fellow flight crew members. All the way from bombing their homes (two Continental ALPA pilots went to prison for that plot), to destruction of their personal property, to death threat phone calls in the middle of the night, to actual and deliberate poisonings of pilots in flight. 

Candalyn Kubeck was the captain of Valujet 592, which crashed in the Everglades on May 11, 1996, killing all 110 on board. The day after that crash, her mother got a call "...from someone who said she was a dirty scab and got just what she deserved."  Candalyn Kubeck had committed the "crime" of trying to keep Eastern Airlines flying, the crime of trying to preserve as many jobs at that airline as possible.  But, in the end, too many thought like Capt. Tom Bunn and 21,000 employees at EAL lost those jobs forever.  

Ones like Capt. Tom Bunn, who have their education in the field of the human mind, should know how dangerously humans can react when assailed with constant hate propaganda. He should know, more than the rest of us, how dangerous are those kinds of immoral tactics, which ALPA has historically practiced and endorsed.

I could go on and one with these examples of how union pilots have operated in dangerous ways, often causing the loss of life of innocent, trusting passengers. But, that would take many, many more pages than this. My point is that it is never valid to use the polemic approach---as Capt. Tom does when promoting his political agenda---whereby you first determine what truth is (a process of deductive theory which starts with an invalid premise), and then you look for evidence to support that pre-determined theory, while you ignore all the evidence which refutes the theory. 

The reason I started this website, is because that kind of thinking is so pervasive. That is what http://AirlineSafety.Com is all about: Exposing the distortions, half-truths and outright lies, which are being promoted in the name of airline safety, but which really serve to promote narrow political agendas, often at the very expense of airline safety.

February, 2005, updated August, 2005

Robert J. Boser    

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