Corporate flight attendants pressure NBAA to back more stringent training requirements

 - July 24, 2007, 6:54 AM

While the 2004 Flight Attendants Conference went smoothly, below the surface was a building dissatisfaction on the part of some flight attendants with what they perceive as a reluctance by conference sponsor NBAA to voice a more detailed position with regard to flight attendant training.

At the heart of the dispute is an FAA Notice of Regulatory Review that could amend the flight attendant training requirements under Part 135. The FAA has formed an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) and has solicited comments from the industry.

Among suggestions offered at NBAA flight attendant committee meetings was the creation of a separate “customer service representative” cabin position. Another recommendation was that the title of “flight attendant” be changed to “cabin safety professional.”

For the most part, these suggestions have been met with hostility by many committee members and by the corporate flight attendant community in general. Discussions of the ideas at flight attendant committee meetings became, as one member put it, “very contentious.” Sources on the committee said some threatened to resign their membership in the committee if NBAA were to adopt such recommendations. A number of long-time committee members openly admitted they did not attend this year’s convention as a means of silent protest.

Susan Friedenberg, president of Corporate Flight Attendant Training in Philadelphia, stepped down as vice chair of the committee “out of frustration” with NBAA. “I felt that it would be like riding a horse going in the opposite direction from the direction I want to go,” she said.

Lynn Brocklehurst, a committee member and the senior flight attendant with Whirlpool in Benton Harbor, Mich., is blunt in her assessment of NBAA’s position. “There are too many operators,” said Brocklehurst, “who don’t want to worry about the requirements for flight attendant crew training or they don’t want to pay for it. They’re perfectly happy to put people in the cabin who have no safety training and list them as customer service representatives. And NBAA is too occupied with placating its members who think this is appropriate.

“It’s been nine years now [since the first flight attendant convention] and NBAA has yet to define the role of the flight attendant,” said Brocklehurst.

The association’s official position was put in writing in September 2002 in response to a request by the flight attendant committee. In simple terms, it advises its members that an assigned flight attendant “should possess the proper safety and security training [and] should be prepared to assist the pilot-in-command in all cabin and passenger safety and security issues.” It also points out that having a trained flight attendant on board “is one of the key things a flight department can do to help ensure the safety and security of its passengers.”

According to Jay Evans, NBAA staff liaison to the flight attendant committee, the association has consistently emphasized that “you should have trained crewmembers in the back of the airplane,” pointing out that the NBAA management guide makes this point. However, “We are not going to dictate the conditions under which our members should hire and operate. We recommend that they follow the regulations.”

Some members of the flight attendant committee have pressed the association to go a step further and recommend to both its members and to the FAA that all operators, including Part 91, should meet the requirements in Part 135 with regard to flight attendant training and crew rest and duty.

“When I entered this profession nine years ago,” said Brocklehurst, “I thought being a corporate flight attendant would be the ‘crème-de-la-crème.’ Sometimes it’s more like skim milk.”

She also noted that on longer flights, some operators are carrying a flight technician/engineer who is assigned the additional duties of flight attendant, “even though they’re not trained in that role.”

Evans said NBAA is aware of this practice, and that the flight attendant committee believes that if a flight technician/engineer is assigned additional duty as a flight attendant, he or she should be properly trained for those duties.

Most recently, the committee sent the NBAA board of directors an “initial response” with regard to the association’s recommendations to the FAA’s proposed Part 135 rewrite. In part, the NBAA flight attendant committee strongly recommended that:

• the position of the CSR (cabin service representative) not be represented in FAR 135.331, and

• it is the responsibility of the aircraft operator to have a crewmember on board the aircraft who is trained to Part 135, minimum training requirements (FAR 135.331).

“We strongly feel that it is inappropriate to have someone in the cabin represented as or perceived by passengers as a crewmember, who is not adequately trained in the role of a crewmember,” said Virginia Lippincott, chair of the flight attendant committee and cabin service supervisor for Pfizer’s flight department in Trenton, N.J.