United Airlines Officials Highlight 'Near-Misses' in Safety Message to Pilots

PHOTO: United Airlines jets sit at gates at OHare International Airport on September 19, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.PlayScott Olson/Getty Images
WATCH United Airlines Issues Stern Warning to Pilots

United Airlines officials recently sent a "brutally honest" safety bulletin to pilots following four incidents involving flight crew errors that were classified as "major safety events and near-misses."

The Jan. 9 message obtained by ABC News was sent by Howard Attarian, senior vice president of flight operations, and Mike Quiello, vice president of corporate safety. The Wall Street Journal first reported about the message.

Two of the events occurred near the ground, according to the bulletin -- with a pull-up maneuver required in one of the incidents. Another incident involved an “undesired aircraft state on departure,” with the flight crew contributing to a safety lapse.

A fourth incident involved a low fuel state.

“The common thread with all of these is that they are preventable,” the message stated.

A 2013 UPS cargo plane crash in Birmingham, Alabama, which was later blamed on pilot error, was referenced in the message. The plane crashed short of the runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, killing two crew members.

Pilot retirements, seat movements and new hires were identified in the message as factors that bring added risk to flight operation.

“While no one ever shows up to work with the goal of intentionally making a mistake, we are human and mistakes happen. What we can control is how we conduct ourselves on each and every flight,” the message stated.

United issued a statement to ABC News Wednesday after details of the message were initially reported by the Wall Street Journal. ABC News reached out to the airline early Thursday with calls for further comment, but those efforts were unsuccessful.

“As part of our commitment to safety, we constantly monitor flight operations data and regularly communicate the findings with our pilots,” the statement read. “Our proactive approach to safety aligns with the FAA’s Safety Management System and enables us to recognize potential issues and adjust our actions to further ensure the safety of our customers and coworkers.”

Here is the full memo:

Date: January 9, 2015

SAFETY ALERT: Significant safety concerns

Recent events in our operation have dictated that we communicate with all of you immediately. Over the past few weeks, our airline has experienced what we would categorize as major safety events and near-misses.

In Flight Operations we have seen two events in close proximity to terrain (one resulting in a GPWS pull-up maneuver), an Undesired Aircraft State on departure and a low fuel state on arrival after a deviation from a Sabre Flight Plan routing.

The common thread with all of these is that they are preventable. We must ask ourselves, “Do we have our priorities in line every time we put on our uniforms and strap into the airplane?” While the airline industry always seems to be in a state of flux, the one constant for all of us is that we are professional aviators with the common goal of flying our passengers and crew from point A to point B SAFELY.

Another common thread to some of these events is a lack of attention to disciplined Crew Resource Management. Every time we enter the cockpit with the intention of performing our pilot duties, we evaluate risk. Every pilot must be willing to speak up if safety is in question. In the same vein, every pilot must also accept the input of their fellow crewmembers on the flight deck. In most cases, one of the pilots recognizes an unsafe situation. In some cases, a pilot’s input is ignored. This is unacceptable.

The recent CFIT accident in Birmingham involving another carrier underscores how quickly things can unravel. The approach and landing appeared normal to the pilots until right before impact. Let’s not for a moment think something like that could not happen at United.

We are currently seeing a lot of movement in the pilot group, such as retirements, seat movements and new hires, that -- while welcome -- introduces significant risk to the operation. While no one ever shows up to work with the goal of intentionally making a mistake, we are human and mistakes happen. What we can control is how we conduct ourselves on each and every flight. If you have ever used the term “Standard Brief” before departure, you have not complied with an SOP. If you have ever exceeded Stabilized Approach Criteria intentionally and not executed a go-around, you are not in compliance.

We know this is a brutally honest message and the tendency may be to rationalize why compliance is not occurring in some areas. Bottom line: United is at a critical juncture in its history and we as aviators must adhere to the policies and procedures outlined in the Flight Manuals, FOM, WOM and ALPA Code of Ethics. Reviewing, understanding, and complying with the guidance in company manuals is imperative to returning ourselves, our fellow crewmembers and passengers to their families safely. This is our top priority and greatest responsibility, and we appreciate in advance your continued commitment and cooperation.

Fly safe.

Howard Attarian, Sr. Vice President Flight Operations

Michael Quiello, Vice President Corporate Safety