Our Union: Pilot Partisan

By Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA President

What does it mean to be pilot partisan?

At its heart, ALPA’s pilot-partisan principle is that regardless of who sits in an elected office, whether in Washington, D.C.; Ottawa; Montreal; or any other seat of government, ALPA’s regulatory and legislative goals don’t change. Our efforts on both Capitol Hill and Parliament Hill rest on two essential and timeless pillars: ensuring that North American airspace is as safe as possible and that our airline industry is internationally competitive. A constant for 86 years, these goals remain unchanged following the 2016 elections.

Let’s talk for a moment about the November elections in the United States. When this issue goes to press, President Trump will have passed his first 100 days in office. While many organizations have scrambled to revise plans, change tactics, and reinvent their government affairs programs to adapt to the new leadership, we know that for ALPA reinvention isn’t necessary. For 86 years, ALPA has worked as a successful advocate for aviation safety and as the leading voice for airline pilots and our industry. To better engage with both parties, ALPA hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate since 2004.

With this foundation in mind, we’re also realists about the political environment in which we work. And although ALPA’s pilot-partisan goals don’t waver, we know that elections do have consequences. The individual who sits in the Oval Office affects every U.S. pilot. The person who holds the speaker’s gavel in the U.S. House of Representatives and the party that holds “the majority” in the U.S. Senate matter to the tactical decisions we make every day. Which office should lead on a given issue? When should that issue come up for a vote? What argument is going to move this administration? What policy is best for airline pilots?

These answers depend on the political environment. ALPA consistently provides stability and institutional knowledge to our policymakers, no matter who they are or which party they represent. What one administration creates, the next can destroy, so we build our victories to endure beyond one Congress, one Parliament, and one presidency.

Our pilot-partisan approach extends to all of our government affairs work. ALPA-PAC is the most bipartisan labor PAC in the country, giving 48 percent of contributions to Republicans last election cycle. Every pilot priority in Congress is intended to be introduced as a bipartisan bill, with a Republican and a Democratic lead. For example, the Saracini Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911), which calls for the installation of secondary cockpit barriers, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).

One of several letters sent this year to the administration urging an end to Middle Eastern airlines subsidies was signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Few interest groups can boast such a politically and geographically diverse group of champions.

In Canada, we take a similar approach to reach consensus with industry stakeholders and government regulators as we advance our pilot-partisan agenda. For example, we’ve been actively engaged with Members of Parliament and Transport Canada regarding the implementation of science-based flight- and duty-time regulations.

As a line pilot who flies each month, I take my pilot partisanship into the cockpit. When politics comes up, I let my colleagues know that ALPA stands firmly with them in advancing a pro-pilot agenda. ALPA leaders and staff meet regularly with representatives from the FAA, Transport Canada, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Transportation, and other agencies that affect our livelihoods and careers.

As you’ll read in this issue, I’m not alone. Our annual Roll of Distinction captures the thousands of ALPA members who also take their pilot partisanship seriously. They understand that pilot partisanship has a reach beyond which airline they fly for, what they fly, and what they carry. Every ALPA member has a pivotal role to play in forging victories on Capitol Hill and Parliament Hill that will help make our profession even safer and more secure. Pilot partisanship begins with each of us. The future of our careers depends on it.