ALPA-PAC Opens Doors

Gives Airline Pilots a Voice to Educate, Inform Members of Congress

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer

When it comes to U.S. aviation policy making, ALPA can’t afford to be left out of the discussion. Lawmakers enact legislation that affects the careers of every airline pilot. Members of Congress determine cockpit crew complements, training standards, minimum rest and medical requirements, and a host of other pilot-specific measures. Other bills before the federal government directly influence how the U.S. aviation industry operates and how it competes with foreign carriers—issues that impact not only the number, but also the quality of U.S. airline pilot jobs.

It’s essential that ALPA pilots are part of every aviation policy discussion, and that’s where ALPA-PAC, the Association’s political action committee (PAC), comes into play. A tax-exempt organization established under Section 527 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, ALPA-PAC collects contributions from pilot members and makes donations to congressional incumbents, as well as those running for federal office, who support the Association’s pilot-partisan agenda. One hundred percent of ALPA-PAC dollars comes from donations; the use of dues money for PAC activity is strictly forbidden.

This strategic tool allows the Association to educate influential senators and representatives and foster relationships with these important decision-makers about the implications and potential pitfalls of any changes to the air transportation system. Simply put, ALPA-PAC provides airline pilots with a collective voice to advance their priorities on Capitol Hill.

While the current cycle of national elections has been notably contentious, ALPA-PAC avoids party politics by the very nature of its concerns. Donations go to both Republicans and Democrats. ALPA is pilot-partisan: what matters is candidates’ stances on aviation, labor, and airline pilot priorities. In fact, ALPA-PAC is one of the most bipartisan union PACs in Washington, D.C.

Having an open dialogue with law­makers is particularly important because pilots operate at the very epicenter of airline operations. These subject-matter experts bring a frontline perspective to proposed aviation rules and special insight as to how they could impact day-to-day operations.

This contact is also essential because ALPA members work in one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country, and many of the regulations that govern this driver of the national economy originate from federal laws. In addition, most Members of Congress routinely travel by air between their home states and Capitol Hill offices and have a vested interest in better understanding what’s at stake when an aviation bill hits the floor.

Policy Making In Play

Earlier this year, ALPA played a key role in the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided an initial financial lifeline to airlines crippled by the sudden loss of demand and revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of this bill, Congress created the payroll support program (PSP) to enable airlines to continue to pay their employee salaries and benefits through September 30. Without this federal resource, additional U.S. airlines may have been compelled to close their operations, and others would likely have displaced tens of thousands of employees with virtually no notice.

On Sept. 22, lawmakers introduced the Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act of 2020, which if enacted would extend the PSP through March 2021 and provide the airline industry with some additional recovery time.

Other legislation important to ALPA was the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, which addressed many of the Association’s long-term advocacy priorities, including strong first officer qualifications, measures to bolster the Federal Flight Deck Officer program, and mandated cockpit secondary barriers (the latter of which, the FAA still needs to act on).

Important aviation policies like these aren’t arbitrarily introduced; they’re often the product of aviation stakeholders weighing in on important issues. There are many competing interests within the airline industry, and their priorities don’t always align. This reality makes it imperative that the voice of airline pilots is heard loud and clear on Capitol Hill.

PAC Origins

From its founding, ALPA has recognized the federal government’s tremendous influence on aviation. Capt. Dave Behncke, the Association’s first president, sought laws guaranteeing minimum standards for working conditions to improve safety and establish a more reasonable environment to negotiate pilot contracts. He was successful because he was able to reach out to elected leaders and convince them of the merits of ALPA’s proposals.

In fact, George Hopkins, ALPA’s unofficial biographer, pointed out in Flying the Line, “The idea of establishing a political presence in Washington was an obsession with Dave Behncke.” In time, ALPA’s first president would use his influence to help secure passage of the “pilots’ amendment” to the Railway Labor Act, which today remains the foundation for negotiating pilot contracts.

During its November 1975 meeting, ALPA’s Board of Directors, under the leadership of then president Capt. J.J. O’Donnell, approved the creation of ALPA-PAC, recognizing that for pilots to be influential in Washington, D.C., they would need a strong political voice. And since that time, pilot volunteers and ALPA’s Government Affairs staff have been engaging with Members of Congress, particularly those on key committees that oversee air transportation concerns, to advance a wide range of pilot-partisan priorities.

Back the PAC

ALPA-PAC is supported 100 percent by voluntary contributions from airline pilots living in the United States. The PAC offers a variety of ways to contribute, membership clubs that recognize individual support, and awards for collective pilot group participation and involvement.

The premiere union political action committee, ALPA-PAC has witnessed increased participation in recent years and had its best year to date in 2019, with more than 12,800 U.S. ALPA members contributing $2.4 million. These pilots recognize the value of educating policy makers on aviation-related matters and are making a difference.

Learn more about the PAC and how to contribute.

Disclaimer: The descriptions of the Air Line Pilots Association PAC are not a solicitation to contribute to the PAC. Only ALPA members, ALPA executives, senior administrative and professional staff personnel, and their immediate family members living in the same household are eligible to contribute to ALPA-PAC. ALPA-PAC maintains and enforces a policy of refusing to accept contributions from any other source.

Vote, Then Fly

The U.S. federal elections scheduled for November 3 are rapidly approaching, and ALPA wants to ensure that pilots exercise their right to vote, regardless of where they are in the country or in the world that day.

Vote, Then Fly, the Association’s get-out-the-vote tool, gives state-by-state early/absentee voting information, including deadlines and ballot availability/return information, to help you in the upcoming elections. It also features details about how individual incumbent Members of Congress vote on legislation important to ALPA, current aviation bills, and other facts to help you make educated, informed decisions.

Vote, Then Fly doesn’t endorse individual candidates or parties. It simply provides information about those running for office in the current election cycle and how to cast a ballot. 

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)