Weighing In: Make Hay While the Sun Shines

By Capt. Randy Helling, ALPA Vice President–Finance/Treasurer

For the last several years, ALPA’s finances have been strong and growing. Since 2005, when more than 30 percent of U.S. airlines were in bankruptcy, the industry has consolidated, stabilized, and returned to profitability. And ALPA has negotiated our fair share of that profitability. What’s as important, however, and what I want to highlight here, is the diligence and discipline we’ve shown in allocating our financial resources to position your union for the future.

And just as important, if not more so, is the diligence and discipline we’ve shown in using our positive financial circumstances to prepare for the future. If you’ve been paying attention to our finances, you’ve likely heard the word “recapitalize” many times over the past few years. Well, the effort to recapitalize our strategic resources continues, especially while we have the surplus funds to do so. Look at what we’ve been able to accomplish:

  • From 2012 to 2016, our actual dues income went from $112 million to $180 million.
  • Over that same period, our Operating Contingency Fund increased from $5.3 million to $18.3 million.
  • After focusing recapitalization efforts on our Major Contingency Fund (MCF) in 2015, we’ve grown that strategic asset from $42.9 million to currently $61.6 million in just more than three years.

The growth of the MCF is especially important due to its contributions to ALPA’s strategic plan. Not only does the fund assist our pilot groups when they’re in endgame negotiations, but it also allows the Association to respond quickly to unforeseen threats to the future of the profession, such as the current fight to remove Section 744—a provision that would introduce significant aviation safety and security risks for cargo aircraft—from the FAA reauthorization bill.

Starting this year, we also reallocated budgeted funds, shifting an extra 1 percent of dues income to ALPA master executive councils (MEC) from the Administrative & Support Account—that’s an extra $2 million a year going to MECs. In addition, we’ve funded a major and much-needed system modernization effort, Project AMBER, to bring the Association into the modern IT world. Project AMBER has been a rousing success, and I want to applaud everyone who’s been involved in this effort.

None of these achievements would be possible without sound, conservative financial planning by our leaders. From being fiscally conscientious when planning a local executive council meeting or events all the way up to sensibly developing the overall ALPA budget, every little bit—every decision—matters.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure—along with my colleague Capt. Bill Couette, ALPA’s vice president–administration/secretary—of welcoming new and returning pilot leaders to the Secretary-Treasurers Conference. During those three days, we continually emphasized the need for constant and consistent financial discipline; we reminded these volunteers that they’re stewards of your money and to be ever mindful of that as they go about their duties and responsibilities.

The secretary-treasurers were able to learn from Bill and me, from ALPA staff, and from each other—and we were able to learn from them as well—on topics such as what would help them fulfill the responsibilities of their positions, forms and reports that they’d find beneficial, and areas they feel need a little more attention. This kind of two-way communication benefits all of ALPA and results in better leaders all around.

We can guess—but no one knows for sure—when the next downturn in the industry will take place. But through the actions of ALPA’s leaders these past five years, we’ve taken positive steps to ensure that we’ll be in a good place to deal with any challenges that might come.

There’s an old proverb, “Make hay while the sun shines.” I think we can all agree that the sun is shining on the airline industry right now. So at the leadership level, our focus as stewards of our pilots’ money is to make hay for when we might need it. Doing that will help ensure that our finances will continue to be just as strong in the future.

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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