2019 Hot Topics

Legislative and Regulatory Issues on Our Pilot-Partisan Agenda

By ALPA Staff

The following are among the hot-button issues on ALPA’s legislative and regulatory agenda that the Association’s elected leaders, members, and staff are working
to advance in 2019.

1. Security

With the surge in e-commerce and an increasing global export-import economy, cargo operations are expanding at a record pace. Given the burgeoning growth of cargo operations, both internationally and domestically, ALPA continues to advocate for one level of safety and security for all-cargo and passenger operations.

Focusing on the security aspect of cargo operations, ALPA has long advocated for intrusion-resistant cockpit doors (IRCD) for all-cargo aircraft. Currently, flight decks on many cargo aircraft are unsecured; they lack any sort of hardened cockpit door to adequately secure the cockpit during flight operations. This unrestricted access to the flight deck during flight creates a significant security risk.

At present, at least one cargo airline with ALPA pilots allows foreign nationals to serve as animal handlers, and they’re seated directly behind the pilots. The vetting process for these foreign nationals is based on a security threat assessment and not on a fingerprint-based criminal history records check (CHRC), as is required for crews that have access to the flight deck. This creates an avoidable and significant security risk to flight crews during flight operations.

ALPA is advocating for legislation during the 116th Congress that requires IRCDs on Part 121 all-cargo aircraft and a provision that all individuals with access to the flight deck be required to have successfully completed a CHRC.

ALPA is also advocating for the expansion and improvement of security identification display area (SIDA) operations to ensure that all cargo carried on Part 121 aircraft is handled exclusively within the SIDA. A loophole exists in the current regulations that allows for part-time SIDA and for smaller all-cargo aircraft that feed cargo to large aircraft to be operated outside a SIDA at certain airports. This vulnerability exposes all-cargo operations to increased security threats due to greater access to SIDA areas without requiring additional vetting for all employees operating within the SIDA. In addition, some airports lack physical barriers between the public and SIDA areas.

At ALPA’s urging, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 calls for more federal study of airport perimeter security and access control measures, including at all-cargo airports. ALPA will continue to advocate for improvements to perimeter security and for the expansion of SIDAs to include all operations that handle cargo carried on Part 121 all-cargo aircraft.

ALPA is also advocating for improving the ability of pilots to report security incidents. The Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) encourages voluntary reporting of safety issues to identify risk in aviation. Recently, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Airport Access Control Working Group identified the need for expanded and more formalized collection of security-related data. The group noted that the “TSA should consider expanding the appropriate platforms to provide for greater information sharing between public and private sectors, especially as it relates to domestic threats.”

However, current law doesn’t provide for reporting and sharing of security-related incidents to the appropriate TSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies. This prevents the TSA and the DHS from collecting the appropriate data on emerging aviation security-related threats. Therefore, ALPA recommends that the TSA and the DHS collaborate with the FAA and industry partners to expand the use of ASAP reporting to include security-related information reported by employees. ALPA is working to have legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress in the coming months to address the shortfall in security-related data collection.

Antihijacking procedures referred to as the “common strategy” were created in the 1970s by the FBI, the FAA, ALPA, and airlines and were later revised after 9/11. Common strategy training is intended to address all types of security threats encountered during passenger and all-cargo operations. Unfortunately, all-cargo flight crews aren’t required to be trained to the same standard as passenger crews on techniques and proper procedures designed to prevent the hostile takeover of an aircraft. Furthermore, the current training tactics, techniques, and procedures provided by the TSA don’t reflect the realities of an attack occurring on board an aircraft lacking a physical barrier to the flight deck. ALPA advocates for the creation of an Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) Working Group to develop

  • An all-cargo common strategy.
  • Training, tactics, and procedures and standard operating procedures for flight deck security on all-cargo aircraft with or without an IRCD.
  • Related TSA training requirements, including for all-cargo flight crews operating with or without an IRCD.

ALPA is working with regulators on policy changes to require that all-cargo airlines implement all-cargo common strategy training and procedures upon their completion by the ASAC.

2. Safety

So far in the 116th Congress, despite beginning the year with a government shutdown, several bills have been introduced that ALPA supports.

On April 10, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced bicameral legislation (S.1112/H.R. 2208) that would enhance cabin air quality by mandating the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in aircraft supply systems and establish training and reporting requirements to help crewmembers identify air-contamination events in the cabin. ALPA has endorsed this legislation and is grateful to Blumenthal and Garamendi for their efforts to keep U.S. skies safe and healthy.

On April 11, the Safety Is Not for Sale Act (S. 1178) was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). S.1178 would make additional safety information available to airline pilots in the cockpit and provide airlines with more safety data about the equipment they operate, while also making onboard safety enhancements easier to acquire. The legislation came about as a result of the two B-737 MAX crashes and the resulting hearings in the U.S. Senate. Of primary concern to Markey is that a safety feature, the angle of attack (AOA) indicator, was an optional, for-purchase feature and not included free of charge. S. 1178 would provide that this and other nonrequired safety-enhancing features be free of charge when purchasing an airplane operating under Part 121.

ALPA supports S. 1178, which will ensure that air transportation in the United States maintains the highest possible safety standards and continues to set the bar for commercial aviation around the world. As a result of Markey’s legislation, Boeing announced on May 5 that all new and previously delivered MAX aircraft, “will have an activated and operable AOA disagree alert and an optional angle of attack indicator.”

The Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019 (H.R. 1108/S. 762) is bicameral and bipartisan legislation introduced by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (D-WA) in the House of Representatives and by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) in the Senate. Both bills were introduced as a result of the prolonged government shutdown and would protect FAA programs and personnel, and the U.S. aviation industry as a whole, in the event of a future lapse in the agency’s appropriations by drawing funding from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The House bill was recently reported favorably out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and will go next to the full House of Representatives for consideration. It has a total of 138 cosponsors.

On March 14, Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1775, the Notice to Airmen Improvement Act of 2019. The bill establishes an FAA task force on notice to airmen (NOTAM) improvements. The task force, which will be composed of representatives from airlines, labor, and general and business aviation, as well as aviation safety and human factors experts, is charged with reviewing existing methods for presenting NOTAMs to pilots.

To streamline and optimize pilot review, the task force will recommend best practices to improve NOTAM completion, comprehension, and presentation and will work with air carriers, other airspace users, and aviation service providers to implement these solutions. Providing clear and effective communication to pilots by improving the NOTAM system is an ALPA priority and important safety policy enhancement. On May 16, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported the bill favorably out of committee, which allows it to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

3. Commercial Airspace Operations

The magnitude and complexity of space transportation operations are placing new demands on aviation infrastructure, including the national airspace system (NAS). As space vehicles transition through airspace that has primarily been used by traditional aircraft, new policies, regulations, and procedures are necessary to provide for safe and efficient operations of both important industries.

As with any new entrant or in the case of commercial space, where enhanced technologies are introducing significant advancements in capability, there must be a means to safely integrate this technology with existing aircraft operations and infrastructure without decreasing the existing level of safety. The safety of the traveling public must remain the highest priority for the FAA and the aerospace industry. Commercial airline and space transportation operators need to better understand each other’s operations to reduce the likelihood of disruptive operations affecting both sectors. Additionally, the FAA must be given the adequate resources to support more complex analysis, licensing operations, safety oversight, air traffic control services, and NAS integration driven by these demands.

ALPA is playing an active role in advancing commercial space operations and believes that the future success of both commercial aviation and space operations depends on the ability of the United States to maintain or enhance the current standard of safety in the NAS. While the Association seeks to maximize the current and future potential of both sectors to drive the economy and contribute to the U.S. status as the global leader in technological innovation, neither will be possible if integration isn’t done safely.

Congress has been involved in advancing commercial space operations, and both chambers have held hearings in the relevant committees of jurisdiction. In the House, Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president, testified at a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the future of aviation, emphasizing the importance of integration and maintaining the safety of the NAS. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has introduced S. 919, the Space Frontier Act, and ALPA’s Government Affairs Department has been working with him and interested stakeholders to ensure that the safety of the NAS remains at the forefront of all policy discussions.

ALPA is sharing with the commercial space sector the history of commercial aviation and how the Association has played a role in making air transport the safest mode of transportation. ALPA is working to bring the aerospace community together, as well as Congress, to collaborate as all stakeholders pursue the mutual goal of achieving efficient access to a safe NAS.

4. Visas

In spring 2016, the Air Wisconsin Master Executive Council made ALPA’s Government Affairs Department aware that it had received notice that a Labor Condition Application (LCA) had been filed by Air Wisconsin to hire a foreign pilot through the H-1B Visa program. What began as a single LCA notice has grown into an increasingly concerning issue. ALPA has been working behind the scenes with its supporters on Capitol Hill to get more information and to let the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service and the Department of Labor (DOL) know that Congress is paying attention.

While the first LCA sought to hire a foreign pilot through the H-1B program, the real concern has been the potential use of E-3 visas. The E-3 Visa program provides U.S. work visas to citizens from Australia. In recent years, there has been a flood of E-3 visa applications to hire foreign pilots. A vast majority of the E-3 visa applications has been submitted by a carrier with non-ALPA-represented pilots. Some airlines with ALPA-represented pilots are increasing their use of the E-3 visa program as well. It’s important to note that the number of LCAs filed is much greater than the actual number of Australian pilots hired using E-3 visas.

ALPA has expressed its opposition to the use of both visa programs on several grounds. Most importantly, they require that the occupation for which the foreign worker is being sought is defined as a “specialty occupation.” To qualify as a specialty occupation, an occupation must require at least a bachelor’s degree in the specific occupational specialty as a minimum for entry—and air carriers don’t require airline pilots to hold degrees in academic fields directly related to their employment.

While H-1B visas remain an important concern, the rapid growth of E-3 visas is particularly worrisome, both because of the magnitude and because E-3s lack some of the key labor protections applicable to H-1B visas. Among other things, H-1B employers must disclose whether they’re “H-1B dependent.” For large employers, this means that H-1B employees make up 15 percent or more of the workforce. If an employer is H-1B dependent, the employer must provide assurances that U.S. workers haven’t been displaced and that good-faith efforts have been made to recruit U.S. workers. Employers using the E-3 visa program don’t have to provide such assurances or demonstrate that good-faith efforts to recruit workers have been made.

ALPA has engaged the DOL on several occasions. Alexander Acosta, DOL secretary, and his staff have been thoroughly briefed on the issues and have expressed their willingness to help ensure that neither of the visa programs are misused. ALPA will continue to engage the DOL and work through other avenues as necessary to ensure that the E-3 visa process isn’t misused to hire foreign pilots to undercut the market for U.S. pilots.

5. Excise Tax

The excise tax on employer-provided health-care benefits, also known as the Cadillac Tax, will take effect in 2022 absent further delays, full repeal, or other modifications to existing law. Left unaddressed, the Cadillac Tax will equal 40 percent of the value of health benefits exceeding thresholds projected to be $11,200 for single coverage and $30,150 for family coverage in 2022. The thresholds are indexed to the consumer price index (CPI) in subsequent years. The CPI increases at a much slower rate than the actual cost of health-care coverage, essentially guaranteeing that all health-care plans will eventually be subject to the tax.

ALPA continues to support legislation that repeals this onerous tax on working families. H.R. 748, the Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019 sponsored by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), has 329 bipartisan cosponsors. In the Senate, S. 684 has been introduced by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) with 23 original bipartisan cosponsors. S. 684 now has 37 bipartisan cosponsors. The Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act should soon be brought to the floor for a vote.

ALPA has played a leading role in opposing the excise tax during consideration of the Affordable Care Act. Initially, opposition to the tax was spearheaded by organized labor. Today, there is widespread support for a full repeal of the tax, including Fortune 500 companies, the National League of Cities, insurance companies, and other diverse stakeholders.

This article was originally published in the June 2019 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)