’A Decade of Difference’

10 Years of Grassroots Pilot Lobbying on Capitol Hill

By Gavin Francis, Senior Aviation Writer

Even in 1931, ALPA’s first president, Dave Behncke, understood that there were powerful and influential forces at work within the airline industry and that pilots would need legislative and regulatory backing to successfully safeguard their interests. He knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk about safety concerns and the need for better working conditions. Pilots would have to persuade people who were in a position to do something about it to see things from the pilot’s point of view. That’s something that hasn’t changed since ALPA’s founding more than 90 years ago.

Today, the Association actively engages with lawmakers on policy issues. ALPA’s advocacy has helped to pass legislation that addresses critical aviation safety and security concerns, protects pilots’ collective bargaining rights, improves working conditions, and advances fair employment practices. The Association organized its very first Legislative Summit in 2013 when nearly 100 ALPA members, representing 15 pilot groups, gathered on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and their staffs and lobby in support of ALPA-backed legislation. Since that time, the Association’s Government Affairs Department has encouraged pilots to continue to show their support for ALPA’s legislative priorities by meeting regularly with their representatives in the House and the Senate to educate them about various issues that affect the airline piloting profession.

As the Association commemorates the 10th anniversary of its inaugural Legislative Summit, it’s worth highlighting some of ALPA’s significant legislative successes over the past decade and the positive impact of its lobbying efforts.

 The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 included provisions of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. This legislation implemented critical reforms to the aircraft certification process that help to ensure a proactive and objective safety culture. In addition, the legislation required that airline pilots be included in the certification process. The act also contained the “No Surprises Act,” which ends the practice of surprise medical billing.

 The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 was passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing economic relief to individuals, businesses, and industries impacted by the pandemic’s economic disruptions. The CARES Act allocated substantial financial support to airlines, airports, and related businesses. It also included provisions for grants and loans to help sustain payroll and benefits for airline employees, prevent layoffs, and maintain critical air transportation infrastructure. Additionally, the CARES Act provided funds for airport improvement projects and facilitated the continuation of essential air services to underserved communities during the challenging circumstances caused by the pandemic.

 The Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019, which ALPA supported, was a bill intended to repeal the excise tax previously imposed by the Affordable Care Act on high-cost employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The tax repeal was ultimately achieved when this legislation was incorporated into the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, which Congress passed in 2020. ALPA was an early and vocal opponent of taxing health care.

 The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 sought to address retirement savings challenges by providing workers with expanded access to retirement plans. With the SECURE Act, in-service distributions are permitted from pension plans beginning as early as age 59½. The act also increased the required minimum distribution age from 70½ to 72, allowing individuals to defer taking distributions from retirement accounts so that they can continue to grow their retirement savings on a tax-deferred basis. In addition, the legislation provided needed relief for closed frozen pension plans, so that existing participants could continue to accrue benefits under the frozen plan without running afoul of certain U.S. Code nondiscrimination requirements. The SECURE Act 2.0, which became law in 2022, builds on the earlier legislation to further improve retirement saving opportunities, including provisions for increased “catch up” contribution limits and a phased-in additional increase to the required minimum distribution age to 75.

 The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 reauthorized the FAA and provided long-term funding for the agency, ensuring the continuity of critical aviation programs and operations. It also provided for modernization of the nation’s air traffic control infrastructure and included provisions for improving pilot training, addressing pilot fatigue, enhancing oversight of aircraft maintenance, and mitigating the risks associated with unmanned aircraft systems by establishing guidelines for safe integration into the national airspace.

 The Saracini Aviation Act of 2017, named in honor of Capt. Victor J. Saracini (United), who died during the 9/11 attacks, mandated the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on airliners to provide an additional layer of defense against unauthorized access to the flight deck. The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Act of 2021 expanded on the earlier legislation to require the installation of a specific type of physical barrier, known as a flight deck access system, on all newly manufactured airliners. ALPA currently supports legislation that would also require existing aircraft to be retrofitted with these security measures. At this time, cargo operators aren’t required to secure their aircraft in this way. The Association is working to remedy this with its support for the Cargo Flight Deck Security Act of 2023, which would ensure one level of safety and security for all pilots and airline operations, regardless of payload or flight mission.

 The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 reaffirmed and extended the authority of the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. This program allows eligible flightcrew members to receive training and to be deputized as federal law enforcement officers, enabling them to carry firearms on board aircraft to defend against acts of terrorism or air piracy. The act renewed the program, which was originally established after the 9/11 attacks, ensuring that qualified pilots are able to continue participating in the program.

 The Pilot Records Improvement Act of 2014 was enacted to enhance aviation safety by improving the collection and sharing of pilot records. The act addressed concerns raised by the NTSB about incomplete and inadequate pilot records that could compromise flight safety. It required the FAA to establish a centralized pilot records database accessible to air carriers and prospective employers. The database helps to ensure that airlines have access to comprehensive pilot records, including training, employment history, and any disciplinary actions. By promoting transparency and standardization in pilot records, the act enhanced the screening and hiring process, ultimately improving aviation safety.

ALPA’s annual Legislative Summit has become an important part of the Association’s efforts to influence the policy decisions that affect its members. Pilot engagement with elected officials on Capitol Hill has contributed to a safer, more secure, and better-regulated airline industry. By working collaboratively with lawmakers and advocating for pilots’ interests, ALPA continues to play a vital role in shaping the legislative landscape that governs the profession, ensuring that the voices of airline pilots are heard and that their concerns are addressed.

Even now, as Congress considers the current FAA reauthorization bill, there are powerful special interests attempting to roll back first officer minimum experience requirements and training standards, asserting that there’s a pilot shortage when, in fact, there are more than enough certificated pilots available to meet demand. Safety has also come under attack as airline managements, aircraft manufacturers, and some regulators consider decreasing the number of required crewmembers on the flight deck for some types of operations.

It’s more important now than ever that ALPA members let their elected representatives know where they stand on these issues. Every member of Congress should understand that to maintain the gold standard of safety that aviation safety advocates and ALPA have fought so hard to achieve, it’s crucial that two highly trained, qualified, and rested pilots are on the flight deck at all times. These are the challenges that the Association is currently facing—and the issues that every pilot will need to confront to safeguard the profession into the next decade and beyond.

This article was originally published in the August 2023 issue of Air Line Pilot.

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