The Essentials: ALPA's 2021 U.S. Legislative Priorities

By Molly Martin, Contributing Writer

With a new administration in office and the 117th U.S. Congress under way, elected representatives continue to face at least two immediate and unprecedented crises: addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and revitalizing the U.S. economy, which has been decimated by COVID-19’s crippling aftermath.

Airline pilots—responsible for the safe transportation of goods and personnel—are essential to accomplishing both.

In the Association’s legislative priority paper titled “Battling the Pandemic, Rebuilding Our Economy, and Connecting the World,” the world’s largest pilots union highlights its latest policy positions on COVID-19 initiatives, aviation business models, aviation safety and security issues, improvements needed in cargo operations, and actions that Members of Congress and the Biden-Harris administration can implement today. These measures would enable the U.S. airline industry and the trillions of dollars of economic activity it creates to safely, securely, and efficiently soar into the future with qualified, well-trained pilots at the helm.

Here’s “the essentials” of what’s moving on Capitol Hill.

Combating COVID-19

ALPA members have served on the front lines since the first day of this pandemic. They’ve played an integral role in supporting the nation’s response: flying airplanes with medical personnel and personal protective equipment and delivering aid to the most affected areas of the country. Today, airline pilots are vital in the complex process of transporting vaccines for distribution to communities across the country and around the world.

While ALPA members help to transport the vaccine and remain ready for when passengers return to the skies, as an essential industry, aviation will need continued relief. It’s critical to plan now for a swift return to air travel when the economy recovers—and it will recover.

ALPA successfully lobbied for the payroll support program (PSP) in 2020, providing pilots job security. In March, U.S. President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law. The historic proworker legislation provides a $14 billion PSP extension through September 30. “Thanks to this bill, tens of thousands of airline workers and their families will avoid furlough and the prospect of finding themselves in the unemployment line or worrying about how they’ll pay their bills,” said Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president. “Instead, they’ll be ready for takeoff and well positioned to help lead our nation’s economic recovery.”

Promoting Aviation Safety and Security

Throughout ALPA’s 90-year history, pilot leaders ushered in new eras of aviation while upholding the highest safety standards in the world. The Association is confident this trend will continue as the country navigates new rules for sharing airspace with remotely piloted aircraft systems and space launches.

During the 117th Congress, there’s an opportunity for progress on several of ALPA’s longtime safety and security issues. One issue has already hit the floor, as House representatives reintroduced the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act in February to protect aviation security and require the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on all new passenger airliners to prevent terrorist attacks similar to those that occurred on 9/11. The Association looks forward to working with newly appointed Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to finally get this important measure implemented.

Another issue that ALPA raised with the DOT as Buttigieg entered office is ensuring that flight, duty, and rest requirements apply to all-cargo operations in the same manner as they apply to passenger operations through regulatory action. The Association will lobby Congress to pass the Safe Skies Act, which would mandate that cargo operations meet FAR Part 117 safety standards and fulfill congressional intent for mandated science-based rest rules for all airline pilots.

ALPA is also seeking congressional action on a glaring security gap in all-cargo operations: the lack of an intrusion-resistant cockpit door (IRCD), which leaves cargo pilots vulnerable—especially if there’s an attempt to take over the aircraft or an attack on the pilots or the flight deck. The Association strongly believes that the FAA should require all-cargo aircraft to be equipped with a hardened IRCD, along with several other recommended actions to improve cargo safety and security.

Securing the Future of the Profession

A strong workforce is critical to the continued global leadership of the United States in aviation, and its strength depends on the full utilization of the talents and abilities of current employees and creating an inclusive and welcoming profession for the next generation.

ALPA is committed to ensuring a diverse and accessible career path for those interested in pursuing a career in aviation. For example, today, women make up more than 50 percent of the national workforce, but they’re significantly underrepresented in the aviation industry, making up only 2 percent of airline mechanics, 6 percent of pilots, and 26 percent of air traffic controllers.

Over the years, Congress has supported legislation seeking to improve and strengthen the diversity of the aviation workforce. Bipartisan legislation included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act has fostered an open dialogue on ways to help improve the pathways of education, training, and the diverse recruitment of pilots in this growing field.

ALPA looks forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize expanding and supporting education and outreach programs to promote and foster diversity in aviation careers and address biases in programs, policies, and practices to ensure that current and future aviation employees feel welcomed in the profession.

How You Can Help

Airline workers have proven time and time again that they’re willing to work with aviation stakeholders to regain economic footing and, in today’s current situation, propel the industry into a new normal. The airline industry and its stakeholders will emerge stronger, together, from the myriad of challenges ahead because pilots are essential to all air service and uniquely qualified to fly America out of this crisis.

While ALPA’s top priorities are highlighted in “The Essentials: ALPA’s 2021 U.S. Legislative Priorities,” additional priorities discussed in the Association’s paper include

  •  Protecting Frontline Workers During COVID-19
  •  Ensuring One Level of Safety for HAZMAT and Dangerous Goods
  •  Safely Sharing Airspace with Drones and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems
  •  Modernizing the Airspace to Integrate Commercial Space Launches
  •  Maintaining Pilot Staffing Levels in All Operations
  •  Elevating International Pilot Training Standards
  •  Improving Cabin Air Quality
  •  Protecting Aviation’s Dedicated Radio Spectrum
  •  Clearing FAA’s Medical Certification Backlog
  •  Maintaining Pilot Training: Simulators Matter
  •  Protecting Aviation from Cybersecurity Attacks
  •  Gaining a Seat at the Table: Inclusion for All Security Team Members
  •  Ensuring Employees with Access also Have a Criminal History Records Check
  •  Revoking Flight Deck Access Deviations
  •  Mandating “All-Cargo Common Strategy” for Employees and Crew
  •  Mandating SIDA for All-Cargo Operations
  •  Redefining Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting to Include Cargo Aircraft
  •  Promoting U.S. Workers in International Aviation: Flags of Convenience
  •  Removing Distortive Subsidies for State-Owned Enterprises
  •  Reviewing Joint Ventures Between U.S. and Foreign Carriers
  •  Following the Spirit of the Fly America Act
  •  Preventing the Misuse of Visas in the Airline Industry
  •  Creating Sustainable Aviation
  •  Negotiating Open Skies Agreements with the Departments of Transportation and State
  •  Instituting Bankruptcy Reform
  •  Ensuring Accessible Student Loan Options for Affordable Pilot Career Paths
  •  Saving Pilots’ Retirement Security
  •  Protecting Workers’ Rights to Access State Labor Protections
  •  Rejecting All Right-to-Work Legislation
  •  Overhauling the Tax Code
  •  Appropriately Funding Aviation

ALPA advocates for aviation safety and security, a level playing field for North American airlines and their workers in the global marketplace, and the future of the profession in federal public policy and continues to urge decision-makers to put safety and security first for airline passengers, crewmembers, and air cargo shippers. Read the priorities paper and learn more about how you can participate in ALPA’s Calls to Action.

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)