Legislative Issues on ALPA’s Pilot-Partisan Agenda

By ALPA Staff

The following are among the hot-button issues on ALPA’s legislative agenda that the Association’s elected leaders, members, and staff are working to address in 2023 with the 118th Congress and the White House.

1. FAA Reauthorization

On June 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its FAA reauthorization proposal, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act (H.R. 3935) by a vote of 351–69. The FAA reauthorization proposal is a five-year bill to continue programs and authorizations of the FAA, including air traffic control staffing, maintenance, and operations; NextGen modernization; airport infrastructure; safety certification and oversight; workforce development programs; and consumer protections and accessibility. The current FAA authorization expires on September 30.

ALPA was able to hold the line on first officer qualification and experience requirements, supporting an amendment by Reps. Nick Langworthy (R-NY), Brian Higgins (D-NY), and Claudia Tenney (R-NY) to retain the current standards the Association has fought to maintain since their enactment in 2010. The amendment passed by a vote of 243–191. The House also adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) by a 392–41 vote to advance secondary barriers on all passenger airliners, including passenger airliners currently in operation. The bill also includes provisions to increase staffing for the air traffic controller workforce, improve the Notice to Air Missions system, make improvements to pilot aeromedical processes, memorialize the Women in Aviation Advisory Board, and establish workforce training and development programs, including those that will ease financial burdens for individuals who want to pursue the airline piloting profession.

The bill included some provisions that ALPA deems problematic that will be subject to review and consideration in the Senate and any conference product between the two bodies before an FAA bill becomes law. The Association will be advocating for improvements in the following areas: an ill-defined “pilot apprenticeship” program that isn’t certified by the Department of Labor and may create pilot training problems; a “national simulator program” that’s designed to undermine the requirements for fidelity of simulators used in training for air carrier operations, including Level 7 simulators; expanding cockpit voice recorders to incident investigations, which complicates existing NTSB regulations; expanding general aviation to fly larger aircraft without requiring additional medicals; and expanded applications for drone use, including the carriage of small amounts of hazardous materials.

In addition, the bill included a very controversial provision to increase the statutory pilot retirement age from 65 to 67. Based on ALPA’s Board of Directors unanimous vote last fall supporting the current pilot retirement age of 65, ALPA fought to stop efforts to raise the retirement age without scientific study. Unfortunately, House members were denied the opportunity to vote on a bipartisan amendment by Reps. Jack Bergman (R-MI) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) to strike the provision increasing the retirement age.

ALPA used its considerable resources and influence across Capitol Hill and beyond to urge lawmakers to support first officer qualifications that have reduced passenger fatalities by 99.8 percent and block efforts that would introduce new and unknown risk into air transportation. Retirement age, pilot training, and the expansion of slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are the top issues the Senate will contend with when it takes up its FAA reauthorization bill.

ALPA has already conveyed to the Senate its adamant opposition to any changes to pilot training and qualification or pilot retirement age. More than 30 unions joined the Association to tell the Senate that raising the retirement age is a poison pill for its FAA reauthorization proposal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) are backing ALPA’s position to maintain pilot training and qualification standards. A bill could be considered by the Senate Commerce Committee in the near future.

Participate in ALPA’s Call to Action to advance the Association’s priorities in the FAA reauthorization bill.

2. Pilot Retirement Age

Raising the pilot retirement age puts the U.S. in conflict with the mandates of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and could upend pilot bidding, expose pilot unions and airlines to significant legal liability, require hard-fought-for collective bargaining agreements to be reopened, reduce pilot utilization, create training backlogs, and imperil flight operations. And it will not increase the supply of pilots as ALPA has illustrated with FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The most recent BLS data confirms that there were 1,818 more pilots through the end of 2022 than before the pandemic in 2019.

ICAO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, mandates that pilots in multicrew operations must retire at age 65. If the U.S. changes its retirement age, pilots who are age 65 and older won’t be able to fly internationally, resulting in older airline pilots being barred from operating international flights. Pilots age 65 and flying internationally would need to be retrained and requalified on other aircraft and would be limited to domestic operations, displacing junior pilots from their aircraft. Given that the piloting profession is seniority based, this could ultimately create a cascading and financially burdensome training backlog as pilots must retrain and requalify on aircraft or into a different seat. This costly endeavor could likely reduce the amount of flying airlines can do and restrict flights and pilot availability. Furthermore, many U.S. airlines use narrowbody aircraft to fly international routes and don’t segregate the aircraft based on operation type. As such, pilots age 65–67 would have to be further restricted by flight operations as to where they can fly.

Pilots bid on routes based on seniority and are contractually entitled to a bid based on seniority alone. Typically, pilots with seniority bid on the most desirable and lucrative opportunities, which is international widebody flying. The international standard of age 65 thus presents an issue not anticipated by either management or pilot unions: a group of pilots who aren’t legal to fly the most desirable routes or are returning from retirement who have the seniority, by contract, to demand such flying. Returning pilots or those over the age of 65 who stay on seniority would be able to bid on routes they’re unable to perform and could be paid for not flying or use long-term disability, sick leave, and large vacation balances in their final years of their career to not fly. It’s quite possible that mainline air carriers would need to hire regional pilots to backfill their pilot workforce to ensure the continuation of their schedules and networks given that senior pilot utilization will decline—increasing captain attrition issues regional carriers claim are their concern.

An age 67 change could likely require unions and management to reopen settled collectively bargained agreements and seek new contractual arrangements that restrict pilots from bidding on routes and deal with attendant compensation issues to protect against lawsuits since pilots are entitled, by contract, to flying opportunities based on seniority. Pilot labor unions and management have been through a lengthy and difficult process to secure agreements, and a statutory age change could upend the results of free collective bargaining to the detriment of carrier flying and consumers.

The current international limit is based on safety. According to studies, including a 2019 study contracted by the European Aviation Safety Agency, there’s an increased health risk and a decline in cognitive skills with an increase in age. Currently, data shows an elevated fatal accident rate for FAR Part 135 operations for pilots over the age of 65. As such, it’s inconsistent with ALPA policy and sound aviation protocols to impose a statutory change without study or assessment by the safety regulator. In fact, current pilot safety standards, including fatigue rules, are predicated on the current age 65 international retirement age. In July, DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg reiterated the administration’s opposition to raising the retirement age for pilots without a thorough analysis.

ICAO isn’t currently examining a change to pilot retirement age. The last time ICAO made a change in pilot retirement age, it took five years to deliberate the issue and secure agreement from the member states that make up the body—now 193 countries. Accordingly, a statutory change that places the U.S. in conflict with international standards would introduce complications into the system for, at a minimum, several years, especially given that numerous member states oppose any such change.

Join the Association’s Call to Action to stop any attempts to raise the mandatory retirement age beyond 65 for U.S. pilots.

3. The Cargo Flight Deck Security Act

Reps. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Cargo Flight Deck Security Act of 2023 (H.R. 3903) in June to require all newly manufactured all-cargo aircraft to have an intrusion-resistant flight deck door (see page 11). This legislation is similar to the Garcia-Fitzpatrick bill introduced in the 117th Congress. The bill requires intrusion-resistant flight deck doors on new all-cargo aircraft with or without rulemaking by the FAA, which means the requirement can’t be delayed by industry stonewalling. ALPA has continued to call for Congress to address the glaring security gap in all-cargo operations due to the lack of a barrier between pilots and supernumeraries, who can travel on all-cargo aircraft under less-strict security screening than passengers in FAR Part 121 passenger operations. Cargo pilots fly the same routes, same aircraft types, in the same airspace, and into the same airports as passenger airlines, and all-cargo operations continue to be identified as a significant target and exposed to insider threat. This legislation would help change that.

Take part in ALPA’s Call to Action and urge your member of Congress to cosponsor the Cargo Flight Deck Security Act.

4. The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act

ALPA has sent letters to the House of Representatives and Senate supporting action to require secondary barriers on the existing fleet of passenger airliners. The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act (H.R. 911/S. 911) was reintroduced in the House and Senate earlier this year at the start of the 118th Congress by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Chris Smith (R-NJ), André Carson (D-IN), Thomas Kean (R-NJ), and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA). The legislation is named for Capt. Victor Saracini who was piloting United Flight 175, which was overtaken by terrorists and flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Ellen Saracini, his wife, has been a vocal advocate and partner with ALPA for more than a decade to advance secondary barriers.

H.R. 911/S. 911 would mandate that all passenger airliners currently in operation be retrofitted with secondary barriers. The House version of the FAA reauthorization legislation (H.R. 3935) includes a provision to study retrofitting existing passenger airliners with secondary barriers. ALPA has reiterated to Congress that the matter has been studied and verified as a critical layer of aviation security. Additional study is unnecessary as secondary barriers are already on some passenger airliners and will be required on all newly manufactured passenger airliners per congressional mandate. Earlier this year, the DOT announced a final rule to implement the original version of the Saracini Act, which was signed into law and required that all newly manufactured passenger airliners be equipped with secondary barriers. ALPA has advocated that the legislation be incorporated into the pending FAA reauthorization bill.

Participate in the Association’s Call to Action and ask members of Congress to cosponsor H.R. 911/S. 911 and for Congress to pass the legislation without delay.

5. Homeland Security Appropriations Markup

Funding for the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) and Crew Training program is included in the committee-passed House of Representatives Appropriations Homeland Security bill. The committee approved $26,010,000, which includes increases to conduct background investigations on potential FFDO candidates, fund the FFDO initial training program, and expand the recurrent training capacity of the FFDO program through the establishment of a stand-alone FFDO recurrent training program facility in Atlanta, Ga. Provisions in the bill also direct the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to assess the feasibility of establishing additional recurrent training capacity on the West Coast at a location that’s conducive to pilot participation in the region.

The bill specifies that no later than 90 days after the date of enactment, the TSA is directed to brief the committee on FFDO program enrollment, the backlog of FFDO candidates awaiting initial training, utilization numbers for FFDO recurrent training, and FFDO firearms recertification training. The briefing should include a draft proposal for a West Coast recurrent training center, including a timeline for such a facility to become operational; projected costs to sustain operations at a new facility; any projected increases in FFDO enrollment, training, and recertification this facility would accommodate; and any other impacts such a facility would have on the TSA’s operations.

The full House must pass the Homeland Security Appropriations as well as the 11 other appropriations bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 or face a government shutdown.

6. The Fair and Open Skies Act

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) joined forces to introduce the bipartisan Fair and Open Skies Act (S. 1752) in the Senate. The bill will ensure that the DOT follows the will of Congress to consider labor as part of the public-interest test when it assesses foreign air carrier licensing applications. The Fair and Open Skies Act is similar to legislation in previous Congresses with an update to negate opposition and threats of retaliation from the EU by focusing on the public-interest test rather than the labor clause in the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement (Article 17 bis).

The international aviation market has seen the troubling emergence of airline business models that skirt regulatory requirements and laws that put U.S. pilots, airline workers, and carriers at an unfair competitive disadvantage. To date, the DOT has ignored the statutory public interest regarding the rights of labor, including in recent decisions, which is why having Congress act on the Fair and Open Skies Act is so important. The legislation will require the multifactor public-interest test for foreign air carrier permits and the DOT to review the totality of the public-interest circumstances—including labor, not just the economic criteria it chooses. The bill also specifically adds a new criterion regarding the undermining of labor standards.

The companion Fair and Open Skies Act in the House of Representatives (H.R. 4021) was introduced in June by a bipartisan group of sponsors led by Reps. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Drew Ferguson (R-GA), André Carson (D-IN), Mike Bost (R-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Patrick Ryan (D-NY), Don Bacon (R-NE), Val Hoyle (D-OR), and Bill Johnson (R-OH) with a host of cosponsors already added.

7. The Cabin Air Safety Act

The Cabin Air Safety Act (S. 615/H.R. 1293) has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee and the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, respectively, for review and consideration. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) are the sponsors of the legislation and are pushing for the bill to be included as part of the FAA reauthorization legislation. ALPA supports the bill and has urged its adoption in the FAA reauthorization bill. The Cabin Air Safety Act takes commonsense steps to protect crewmembers and passengers from toxic fume events that can have harmful health effects. ALPA’s Health and Environment Working Group, a component of the Air Safety Organization, has provided subject-matter expertise on the legislation. The bicameral, bipartisan bill mandates toxic fumes response training for cabin crewmembers, additional reporting and monitoring of events by the FAA, and the installation of air quality–monitoring equipment such as carbon monoxide sensors as standard equipment on aircraft.

8. The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize Act

The Richard L. Trumka Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (S. 567) advanced in the Senate in June. The bill, sponsored by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was approved by the committee without amendment and is pending before the full Senate. The PRO Act expands labor protections related to organizing and collective bargaining for workers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and is intended to restore the right of workers to fairly and freely form a union and bargain for better work rules, pay, and benefits in the workplace without intimidation or coercion from an employer.

Since the NLRA’s passage in 1935, the law has been weakened and violated, which has made it more difficult for workers to successfully organize and bargain for fairness on the job. The PRO Act broadens the scope of individuals covered by fair labor standards, permits unions to encourage participation in solidary and secondary strikes, and prohibits employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct secondary strikes. It also expands unfair labor practices to ban prohibitions on or retaliation of workers who participate in strikes, makes it an unfair labor practice to require attendance at company antiunion meetings, and expands whistleblower protections. The bill also makes it easier and more efficient for employees to vote in representation elections, including voting remotely or electronically. It also allows collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of such representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary.

In the House of Representatives, the PRO Act (H.R. 20) has 213 cosponsors and is pending in the House Education and Workforce Committee.

9. The AIR PUMP Act

The AIR PUMP Act (S. 1722/H.R. 3576), introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Val Hoyle (D-OR) addresses the need for flightcrew members to safely pump breast milk aboard aircraft. The bill rectifies the carveout of flight crews, which was a last-minute concession to airlines when the PUMP Act of 2022 was included in the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations law last year. Under this legislation, millions of new mothers are guaranteed the right to pump at work.

The AIR PUMP Act provides federal labor protections for working mothers who are flightcrew members and need to express breast milk at work. The bill requires reasonable and safe accommodations for flightcrew members for one year after a child’s birth and that airlines provide access to private space that isn’t a lavatory for pumping. It stipulates that breaks are never required during critical phases of flight, nor can they impact safety or security of flight.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure and Education and Workforce Committees for consideration; however, ALPA and other unions have advocated that the AIR PUMP Act be included as part of the pending FAA reauthorization bill. In addition to ALPA, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; the Transport Workers Union; the Teamsters; the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; and others support the legislation.

10. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act

Legislation is pending in the Senate and House of Representatives to add convicted unruly passengers to the “no fly” list. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act (S. 1058/H.R. 2384), introduced by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), directs the TSA to create a program that bars passengers who’ve been fined or convicted of physical assault or intimidation and abuse of a crewmember or passenger from flying on commercial aircraft. Under the bill, the TSA would determine the length of the ban based on the offense. In addition, banned individuals would be able to appeal for removal from the list. The Protection from Abusive Passengers Act is intended to be a deterrent against disruptive behavior and stop abuse of frontline employees, helping to minimize disruptions and restore confidence in air travel. The legislation is under consideration as part of the FAA reauthorization legislation pending in Congress.

11. The Flight Education Access Act

The Flight Education Access Act (S. 1292/H.R. 2874), sponsored by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Reps. Colin Allred (D-TX), Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) could be adopted as part of the FAA reauthorization bill in the Senate and House of Representatives. The bill expands funds available for federal student loans under Title IV to cover costs associated with flight training for students at two- and four-year aviation colleges and accredited FAR Part 141 flight schools. The legislation has garnered a wide range of industry support, including ALPA, as well as growing support on Capitol Hill. Other bills to break down financial barriers to entry into the profession are also being considered, including the Aviation Workforce Development Act (H.R. 1818), which would allow 529 plans to be used for flight training. The American Aviator Act (S. 748) establishes a test program to provide veterans with pilot training services. ALPA has long been and remains committed to fostering a robust pipeline and maintaining the highest standards for pilot training. Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, has testified before Congress three times this year on expanding the pilot pipeline and advocating for federal funding to support flight training. For the United States to remain the gold standard in aviation, government support is critical to opening up opportunities to ensure a strong supply of qualified aviators for years to come.

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

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