Pilots Lobby Members of Congress, Communicate ALPA’s Legislative Priorities

By John Perkinson, Senior Staff Writer
Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, talks about the Fair and Open Skies Act and its importance to U.S. airlines and airline workers.

On June 7, 148 ALPA pilots from 33 states were dispatched to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected members of Congress and administrative staff. The uniformed group quickly dispersed to the various Senate and House office buildings in Washington, D.C., to participate in 170 scheduled meetings that day. These sessions, arranged to advance ALPA’s latest legislative priorities, were the culmination of the Association’s 10th annual Legislative Summit.

Participating pilots spent the previous two days in briefings, fine-tuning their advocacy skills while reviewing ALPA’s pilot-partisan agenda, including maintaining current airline pilot qualification and training standards. Prompted by the fatal February 2009 Colgan Air accident in Buffalo, N.Y., Congress enacted these new requirements as part of the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010.

Since the passage of this landmark legislation, airline fatalities have decreased by a remarkable 99.8 percent, with more than 10 billion passengers safely reaching their destinations. Prior to 2010, airline fatalities, over a 20-year period, totaled nearly 1,100—a central point that pilots like Capt. Paul O’Halloran (United) frequently highlighted. Speaking with Rep. Pat Ryan (D-NY), O’Halloran, a former U.S. Air Force safety officer, stressed, “The statistics speak for themselves.”

Legislative Summit 2023


Capt. Eric Popper (United) shared an anecdote with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) about an encounter he had while flying as a regional airline captain. The flight took place before the implementation of the current Part 121 requirements and involved a brand-new first officer. The young pilot had received ab-initio training and expressed a degree of surprise when flying through actual clouds. “The first officer revealed that he’d never experienced that sensation before,” Popper stated. Pilots in other meetings, with similar stories, repeatedly described providing “on-the-job training” for untried flyers under the previous regulations.

As subsequent House and Senate versions of the 2023 FAA reauthorization bill are currently being debated, regional airlines and certain special-interest groups have been pressuring Congress to roll back pilot qualification regulations, claiming an alleged pilot shortage has resulted from the current policy.

Capt. David Brown (Delta) and F/O Pete Van Stee (Delta) repudiated this claim, telling Rep. Chris Stewart’s (R-UT) congressional staffer, Connor Meyers, that since the new rules were officially introduced in 2013, nearly 64,000 individuals have been certificated as U.S. airline pilots. Meanwhile, mainline carriers have filled approximately 40,000 available pilot positions during this same period.

Van Stee emphasized that the real priority in determining standards must always be establishing proficiency. He asked Meyers to imagine a scenario in which the nation faced a shortage of available physicians. The public would be outraged if Congress were to advocate for lowering doctors’ training standards as a solution.

The second request pilots made to federal lawmakers was an appeal for support of the Fair and Open Skies Act. If enacted, it would ensure fair competition for U.S. airline workers by requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to evaluate the effect on U.S. labor as part of a public-interest test when considering foreign air carrier permit requests.

For more than 75 years, the DOT has applied this public-interest test to applications in every case until 2016, with the approval of a foreign air carrier permit for Norwegian Air International (NAI). This flag-of-convenience airline was headquartered in Ireland and hired flight crews based in Thailand under individual Singaporean-law employment contracts. Carriers like NAI use atypical business practices to avoid their home countries’ employment, tax, labor, and safety requirements.

At a Russell building meeting, Capt. Joe Morowitz (United) spoke with Taylor LaJoie, legislative assistant to Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), describing flag-of-convenience operations as “shell games.” He noted that they were previously used to attack the U.S. maritime industry. Due to the proliferation of flag-of-convenience registries permitted at the time, the total number of U.S. maritime jobs dropped from nearly 64,000 in 1951 to 7,600 in 2017.

Commercial aviation contributes more than 5 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product, an important monetary measure used to evaluate the nation’s economic well-being. F/O Natalie Higdon (Endeavor Air) emphasized that, if this practice continued, American companies and their workers would be placed at a clear competitive disadvantage.

Pilot Briefings

The summit kicked off two days before the congressional meetings with presentations, interactive breakout sessions, and more. One panel discussion, “Navigating the Hill,” featured observations about what constitutes a successful Capitol Hill visit from three prominent congressional aides, with ample time to ask participants questions.

Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, welcomed the many attendees, acknowledging the theme of this year’s event, “A Decade of Difference.” “That’s what you and thousands of other ALPA pilots have done over the past 10 years—made an enormous difference in the safety and security of our skies and the protection of rights as airline pilots,” he said.

“As this country’s lawmakers work on the 2023 FAA reauthorization, pilot production is up, the passenger fatality rate is down, and our skies are the safest in the world,” Ambrosi added. Referencing the union’s efforts to maintain pilot qualification standards, he observed, “ALPA’s commitment—with your help this week—is to ensure this country maintains this global primacy in air transportation safety and continues to lead the world in protecting passengers, crews, and cargo.”

Highlighting efforts to enact the Fair and Open Skies Act, ALPA’s president commented, “It will give the government the tools to put an end to labor arbitrage—using the lowest-cost workforce no matter what the price—and other unfair business practices by foreign airlines serving U.S. markets.”

Elizabeth Baker, director of ALPA’s Government Affairs Department, also greeted summit participants, saying, “Over the next two days, you’ll hear about the threats to aviation safety by those who want to hire pilots on the cheap and about the degradation of workers when those in positions of authority don’t recognize the value of strong international aviation agreements that promote workers’ rights.”

Baker outlined the many resources available year-round for pilot volunteers meeting with their lawmakers (either in Washington, D.C., or at their home-state offices) and the importance of message consistency. “We need to speak with one voice, determined and directed by ALPA policy to advance our priorities,” she stressed.

Congressional Keynotes

Summit attendees also heard keynote presentations from three members of Congress who’ve repeatedly demonstrated their support for ALPA by backing important pilot-partisan legislation.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the lead Republican cosponsor of the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act and the Cargo Flight Deck Security Act, talked about the importance of supporting these issues, adding, “It’s the least we can do as members of Congress for those who get us from Point A to Point B safely and on time.”

A senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a lead sponsor for the Fair and Open Skies Act and the Cabin Air Safety Act, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) reviewed the status of FAA reauthorization within his committee. He remarked, “At the moment, we would expect [this legislation] before the end of month, possibly next week or the week after.” Draft bills from both the House and Senate have since been released.

“Today we have the safest flying record and statistics in our history,” observed Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who talked about the relevance of the Fair and Open Skies Act. “We know we need to have a strong airline industry,” he commented, adding that flag-of-convenience airlines undermine labor relations, aviation safety, and the stability of the domestic airline industry.

At the Advocacy Awards dinner the first night of the summit, Ambrosi presented the Association’s Pilot Partisan of the Year Award to Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA).

Honoring the A-Team

During the Legislative Summit’s Advocacy Awards dinner, Capt. Jason Ambrosi, ALPA’s president, honored this year’s Advocacy A-Team members. “These are the volunteers who, without hesitation, generously give their time and effort to advance ALPA’s pilot-partisan agenda,” he said. This year’s class includes

Capt. Jason Ambrosi (Delta)
F/O Brendan Cantwell (Delta)
F/O Gareth Carter (Delta)
Capt. Carlos Coto (JetBlue)
Capt. Reed Donoghue (Delta)
Capt. Jessie Elliott (Delta)
F/O Jennifer Fiederer (Delta)
Capt. Eric Hall (Delta)
Capt. David Hopkinson (Delta)
Capt. J.J. Hughes (JetBlue)
F/O Aaron Kennington (FedEx Express)
Capt. Joe Morowitz (United)
Capt. Daniel Reitzig (Frontier)
Capt. Tony Sandrolini (JetBlue)
Capt. Bill Secord (FedEx Express)

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

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