As we launch into our anniversary year, reading the excellent history of the association written by Paul Seidenman and David J. Spanovich (page 18) underscores just how important it is for aviation businesses to have a voice to represent them in the public policy arena. As the article demonstrates, NATA’s birth was directly linked to the future of civil aviation, when the association’s founders had the vision to join together and intervene at a critical juncture, not letting the military in effect—take over—American aviation. In fact, the article is replete with examples, large and small, of how the association’s intervention made a difference in supporting aviation businesses’ continued growth in this vital, and uniquely American, part of our economy.
It is easy to understand the advantages of membership when viewed from a purely business perspective. Many NATA members, for example, take advantage of the association’s industry leading workers’ compensation insurance program or perhaps its Safety 1st training. However, the need for a public policy presence is not something that is always readily apparent nor easily quantified.
Perhaps because of our history, NATA members see that need. In our recent membership survey, advocacy was rated as one of the most important aspects of membership. It is also borne out by the fact that when the call for help goes out to aviation businesses, NATA members respond.
Looking ahead to 2016 we, like our founders, continue to see challenges and opportunities for aviation businesses. On our immediate horizon is the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill. While events in 2015, the leadership crisis that resulted in a new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and the difficulties of financing a multi-year surface transportation bill, slowed down the FAA bill in Congress—make no mistake about it—the airlines still want the keys to the air traffic control system.
In early December, Airlines for America (the trade group representing the major carriers) and the CEOs of the nation’s six major airlines were in Washington, D.C., talking to lawmakers about their desire to create an independent, user-fee funded air traffic control organization. Don’t think they are serious? When the world’s largest airline, Delta, announced it was leaving the trade group in a disagreement over this and other policies the airlines are pursuing, the remaining members waived the association’s required departure notice allowing Delta to leave immediately.
The idea of privatizing air traffic control has been one pursued by others as well, some frustrated by the pace of modernization, others concerned the congressional budget process has broken down to the point where funding for the agency may no longer be able to keep up with the future needs of the system.
While NATA agrees the FAA could certainly stand the injection of more private sector practices, we view the unknowns associated with corporatization as simply too great to risk. Can such a proposal be safely implemented in a system many times larger and far more complex than any other in the world? Will its implementation set back the cause of modernization rather than enhance it? And what happens to general aviation, a uniquely American user not really a large factor elsewhere in the world? Will new costs and fees in effect deny your businesses and customers access to airports and airways necessary to your operating a viable business?
While a huge concern, I don’t want to leave you with the impression this is the sole issue confronting aviation businesses. We are still working to unwind a 2012 IRS opinion that concluded that aircraft management fees are “transportation” and therefore management service providers should be assessing the 7.5 percent commercial ticket tax on amounts paid for those services. We are also working as part of a broad national coalition to bring certainty to investment policy by making permanent bonus depreciation and Section 179 expensing. Finally, the NATA regulatory team is working across a myriad of issues, before the FAA, the TSA, and Customs, among others, looking to bring common-sense and your real world perspective to the issues under consideration by the executive branch.
Our issues are not always defensive. Our committee members were instrumental in developing a positive agenda for the FAA reauthorization bill. In fact one agenda item, requiring the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to conduct a study of diversions of non-commercial jet fuel tax revenues to the Highway Trust Fund, was just incorporated into the recently enacted surface transportation bill. We are also particularly proud of the ongoing effort by NATA and AAAE members to identify and address the issues that divide and can unite airports and their tenants.
So as Tom Hendricks says, our future is bright and getting brighter by the day. As we move into what could be a watershed year in aviation, stay involved, and stay engaged. In the end, you are aviation businesses best advocates!
By Bill Deere, Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs