NATA Members Help Shape Debates in 2017, Build Strong Foundation for 2018

January 4, 2018

By Bill Deere, Executive Vice President of Government and External Affairs

This time last year, I warned that 2017 could be a wild one for the aviation business community. That turned out be a vast understatement. From proposals to corporatize air traffic control to price regulation of FBOs, this past year has been a constant challenge to the association and its members. As we head into the new year, challenges will remain but we are also hopeful that the work begun this year may result in significant progress in 2018.

No doubt the biggest debate in aviation in 2017 was the airline industry proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, an idea that was embraced by both the Trump Administration and the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA). Ultimately, the proposal was incorporated into the House version of the FAA reauthorization, H.R. 2997, the 21st Century AIRR Act. Following committee approval, it looked like the legislation was headed to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

That is where the proposal met with the collective resistance of NATA and the rest of the general aviation community. NATA’s hundreds of Hill meetings, combined with the grassroots support of our members and countless others, were enough to introduce uncertainty in the House Republican leadership as to whether the corporatization proposal would survive a House floor vote. For that reason, the current FAA authorization was extended until March 30, 2018.

Significantly, the Senate FAA legislation contains no corporatization proposal. NATA members who participated in our annual Congressional Fly-In were the last general aviation group to visit the Senate before the bill was drafted and your direct advocacy efforts in opposition to corporatization benefited the entire general aviation community.

For 2018, you can expect the ATC corporatization battle to be fought one more time. At this writing, Congress is focused elsewhere, tax legislation, year-end spending bills, and immigration to name just a few issues. But as the calendar turns, and the next FAA authorization deadline approaches, you can expect our deep-pocketed opponents to make one more attempt to wrest control of the air traffic control system and turn it over to the airlines. We ask you to stand ready and be prepared to weigh in with your elected representatives. You are the aviation business community’s best voice.

While we expected the ATC corporatization battle, in 2017 we unexpectedly found ourselves in a debate with a national pilot organization that suggested to the FAA that FBOs are akin to public utilities and should be regulated along similar lines. This was a moment where our members were critical to our efforts to shape the debate. Thanks to the help of member companies, FBOs and Part 135 companies alike, we developed a report on the state of the FBO industry. The report, which is available on the front page of our website, is a comprehensive look at the industry and the many factors that impact the pricing of FBO services.

I am pleased that as 2017 progressed, more and more industry leaders turned to our report as the foundation for debate. It has also been gratifying to see the thoughtful approaches that have been taken to the issue by other groups, including the Experimental Aircraft Association, which featured an excellent article on the subject in its May edition of Sport Aviation.

So where do we go from here? As you will see in the article on our annual leadership conference (page 51), your association met the issue head-on with a panel that included pilots, FBOs, airports and fuelers. A dialogue started there that I hope will continue into 2018.

Finally, I don’t want to leave you with the idea that all we do at NATA is try and beat back bad ideas. We take seriously our responsibility to advance a positive, member-driven industry agenda. There are proposals in Congress and before the agencies across a range of issues, including taxes, addressing illegal charter, air carrier training and others that we hope to see implemented in 2018.

As we reflect on 2017 and look ahead to 2018, one thing is clearer than ever. We are in it together. To advance big ideas or defeat major threats, is a job that requires all of us to be engaged.

Republished from the 2017 Q4 Aviation Business Journal.


NATA 75: An Industry Voice Is More Important Than Ever

December 28, 2015

 

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