As we go to press with this ABJ issue, NATA is in the midst of an intense lobbying campaign to help shape the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill titled, “The Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. Our Senior Vice President for Government and External Affairs, Bill Deere, will provide a fuller “from the trenches” view of our team’s lobbying efforts; but, before that, let’s cover a few points on NATA’s multi-year strategy that is now bearing fruit as we ensure that the Voice of Aviation Business is heard loudly and clearly by legislators and other policy makers. NATA began laying the groundwork for this ongoing effort almost four years ago. By quietly and respectfully building key relationships, NATA’s reputation, relevance and view as an “honest broker” in Washington is yielding needed access, at this critical time, that is vital to ensuring your voice is heard. Throughout this period, NATA’s team sought solutions and focused on listening to both our members and policy makers.
At the same time, through multiple meetings with lawmakers and administration officials, our staff worked diligently to educate the Hill and federal agencies on NATA’s unique and critical membership and how seemingly well-intended policy prescriptions can have a detrimental impact on small businesses.
This provided the framework to develop thoughtful and member-driven policy positions for this key legislation. Further, to be most effective, these are relationships that must endure over time. It is folly to view policy debates as zero-sum game transactions. While we sometimes disagree with key policy makers, we continue to be respectful and solution oriented. Why is this so critical? The politics of Washington will grind on long after the fate of one piece of legislation is decided. Maintaining long-term, respectful relationships is the most effective way to guarantee the enduring effectiveness of NATA long into the future.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Shuster released the specific language of the AIRR Act on February 3, 2016, then very quickly followed with a hearing six days later, and a full committee vote the following day. Although Chairman Shuster revealed some broad details over the last year, NATA did not have access to the bill’s language prior to its release. Going back to our point on enduring relationships, we made the decision to “keep our powder dry” and focus on the specifics of the bill prior to launching our advocacy campaign. We did this to ensure we maximized the efforts of NATA’s members at the most appropriate time so our message to lawmakers was not diluted by the passage of time or lack of volume. This strategy is paying off as we speak, but there is still a lot of fighting left to do to ensure aviation businesses remain a key part of this discussion.
With this as a backdrop, here are some key NATA observations on House Transportation Committee Chairman Congressman Bill Shuster’s AIRR Act:
- On balance, the bill that passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will, in the long term, hurt general aviation businesses. In the U.S., we enjoy the safest, most complex, most diverse system in the world with unparalleled access for general aviation. Contrary to views often driven by academics and economists, from an operator perspective, the air traffic control (ATC) system works very well.
- A sound bite often tossed around Washington refers to our ATC system as based on “WWII technology.” I invite any proponents of corporatizing ATC to spend some time in any enroute center in the country, the FAA Command Center in Warrenton, VA, the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ, or any of a host of truly high-technology Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities around the nation. Yes, we do use radar as one of the technologies to provide surveillance of aircraft. Other surveillance technologies, including GPS and multi-lateration, are also currently being “fused” with radar data at these high tech facilities. For a point of reference, we also continue to use electricity, first introduced into our homes in the late 19th century. So, just because a particular technology endures, does not necessarily minimize its relevance. ATC is difficult to discuss in sound bites or elevator pitches. It requires a deep operational perspective to truly understand the impacts of massive change to such a highly developed, safe and stable system.
- We are in no way apologists for the FAA’s struggles in rolling out large modernization programs. The FAA is making progress, albeit slower than anticipated. This is frustrating. However, it is important to understand and reset expectations about the degree of change that is possible and appropriate. Over a decade ago, policy makers in Washington introduced the Next Generation Air Traffic Control System – NextGen. Looking back now, the expectations about the ability to modernize the air traffic control system were unrealistic; and corporatizing the current system will do nothing to ease the challenges ahead. In the meantime, and rarely acknowledged, the FAA successfully built and is integrating three foundational technologies that are providing the framework for future success. Enroute Automation Modernization (ERAM) is now operational at all of the nation’s high altitude enroute centers. The ADS-B ground network is in place and provides surveillance and vital safety information today. And finally, Digital Data Communications (DATACOMM) is rapidly growing at key airports, including Teterboro.
- Somewhat surprising for a transportation issue, the debate has become infused with ideology, “government—bad, private enterprise—always good.” While we do agree that more private-sector practices would greatly benefit the FAA, we are also urging caution based on the history of other similar efforts. It’s clear that creating government-backed enterprises is no panacea. Organizations similar to the proposed ATC corporation include Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Red Cross, and the Smithsonian and have met with very mixed results.
- The proposed corporation will, over time, be dominated by the commercial airlines. The long-term impact of this is likely reduced service to small and rural communities with a further reduction of investment in safety-enhancing high technologies in those locations. Why would an airline-dominated board want to invest in areas of the country that they currently don’t, and likely never will, serve?
- Absent the move to corporatize air traffic control in the U.S., many of the remaining provisions of the Shuster legislation are helpful and will improve the current system. This is a direct result of NATA’s approach to educating our nation’s policy makers on the vital role that general aviation businesses play in the nation’s economy.
Finally, please stay informed with all the tools provided by NATA. Visit http://www.nata.aero/nocorporation to contact your elected representatives and explain that the AIRR Act is bad for small businesses and general aviation. Actions like these are very effective and make a difference. Legislators listen to voters and job creators. Invite your Congressmen and Senators out to your business to show them how important the jobs you provide are to the local community. The time for engagement is upon us. Please stay in touch and let us know how we can help.