The Washington Agenda: U.S. airlines prepare to advance their policy goals with the newly elected president
For U.S. airlines, a new president means a new opportunity to advance their policy agenda. Immediately after Donald Trump’s victory, Airlines for America, or A4A, congratulated the president elect and reminded him of their industry’s importance to the nation’s economy—it supports 10m jobs, the A4A asserts, and underpins 5% of the entire U.S. economy through the trade and travel it facilitates.
A4A’s first lobbying priority, it seems, will be infrastructure. That’s because the new administration speaks of a $1t infrastructure plan as a top goal for its first 100 days in office. What the A4A wants specifically is a modernized air traffic control system, funded by the system’s users rather than by unreliable and politically-influenced Congressional allocations.
The problem is, A4A doesn’t quite represent all U.S. airlines. Spirit and Allegiant, for example, aren’t members. But of greater significance, Delta withdrew its membership earlier this year, largely because it disagreed with its peers on the right policy prescription for air traffic control. Unlike A4A’s members, Delta opposes the system’s privatization, arguing costs for airlines and their passengers would increase sharply. It pointed to rising navigation fees in Canada and the U.K. after their systems were privatized. American, angered by the stance, ascribed Delta’s position to more cynical motives—Delta, American alleged, favors the current system only because its inefficiencies tend to affect rival airlines more significantly.
Delta won the first round of the fight. In July, Congress passed an FAA bill that excluded any provision for air traffic control privatization despite the best efforts of Bill Shuster, the head of the House committee covering transportation matters. Shuster did win reelection last week, however, and his Republican party remains in control of Congress. And A4A isn’t ready to abandon its privatization plan, which—however surprising this might seem—also has support from the union that represents air traffic controllers. The bill that passed in July, incidentally, was another short-term measure of the sort airlines say prevent longterm investment. Being so short term though, Congress will again have to budget funds for the FAA next fall, opening another opportunity for the A4A and its members.
Delta’s maverick streak extends to other issues too, like the merits of America’s exportimport bank, which it said provides unfair capital subsidies to foreign competitors. Then there’s perhaps the most high-…
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