ALPA’s National Policy Goals—Three Points, only One Appears Achievable

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ARTICLE: ALPA: Misguided U.S. Policy, Unlevel Playing Field Continue to Erode U.S. Airline Industry

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The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) has been a proponent of a National Aviation Policy for a year or more. Their consistent call for action has focused on three elements:

  • Enhancing the aviation business environment
  • Defending U.S. aviation jobs in the international marketplace, and
  • Strengthening international aviation safety regulations through the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The first point focuses on the heavy burden of taxes imposed on the carriage by air; they assert that the ticket price charged to consumers is burdened by 17 different federal assessments. The pilots argue that this is a disproportionate source of revenue for the federal government. A4A stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the union on this point. The two major players may be in agreement, but getting the Administration and Congress to roll back these taxes will be difficult even with the Tea Party presence on the Hill.

Their second critique starts with the historical statutory prohibition against foreign ownership of US carriers. The language has been expanded by regulatory interpretations and the union states loudly its opposition to any legislation which would further liberalize this rule.

The union’s point extends to the existing Open Skies Agreements which the US has negotiated with many countries. These international treaties permit US carriers to enter into code-sharing arrangements with the foreign partners. What is not mentioned in the ALPA policy statement is that under these commercial alliances, the US carrier may defer to its foreign ally and list its code on the aircraft flown by the overseas pilots. The alliance assigns some of the revenue to the US airline, but the ALPA members do not get to fly these flights. This is an interesting theory, but it appears difficult, if not impossible, to implement. The commercial practice is clearly permitted under these treaties; the US would have to seek to rewrite or renounce them. On this point the US airlines would not concur; their alliances work. This would be very hard, if not embarrassing, to do.

The last point is also fascinating. The US has its own oversight program and it involves a sovereign assessing its international equal. At the end of this odd “peer” review, the US may tell the other sovereign that its safety program does not meet US standards. The FAA has its own embarrassing list.

ALPA does not point to the FAA’s program, but asks that the US government urge the UN aviation body to more rigorously enforce its rules. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is the world’s governing body to set global standards. It self-governs; that is, all of the member countries agree to its annual budget and programs. One of those programs, Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP), ostensibly assesses the Members’ compliance with the ICAO standards. The program does identify deficient Members, but its oversight cannot be categorized as overly aggressive. ALPA’s goal of more rigorous ICAO enforcement is not that realistic.

One of the three has potential; maybe ALPA and A4A can mass an effort to make it happen.

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