As Joe Biden begins his transition to the White House following the November 3 U.S. Presidential election, the aviation industry begins to assess what the next four years may hold with a new Congress and administration. (Photo: Joe Biden campaign Twitter account)

What The U.S. Election Means For The Bizav Industry

Slimmer margins in the House and Senate could temper efforts for significant change.

Results from the November 3 elections in the U.S. are bringing changes to the aviation industry and new faces to Washington, D.C.

President-elect Joe Biden is beginning to establish a transition team while awaiting certification of the elections. On Capitol Hill, the balance of power has narrowed as the Democrats barely captured the necessary majority in the House and the Republicans maintained a 50-48 edge, with run-off elections to be held in January in Georgia to determine the final two seats and control of the Senate. Regardless of that outcome, the elections will bring a shuffling of committees with more even committee memberships in both chambers.

Given the number of challenges that the Trump administration has made in the aftermath of the election, most aviation industry groups remain quiet awaiting final word. However, those who did have reaction gave clues of what the expectations might be for the next four years under a Biden administration.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, representing the largest sector of the FAA workforce, immediately offered congratulations to the president-elect and his Vice President running-mate Kamala Harris. “We look forward to working with the new administration to continue the very successful collaborative relationship we’ve built with the FAA and the Department of Transportation over the last 12 years,” said NATCA president Paul Rinaldi and executive v-p Trish Gilbert in a joint statement. “That relationship started with then-Vice President Biden in office. He understands the importance of solid labor-management relationships and fair collective bargaining rights for workers.”

They further pledged to work with the administration to “usher in a rebound” of an industry harmed by the CoOVID pandemic and “to secure a stable, predictable funding stream for the NAS” since the Airport and Airway Trust currently is solvent under a temporary legislative measure. “We continue to focus on the long term," they said. "A stable, predictable funding stream, as the aviation industry rebounds, will be essential to protecting the system and the workforce that safeguards it.”

Airports Council International-North America also extended congratulations, encouraged that Biden has appeared supportive of increasing the passenger facility charge for airports. But ACI-NA president and CEO Kevin Burke said, “Before that work can start, Congress still needs to pass a comprehensive COVID relief package that includes much-needed funds for airports struggling to finance operations, make debt payments, and respond to the pandemic by retrofitting their facilities and adopting enhanced sanitation and health protocols. The entire travel industry is still suffering from the abrupt, sustained drop in tourism and business travel.”

During a November 12 National Air Transportation Association webinar to assess the impact of the elections, two staff members—Alexander Beckmann, deputy chief of staff for the outgoing congressman and House aviation subcommittee member Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois), and Kerry Knot, chief of staff for House Appropriations Committee member Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama)—agreed that the first order of business will be to address issues surrounding COVID. That could come in the form of a mask mandate for airlines, something the Trump administration would not back but Biden has supported, they said.

It also could mean passage of another comprehensive COVID relief bill, which has been hung up by House and Senate wrangling for months. While Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) have been unable to reach an agreement, dimming prospects for passage of a relief package during the lame-duck session, many in Washington expect McConnell and Biden to work more collaboratively should Republicans maintain control.

While ACI-NA is holding out hopes for an increase in the PFC and Beckmann believes there might be more opportunity for momentum on the issue under the new administration, both he and Knott also believe that the tight margins in the House and Senate might make comprehensive tax changes difficult, including repeals of tax cuts put in place under the Trump administration. Likewise, tight margins or a Republican-controlled Senate pave a more difficult road for more dramatic proposals surrounding the environment. However, Biden has been a proponent of clean energy and more changes could come through executive order, as well as support for initiatives along those lines.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate aviation subcommittee is set to see a few new faces in the upcoming year. Colorado freshmen Senate Republican and member of the Senate aviation subcommittee member Cory Gardner lost his bid for reelection to Democrat John Hickenlooper. Meanwhile, Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico and Senate aviation subcommittee member, had announced in early 2019 his plans to retire from the Senate.

Michigan Democrat and fellow subcommittee member Gary Peters hung on in a close race against Republican John James. However, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, another Senate aviation subcommittee member, coasted through her bid for reelection. Neither aviation subcommittee chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) nor ranking Republican Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) were up for reelection.

Elsewhere in the Senate, Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee chair, won a closely contested challenge against Democrat Sara Gideon in what had become a nationally watched race. However, Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a strong general aviation advocate, easily prevailed.

In the House, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Oregon) fended off Republican contender Alek Skarlatos with 51.6 percent of the vote in what was said to be the tightest race in his 34-year congressional career. The ranking Republican on the committee and General Aviation Caucus co-chair Sam Graves (Missouri) easily won reelection, as did aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) and subcommittee ranking Republican Garret Graves (Louisiana). However, House Appropriations Committee chair Nita Lowey (D-New York) retired, requiring a shuffling of that powerful committee.

Along with Graves, Democrat General Aviation Caucus co-chair Marc Veasey (Texas) also won his bid for reelection. But that caucus lost about 40 members, mainly to retirements, requiring a rebuilding.

As the new faces emerge in their places, Knot and Beckmann both stressed the importance of reaching out to continue its education campaign. “Both parties are going through major changes,” Knot said. “Now’s not the time to step back. Now's the time to redouble all the efforts.”

Beckmann agreed and suggested to look at staffers as well as lawmakers: “People underestimate the impact that shooting one personalized email to staff that represents your district makes. We do read our emails.” This is especially important as new staff that might not understand aviation issues comes on board, he added.

AOPA agreed that focus must be on reaching out to newly elected, as well as returning members, particularly on the caucuses. “The General Aviation Caucus, one of the largest in Congress, provides a resource for members and staff to learn about GA’s impact on their respective communities,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior v-p of government affairs.