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Monument Policy Group founder and partner Stewart Verdery, who also serves as the National Business Travel Association's government affairs consultant, spoke here in February during The Masters Program. He discussed NBTA's 'C' grade for the federal government's 2008 performance on travel policies and ongoing issues that NBTA is watching. He also fielded questions from attendees.
You mentioned the Federal Aviation Administration's reauthorization bill. One of the bullet points was the NextGen [air traffic control system]. Does that mean if the FAA reauthorization bill goes through, we will automatically get the funding we need for NextGen?
The money that you and others pay on airline tickets goes into a trust fund to run the FAA's operations, and the NextGen deployment of satellite equipmentis part of that. They also obviously have to run the existing systems. The trust fund pays for the FAA side of the ATC system. The question is, is there a way to accelerate it by getting more money into the system, or, what we were hoping to do was to get money in the [federal economic] stimulus--a one-time slug of money (we got a little bit, not much, $250 million) to move the implementation scheme up a few years. But the FAA bill is the funding mechanism to spend on the satellites, GPS, etc., that need to be deployed.
What is the status on Real ID?
Congress passed a law four years ago called Real ID, saying states have to issue driver licenses of a certain caliber. If they don't, you can't use them for any federal purpose, like getting on an airplane or going to a courthouse. That deadline falls at the end of this year, if you are under 40. If you are over 40, you get a grandfather [clause]. To provide some time to spread out the caseload, that was the line they made up. This is likely to be changed. [U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet] Napolitano, as governor [of Arizona], was one of the lead opponents of this unfunded federal mandate. Ironically, now she is in charge of it. It will be a tough one for her to navigate, but there is a lot of support in Congress for delaying this and giving more flexibility to the states, and then probably giving them a big check.
When will we as an industry be able to stop tiptoeing around being concerned about stepping on people's toes and truthfully tell people [about the status and impact of travel]?
The travel industry among policymakers often gets confused with the aviation industry, and that has its own set of fights. You have airports versus airlines--they don't get along at all; you've got general aviation versus the commercial carriers; there is a lot of infighting amongst the carriers on routes, mergers, etc. Because the airlines have such a big presence in terms of employees, and have big political action committee budgets, most members of Congress think aviation when they hear travel. And that brings different conclusions as to what is important in terms of the different issues. Where the industry was broadly two or three years ago, we have made a lot of progress getting people's attention. But clearly, whether it's having a rational visa system or a modern aviation system, we are not at the front of the list. That's why in the stimulus, the other industries--the big kids at the piñata party--got their money and we got a little bit, but not as much as we should have.
Would it be more beneficial to the industry if all the different associations could talk as a collective unit?
We work with the hotel industry, and they are interested in the exact same issues that we are, but for them, card check [the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would enable workers to more easily form or join labor unions] and whether they are going to have unionized work forces within their hotels is by far their biggest issue. For the restaurants, it is immigration because of their labor problems. For the airlines, it is their own needs. The U.S. Travel Industry has tried to play the role of the omnibus group, but whether it's NBTA for business travel or the American Hotel & Lodging Industry for hotels, the meetings industry, etc., they all have their issues that are relatively most important. Clearly, where we can come together it is helpful, but, in many cases, you have people with separate priorities.
Can you talk a little about the changes that are coming for corporate aircraft?
On the security side, the Transportation Security Administration has proposed that the [security] regime that applies for big aircraft should now apply to medium aircraft. So basically, if you're a corporate aircraft--a Lear or a Gulfstream--and you are carrying people, you would have to do some of the similar things in terms of having passengers vetted against watch lists, having security plans and the like. That rule is likely to be implemented this year. The theory is that a medium-size plane that is carrying 15 people is just as much a threat as a big aircraft that is carrying 200, as far as crashing into something. Regarding taxes, [private aircraft operators] will be paying more in gas taxes into FAA's trust fund under the FAA [reauthorization] bill that is likely to move forward.
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