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GBTA's Shane Downey talks:
Global Business Travel Association VP of government relations Shane Downey said GBTA lobbying has focused on taxation and fees, as well as maintaining a healthy infrastructure and making business travel more comfortable and convenient. His latest focus was long-term funding for the FAA. In October, the U.S. Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The legislation did more than fund the FAA for five years, though. It also included many other things GBTA lobbied for. Downey spoke with BTN assistant editor Dawit Habtemariam about lobbying efforts on behalf of the business travel industry.
BTN: The FAA received a full five-year reauthorization in October for the first time since 1982. Why was that such a big deal?
Downey: The passage of the FAA is set to come up every couple of years, and that's a good thing, to make sure everything is working the way it is, but as we've seen over the past years, short-term reauthorizations can turn into an extended time period with continuous resolutions. It was important to get the FAA reauthorized so they can continue toward upgrading our air infrastructure, which is critical for business travel.
BTN: What other items did you lobby for that were included in the FAA bill?
Downey: We pushed for "Precheck is Precheck." Many [GBTA] members were raising concerns [that] people who were not enrolled in the program were using the Precheck lanes. Homeland Security and committees in the House raised concerns about the security aspects and the long-term future. We also got voice calls banned [on interstate and intrastate passenger flights]. Many members didn't like [calls on planes] because of the impact they could have on an overall flight, and it also raised a whole bunch of security concerns. Another item deals with an issue we've been working on for eight or nine years, localities using rental cars as a way to tax out-of-towners to pay for unrelated items like a button museum, a football stadium. It spread around the country until we felt it needed to be dealt with on the federal level. We're not opposed to increasing fees and taxation on business travel, but we want that to go back into business travel. We [worked on stand-alone bills and attachments and eventually] got language inserted into the final bill that said legislators couldn't put taxes on car rentals that they wouldn't put on any other purchase at airports. There were also several attempts to increase the passenger facility charge [added to airfares]. That is something we were not necessarily opposed to, but the proposals that have been put forth were too expensive. We worked against any inclusion of a passenger facility charge increase in the final bill.
BTN: What are you working on with the new Congress?
Downey: It's a diverse Congress with members with very different backgrounds. There are new chairmen and new ideas. We're excited to educate them on the importance of business travel. Facial recognition biometrics is on our radar. It's very promising new technology, and it would move people through the security lines faster and alleviate some national security concerns. We want to make sure we're following hearings to make sure the technology is working the way it's supposed to work, that it will be an opt-in/opt-out program and that there are ways you can address misidentifications. As a business traveler, the last thing you want is to have to get through security every week being misidentified by your facial recognition and not having a way to address that. Another area relates to the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. There is conversation around a big infrastructure bill. Chairman Peter DeFazio [D-Oregon] has not hidden the fact that he supports an increase for the passenger facility charge, and this could be an opportunity for him to increase it. We'll continue to monitor it very closely and if it is not something we can support, we'll work to stop it from happening.
We're not opposed to increasing fees and taxation on business travel, but we want that to go back into business travel."
BTN: What else is on your radar?
Downey: We've heard some conversation here in the U.S. about future air travel and air emissions, and there have been recent conversations about taxing air travel in the EU. The proposals put forth are using taxes but are not using the money to fight back against climate change. It seems more like a punitive tax to drive down demand. It's just an area we need to continue talking about, what the industry is doing to address climate change. We've long worked with the industry on sustainability programs, and I know the airlines and airplane manufacturers have worked on this. We all want to lower our carbon footprint. It will just be incumbent on us as an industry to make sure our efforts are being noticed. [Another] area is Visa Waiver. There are five countries in the EU that are not in the Visa Waiver program—Poland, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania and Croatia—because they don’t meet the requirements the U.S. set forth. These countries argue EU laws say all member states must have the same benefits [and that] the other EU countries should pull out. This would throw a monkey wrench into international travel. The U.S. is talking with those countries and trying to work through the issues, to help them become compliant.
BTN: GBTA also runs the Business Travel PAC, right?
Downey: It's a trade association political action committee. We raise contributions from our U.S. members only. It's our opportunity as an industry to pull together resources and support members of Congress that have been helpful to the industry in the past, such as Sen. Ed Markey [D-Massachusetts], Rep. John Katko [R-New York], Rep. Sam Graves [R-Missouri] and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman [D-New Jersey].
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