Let's build on our effective advocacy for the helicopter industry.
The 116th US Congress is now gaveled in and tackling our nation’s problems. Your government is hard at work on your behalf.
Did you just roll your eyes at the thought that Congress understands your daily struggles and what you go through to keep the lights on at home or for your business? Be honest.
Reading the headlines about shutdowns, it may be a bit of a herculean task to believe that any good can come out of Washington. But it’s a new year, and I haven’t yet broken my resolutions (the brownie I had at lunch was small, so it didn’t count).
Considering the successes that we had with the 115th Congress, let’s approach the new year with optimism. Let’s quickly review why 2018 was such a good year for our industry on Capitol Hill.
HAI’s 2018 Legislative Wins
HAI was deeply involved in advocating for the helicopter industry while legislators were hammering out the details of the five-year FAA reauthorization bill that passed Congress in October. Our work produced substantive ROI for the helicopter industry in the many provisions in the bill with real-world impact on members’ businesses:
- HAI ensured that the legislation gave the industry opportunities to provide input on and participate in the creation of upcoming FAA regulations
- HAI secured specific language that included helipads as eligible projects in airport construction or improvement initiatives
- Important safety provisions for crash-resistant fuel systems were implemented to comply with recommendations from the FAA’s Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group, which HAI staff members participated in
- HAI helped secure the inclusion of drone policies that would safely accelerate their integration into the National Airspace System, including requirements for remote identification
- HAI helped to include in the bill important aviation workforce development programs that will provide resources and grants to increase the number of pilots and mechanics in the industry
- HAI helped push through language to modernize Part 147 training programs, providing new business opportunities for HAI members.
In other 2018 advocacy wins, HAI stopped legislation that would have capped veterans’ flight benefits for helicopter training. And let’s not forget our largest victory of the 115th Congress, when general aviation stepped up and stopped the privatization of the US air traffic control system.
The Blueprint for Success
Looking back, our industry had a very successful year. Where will this success and optimism take us in the 116th Congress?
You may have been right to roll your eyes when I said Congress was solving your problems. However, if they don’t know about your problems, how can they help?
That is why HAI’s work on Capitol Hill is so important. Advocacy is the mechanism by which HAI and its members communicate with Congress. We share our stories on the legislative and regulatory pinch-points that negatively impact our businesses and stand in the way of our success. We educate Congress on legislation that can help our industry grow. We help develop policies that will ensure a healthy, competitive, and level playing field.
I’ve made it a point to visit local HAI members whenever I get outside of the Beltway bubble to attend a conference or engage in state legislative work. In these invaluable meetings, members educate me on the legislative issues causing roadblocks for them and we strategize together on ways to address their concern.
One issue that I keep hearing about is that operators are having trouble finding qualified mechanics and pilots. As you may know, HAI’s charitable arm, Helicopter Foundation International (HFI), recently undertook a study with the University of North Dakota (UND) to validate the long-standing assertion that the United States is not producing pilots and mechanics in sufficient numbers. The 2018 HFI-UND study found that in just over 15 years, the industry will face a shortage of more than 7,400 helicopter pilots and over 40,000 mechanics.
In addition to documenting the projected shortage, the study gathered information on how it is already changing operations. For example, more than 50 percent of surveyed operators said that the shortage of pilots and mechanics would definitely or probably interfere with their operation’s ability to grow over the next five years.
This workforce shortage issue is real, and you may be already feeling its effects. HAI began to address this issue from a legislative perspective in the FAA reauthorization bill, which contains a grant program to fund workforce development programs for pilots and mechanics.
This grant program came about because we talked to Congress about the problem and offered a potential solution. They listened and included the program in the bill.
I admit, it was a bit more complicated than that. There was a lot of work that had to be done educating Congress about the issue. But in fact, that is how the process is supposed to work. Our industry defines a problem, identifies a solution, and provides our congressional representatives with solid, realistic, actionable solutions to the problem. In this case, we presented a compelling argument that the United States needs a sustainable aviation workforce, and Congress agreed. Granted, this one program is not a silver bullet for the workforce development issue, but it is a start.
HAI is also working directly with the states to address the workforce shortage. HAI and its Utah-based members are working with that state’s governor, Gary Herbert, and his staff on setting up a rotorcraft pathways educational program that will bring new students into the industry. This exciting initiative is moving forward because HAI contacted the Utah governor’s office and met with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to discuss workforce issues. We jointly identified a potential solution and are now working together to find success.
Help Government Understand Your Needs
How can we accomplish this—working with Congress and state governments to solve our problems—on a regular basis?
For this to occur, we must educate our elected officials on the issues that are confronting us and then be willing to provide potential solutions that we can work on together. These folks are busy and have a lot on their plate (like running the state of Utah, for instance). Don’t assume that they know your pain points, let alone how to solve them.
Policy, legislative, or regulatory language may have unintended (and sometimes intended) negative consequences on our businesses. Grassroots advocacy is our tool to reach out to our elected officials and show them how they can make a difference and provide positive solutions.
The 116th Congress as well as most state legislative sessions are now in full swing. They have many issues confronting them, and constituents representing all different perspectives are clamoring for attention. Get to know your elected officials. Make sure your issues get on their radar.
You are business owners and operators; you provide economic solutions and benefits to the people they represent. Your perspective and insights matter. Make a goal this year to host your elected official at your business. Let them see all you do and what you provide to your local community.
Don’t know where to start? That’s why you have an association. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will gladly help you set up a visit.
To expand our advocacy outreach, we are building on the success of our campaign to prevent ATC privatization. If you haven’t done so previously, text ROTOR to 40649 to sign up and stay up-to-date on legislation affecting the helicopter industry.
As your association, HAI represents the helicopter industry to government officials. Together, let’s make 2019 another year of effective advocacy!