At HAI HELI‑EXPO in Vegas, we celebrated the stunning news that the proponents of air traffic control (ATC) privatization were standing down. We won. I send a sincere thank-you to all who heard our call to action and acted.
Before we move on to new legislative issues, however, I want to discuss our lessons learned from the campaign.
First, how did we win? Our success was by no means a given. The proponents of the bill had deeper pockets and more resources than the helicopter industry. They were well respected, politically savvy, and the ultimate professionals. This was a legislative fight for the ages.
To boil it down to the simplest explanation, we won because of you. HAI members flooded Capitol Hill with letters, tweets, Facebook posts, visits, and calls. Your voices combined with the tens of thousands of calls from other general aviation (GA) professionals and backers to demand that we modernize, not privatize ATC.
It is easy to be cynical about Congress. However, elected officials really do care about their constituents’ concerns. When that many people reach out on the same issue, they get their representatives’ attention.
We also had numerous GA organizations working together to oppose this legislation. In fact, we had almost 300 GA organizations sign an industry letter expressing opposition to ATC privatization. So many different groups uniting to oppose an issue attracts a great deal of attention from the media, elected officials, and their leaders.
The individual associations also made hundreds of visits to Congress during this legislative battle. HAI was in the middle of it, reaching out to the committees of jurisdiction, leadership, and rank-and-file members. HAI educated them about the legislation’s negative impacts on the helicopter industry and why passing the bill would not be in the best interest of their constituents. This message was reinforced when HAI members flooded the offices with their individual outreach.
This old-fashioned advocacy work was important in raising awareness among undecided representatives as well as in securing supporters who eventually became advocates for our industry. It was also critical to raise the issue among the congressional committees. These committees would have been directly affected by this legislation, with some losing jurisdiction and oversight authority — an outcome rarely favored by committee members.
An important part of my job is developing relationships and becoming part of the everyday legislative environment, so I’ll be able to read the signals when something is about to happen. Because of everyone’s hard work, time and time again, votes were scheduled on the ATC privatization proposal and then pulled back because proponents did not have the votes necessary to pass.
Finally, the White House looked at the level of opposition in the House and the Senate and determined there was not enough votes to prevail. Once administration support evaporated, proponents of the bill were forced to pull it. Our industry won the day because we stood united, voiced our position, and educated our elected officials about why we opposed the bill.
What does this mean moving forward? First, the GA community must never forget our collective power. Yes, we often have different perspectives on legislative issues. Certainly, we will disagree in the future, but there will be just as many times when we can unite, just as we did around ATC privatization. When we find consensus within our community, we must stand together and push forward those policies.
Second, we must continue to foster our relationships with elected officials. Your representatives heard and understood your position on ATC privatization and as a result acted. You now have a very powerful connection to them — work to keep it going. Reach out to your elected officials and thank them for their actions. Politics is all about relationships. Don’t be that friend who only calls when they need something.
In a stroke of good luck, this is an election year. Politicians are out campaigning, some to keep their job and others to get a job. They are especially attuned to listen to voters. The congressional schedule allows for multiple recesses throughout the year, including a long stretch in August, for officials to get back home and campaign.
Make plans today to set up a visit with your elected representatives. If you have a business, bring them out, show them around, and let them see the value you bring to the local community. If you don’t have a business, reach out to the local office and schedule a visit to talk about the issues important to you. The stronger the relationship you have with your elected officials, the more power you wield in future legislative battles.
Our advocacy campaign against ATC privatization is a political action model for any HAI member, wherever you are in the world. Step up, reach out, get involved. The power of the individual, the clout of the association, the impact of our industry standing united. It’s a beautiful thing.