What Election 2018 Means for Maintenance

The dust from the 2018 midterm elections is still settling, but here are some initial thoughts on what the results mean for ARSA members:

House Freshman Class Creates Risks and Opportunities

At a macro level, one of the most important storylines about the elections is the number of new members of Congress. While some races are still too close to call, it’s clear that around one-fifth of the 435-member House Representatives will be new next year. Educating all those newbies (and their staffs) about the aviation maintenance industry will be a massive challenge.

In the weeks and months ahead, ARSA will be wearing out the shoe leather on Capitol Hill. Members must also engage aggressively to shape the way these new lawmakers think about aviation maintenance while they’re still fresh to the job. Failure to do so will result in many succumbing to negative messages about repair stations, which lead to unnecessary new burdens on the industry. If we engage successfully, we can build productive relationships on both sides of the aisle to achieve beneficial policy goals (e.g., getting the new technician training grant program fully funded).

Mark your calendar and plan to be in Washington, D.C. for ARSA’s 2019 Legislative Day on March 13, which will provide an excellent opportunity to get to know newly-elected representatives. ARSA also provides assistance to companies that want to get ahead of the game and set up facility visits for new members of Congress.

New T&I Chair Will Put Repair Stations in Crosshairs

With the Democrats capturing the House, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is slated as the next chairman of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the FAA. DeFazio has long been a vehement critic of contract maintenance and foreign repair stations in particular. His tone has changed little over the decades despite the correlation between increased use of contract maintenance and improved aviation safety.

As recently as this summer, DeFazio sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “slamming” the FAA for “deficient” oversight of foreign repair stations. “The only thing consistent about the FAA’s oversight of these FAA-certificated facilities—which number more than 700 abroad—is its inconsistency, leaving far too many stones unturned. We therefore are utterly confused by and disappointed with the FAA’s failure to finalize a rule requiring that workers at foreign repair stations be subject to screening for alcohol and controlled substance use—just as workers at U.S. facilities are—despite two explicit Congressional mandates directing the FAA to act,” the letter said.

The good news is that Congress recently enacted a five-year FAA reauthorization bill, taking away the easiest opportunity to impose unnecessary burdens. However, intense scrutiny of the FAA and industry through the T&I Committee’s oversight role can lead to new regulations and other policy changes at the agency. For example, pressing FAA to complete the foreign repair station D&A rules is likely to be a top DeFazio priority.

Despite DeFazio’s negative rhetoric, ARSA is looking forward to reshaping his thinking about the economic and safety benefits of contract maintenance. Maintainers and manufacturers employ close to 2,000 people in his home state of Oregon. Many of those companies are leading ARSA members. When Rep. DeFazio begins his chairmanship, the participation of Oregon businesses will be extremely important.

Larsen Likely Next House Aviation Subcommittee Chair

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the longtime ranking member of the House aviation subcommittee is likely to be its next chairman. Like DeFazio, Larsen has been a contract maintenance critic and joined DeFazio in the letter to Chao referenced above. Larsen has a much bigger aviation maintenance footprint in his state, where 110 repair stations employ more than 9,000 people. Washington also ranks in the top ten states with the most EASA-approved repair stations, underscoring the impact that international trade in maintenance services has on the economy.

ARSA will work aggressively to educate Larsen about the safety benefits of contract maintenance, our members significant economic impact in his state and the risk of retaliation against U.S. repair stations in Washington and elsewhere if Congress imposes unnecessary burdens on foreign FAA part 145 certificate holders.

Who’ll Be T&I’s GOP Top Dogs?

Repair stations will fare better on the other side of the aisle. Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Jeff Denham (R-Ca.) are vying to be the T&I Committee’s ranking Republican (assuming Denham is re-elected … his House race is still undecided). Graves is a pilot with keen understanding of our industry and was the lead House sponsor of the ARSA-proposed bill (H.R. 5701) that created the new aviation maintenance workforce grant program as part of FAA reauthorization. Denham is also well acquainted with aviation, having spent 16 years on active and reserve duty with the Air Force as a tactical aircraft maintenance specialist.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), the current chairman of the House aviation subcommittee is retiring. Given his ties to unions, LoBiondo was unfortunately too susceptible to negative messages about repair stations. Who will replace him as the Republican ranking member is still undecided.

New Leadership for Senate Commerce Committee

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FAA, will have a new chairman and a new ranking member. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the current chairman, is running to be the Senate GOP whip; Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the committee’s current ranking member, has apparently lost his reelection bid (though the race hasn’t yet been officially called).

The most likely next Commerce chairman is Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.); the top contender for ranking member is Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) would likely become ranking member if Cantwell decides to keep her position as the senior Democrat of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Wicker and Klobuchar were both cosponsors of the Senate version of the maintenance workforce grant program bill (S. 2506) and Cantwell was one of the four original sponsors.

Mississippi repair stations employ more than 1,000 people, an important grassroots toehold in Wicker’s state. Cantwell’s Washington is one of the states with the biggest maintenance presence and repair stations in Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota employ more than 2,600 people. ARSA will work with the new chairman and ranking member (and members in their states) to enhance their knowledge of aviation and the maintenance industry.

So Long, Claire McCaskill

Many ARSA members will be pleased to hear that the Senate’s most vocal contract maintenance critic, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), lost her bid for re-election. Over the years, McCaskill has been the lead sponsor of negative legislation targeting repair stations.

In June 2018, she introduced the Aircraft Maintenance Outsourcing Disclosure Act (S. 3026). It would require air carriers to jump through numerous hoops to make passengers aware of where the aircraft on which they’re traveling most recently underwent heavy maintenance (including on the air carrier website accompanying each scheduled flight, the air carrier website at the point of ticket purchase, the electronic confirmation of a ticket purchase and passenger boarding documents).

McCaskill’s bill would create significant challenges for airlines while doing nothing to enhance safety. It’s clearly intended to shame carriers that use contract maintenance and foreign repair stations in particular. It’s a good thing McCaskill won’t be around in the 116th Congress to pursue her poorly thought-out proposals.

In the weeks ahead, ARSA will continue to provide analysis about the fallout from the elections. In the meantime, ARSA members should ready themselves for a busy 2019.

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