The Air Transport Association seems to be capitalising on Washington’s new recognition of the importance of aviation to the economy by beefing up its Washington staff. The newest convert hails from the White House: Sean Kennedy, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, is to take up the post of vice president global government affairs. He commences his new role in mid-July.
The ascension of President Nick Calio and now Sean Kennedy is interesting because it promises to strengthen the organisation’s presence in Washington. The aviation industry has failed again and again to raise the industry’s profile in Washington and even now awaits the final conference on the reauthorisation legislation that is four years overdue and that would fund the Federal Aviation Administration. While the aviation committees in both houses touted the importance of the legislation earlier in the year, promises to reach an agreement and vote on passage of the measure by the end of May have failed. It is now facing the summer recess and the usually rushed legislative agenda in autumn.
Mr Kennedy and Mr Calio will present a united front given they hail from the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Mr Calio ran legislative affairs for presidents Bush senior and junior.
The fact that aviation’s role in the economy has gotten through to the White House is a major achievement and Mr Kennedy noted that given the post-911 period and fuel increases “it's really tough to be an airline”. He added to Politico: “Aviation is a big thing we need to get right for jobs and economic growth and I’m up for the challenge.”
The industry needs his talent as a bi-partisan coalition builder since it has been a long time since aviation has had a big role beyond the commerce, transportation and aviation committees and subcommittees. Mr Kennedy has not only worked at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but was White House liaison with the Senate Commerce Committee in seeing nominees were confirmed. He was also Senator Clair McCaskill’s chief of staff and worked as legislative director to to former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt.
Aviation committee members from both sides of Capitol Hill have often stated during hearings they are frustrated by the lobbying efforts of the aviation community for not giving them the right ammunition needed to convince non-aviation legislators about the importance of aviation. That may be so, but ATA, other aviation alphabet-soup groups and tourism officials, have been touting the impact of travel on the economy but receive a pretty dim reception. They have also been pushing what the passage of an aviation and tourism agenda would do in creating jobs at a time when the economy’s job creation as been tepid.
The combination of Mr Calio and Mr Kennedy will likely take aviation issues beyond the parochial committee level to the House and Senate bodies and their success can’t come soon enough given the fact that aviation has been a legislative backwater for decades. Much rests on their shoulders and we can only hope that the new blood at ATA can not only thrust the aviation agenda to the fore but also get concrete legislative and executive action for its efforts.