Capital Conversations

The National Air Transportation Association’s Airline Services Council (NATA ASC) recently met in Washington, D.C., for its regular business meeting as well as to conduct its annual trek to Capitol Hill to meet with key congressional officials. Over the last several months, the NATA ASC has been very active on a number of core issues, some of which were addressed during NATA ASC visits with members of Congress and their staffs in early May.

The first priority, one of the major issues affecting all NATA members and NATA ASC member companies, is expediting employee access badges at commercial airports. For years, airline services companies and fixed-base operators that operate at commercial airports and provide ground support services to the airlines have had to endure lengthy wait periods for employee badges allowing access to the secure areas of commercial airports. For the last year, the NATA ASC has worked closely with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to find a way to expedite this process so employees are not waiting weeks on end for these critical badges. More recently, the association felt it imperative to involve Congress in giving the political push needed to ensure that all efficiencies are incorporated to improve the timeliness of the issuance of employee access badges. To that purpose, the association created a grassroots action call that all NATA members can utilize to encourage their members of Congress to contact the TSA and ask that the commercial access badge process be expedited. That information can be found at the following link: http://www.congressweb.com/cweb4/index.cfm?orgcode=nata&issue=17.

The second priority that the NATA ASC is actively addressing is the transmission of secure information to the airline services community. For too long, the TSA has provided security directives (SD) to the airports and airline community via secure Web boards to which both entities have access as regulated parties. However, because the ground services community is unregulated, their knowledge of this secure information has only been acquired second or third hand, often creating compliance confusion. For example, an SD affecting operations within the secure area of a commercial airport will be issued on a Web board. The airline and airport community will receive this information immediately. The ground handling community, however, will not receive word of the issuance of the security directive until a day or two later — in some instances even longer. This has created situations where airline services companies, through the lack of knowledge of the SDs’ issuance, have been in non-compliance. The TSA recognizes that this situation continues to take place, and the agency is actively working to find a solution that will allow ground service organizations to receive immediate notification of new security directives.

Airline bankruptcy is the third priority that members discussed at length. With more than half a dozen Part 121 air carriers having filed for bankruptcy over the last few months, airline services companies are growing increasingly concerned about payment for ground handling services, as well as how to protect their assets once an airline has filed for Chapter 11. The NATA ASC continues to monitor airline bankruptcy activity to ensure that its members are protected.

Fourth, the NATA ASC continues to monitor the activity of smaller commercial airports interested in providing ground handling support services. NATA ASC Chairman Fred DiBenedetto recently sent a letter to all commercial airport managers in the United States addressing recent interest by commercial airports, and the local government operating these airports, in offering ground handling services instead of contracting these services to private entities. The letter states that “the ground handling community is abundantly aware of the growing financial constraints placed on both airports and airlines, and wants to assure you, as an airport manager, that the airline services industry is ready to meet your airport’s ground handling needs.” To view a complete copy of this letter, please contact me at ebyer@nata.aero.

Finally, cargo screening remains a top priority and challenge for NATA ASC, as the February 2009 and August 2010 deadlines loom that require 50 percent, and then 100 percent, screening of all cargo placed aboard commercial passenger aircraft. It is becoming more apparent that the means by which the TSA intends to comply with the new mandates is by utilizing the cargo handling community. For the last 18 months, the NATA ASC, their cargo handling companies, and key officials at TSA have worked closely to identify the best means by which to meet these new regulatory mandates. As the new deadlines rapidly approach, NATA ASC member companies look forward to their partnership with the TSA in implementing the programs designed to meet these critical mandates.
For more information on the NATA Airline Services Council, please visit: http://www.nata.aero/asc/index.jsp.

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