A new year promises further gains for the vertical flight industry.

Since the previous edition of ROTOR, the HAI Government Affairs team has steadily increased its efforts at all levels to keep your rotors turning. In addition to tracking the 2022 US midterm elections and their effect on the vertical flight industry, we’re promoting HAI members’ interests in the FAA reauthorization bill and in aviation workforce development, enhancing our plans to represent the industry regionally and locally, and furthering HAI’s initiatives for improving relations between the rotorcraft community and our neighbors on the ground.

2022 US Election Outcomes

By now, the US midterm election dust has settled and the political landscape for 2023–24 has been established. Republicans took control of the House of Representa­tives after gaining 10 seats; the balance of power in the lower chamber now sits at 222 Republicans to 213 Democrats.

In the Senate, Demo­crats expanded their majority by one seat after flipping Pennsylvania and holding on to Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. The balance of power in the upper chamber now sits at 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans.

Four states changed party control in the governor’s mansion—one for Republicans and three for Democrats. Republicans now hold 26 of the 50 governor seats. Additionally, members in 88 of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers were up for election across 46 states. Democrats gained control of four chambers—the Michigan House and Senate, Minnesota Senate, and Pennsylvania House—bringing their total to 40, and a bipartisan coalition gained control of the Alaska State Senate. With the loss of those five chambers, Republicans now have control of 56 state legislative chambers.

While the outcome of the 2022 midterms was far from the “red wave” many had predicted, it certainly changed the Washington dynamic. With Republicans controlling the House, GOP leadership will set the floor agenda and make committee assignments.

The 118th Congress is off to a historic start. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is now the longest-serving Senate leader in history. Meanwhile, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.-8) has been named House minority leader. Jeffries, the first Black to lead a party in Congress, replaces Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.-11), who led her caucus for the last 20 years.

For the first time in a century, the Speaker of the House was not elected in a single ballot. After enduring a four days-long revolt from a bloc of 20 far-right conservatives, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.-20) officially secured the speaker’s gavel on the 15th ballot. To win over his detractors, Speaker McCarthy made major concessions in the House rules package, offered seats on the powerful Rules Committee, and agreed to several other prominent committee assignments.

The last time there were more than nine ballots was in 1856, and it took 2 months and 133 votes to elect a leader. We’re relieved that wasn’t the case in 2023—Congress has important work to do, including reauthorizing the FAA! However, all the Speaker drama has certainly led to a slow start for the 118th Congress.

While many committee chair roles have been decided at the time of this writing, many are yet to be named. Here is what we know: Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.-06) will be the next chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, while Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-02) will become the next ranking member. Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.-06) will be the next chair of the Aviation Subcommittee.

Democrats retained control of the Senate, but several committee leadership posts will take place in the new Congress. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) will leave his post as ranking member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for the top Republican position on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) will vacate his current position as ranking member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation to take the position of ranking member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. We look forward to working with the next ranking member of the Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation Subcommittee.

FAA Reauthorization in Focus

The FAA is currently operating under a 5-year authorization, which expires
Sep. 30, 2023. Passing an FAA reauthorization bill is considered one of a small number of “must-pass” bills for 2023. Leaders from both authorizing committees have stated their firm commitment to passing a multiyear bill before the deadline.

Committee leaders began preparing for the FAA reauthorization process in the summer of 2022 by reaching out to industry members and requesting their priorities for the bill. HAI provided an extensive list of priorities under multiple topics, including advanced air mobility (AAM), airspace access, aircraft noise, federal preemption, infrastructure, safety solutions, spectrum policy, sustainability, uncrewed aircraft systems (UASs), and workforce development.

The committees will soon convene multiple hearings on many of these topics, which will allow the members of Congress to hear directly from industry and regulators. While these hearings take place and the reauthorization bill is drafted, the HAI Government Affairs team will work closely with committee staff to provide input and advocate HAI’s policy positions when meeting with committee members.

The last FAA Reauthorization Act, passed in 2018, helped pave the way for expanded drone use. This next bill will do the same for advanced air mobility, with committee leaders having stated their intention to dedicate a section of the bill to AAM. This development presents a significant opportunity for HAI to support the future of vertical aviation. The bill is expected to have a section solely on general aviation issues as well.

Regional Representation

In October, Katia Veraza joined the Government Affairs team as manager of government affairs and regional relations. She will play a vital role in the development and execution of advocacy strategies targeted to key government stakeholders at the regional, state, and local levels. Additionally, Veraza will support, coordinate, and promote HAI’s federal and international legislative and policy priorities.

Veraza testified in November before the New York City Council’s Committee on Economic Development and Committee on State and Federal Legislation. The hearing was focused on oversight of the two city-owned, public-use heliports: the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and the East 34th Street Heliport.

Our team explained how Manhattan’s heliports are critical components of New York’s transportation network, support the operation of the city’s businesses, and contribute to the growth of the economy. We explained the broad range of helicopter operations conducted in the city and how they play an essential role in saving lives and protecting the community.

Speaking about innovative technological advancements, we informed the members of opportunities that AAM and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft would bring to the city. On the issue of community compatibility, Veraza touted HAI’s Fly Neighborly program and expressed HAI’s continued commitment to forge relationships between operators and communities.

Council members at the hearing were primarily focused on helicopter noise complaints. During the hearing, council members promoted various bills and resolutions that would ban all “nonessential” helicopter operations and effectively shut down the two heliports.

The two witnesses representing the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) provided council members with an overview of the data collected from the city’s noise complaint system. EDC explained that the data showed that most helicopter noise complaints could be attributed to air tour operations originating out of state. In response, council members explained that they were working with officials in New Jersey to severely restrict air tour and other helicopter operations.

While the hearing was highly contentious, HAI was pleased to be able to represent our industry. The HAI Government Affairs team will continue to engage legislators and policymakers in New York and New Jersey to defend the industry and improve relationships with neighboring communities.

Community Compatibility

Whether it’s the helicopter of today or the AAM aircraft of tomorrow, vertical flight operations should always consider the industry’s responsibility to the wider community. HAI’s Fly Neighborly initiative is a voluntary noise reduction program that seeks to create better relationships between communities and helicopter operators by establishing noise mitigation techniques and increasing effective communication. Flying safely and in compliance with regulations isn’t enough. We must also Fly Neighborly; it’s in everyone’s best interest.

As part of HAI’s efforts on Fly Neighborly, we work with other industry stakeholders to help mitigate helicopter noise. On Jun. 24, HAI, partnering with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC), introduced a new helicopter noise initiative for the Washington, D.C., metro area. We established a helicopter noise complaint system for individuals in and around the region to share their concerns.

HAI and the ERHC aim to work with the Washington, D.C., community to review and process noise complaints and use this data to help mitigate helicopter noise. We understand that affected residents desire immediate answers to their noise questions and complaints. Using available flight-tracking
data, the system will accurately identify likely aircraft raising concerns and all associated data. The new initiative focuses on airport and aircraft noise complaint–management solutions, noise abatement–procedure compliance monitoring, and related government and community affairs.

Aviation Workforce Development

Due to pandemic-related economic disruptions, many seasoned pilots and technicians retired early over the past year. This development has only exacerbated the shortage of skilled personnel the industry needs to operate safely and efficiently. Congress, the FAA, and industry members must stay focused and recognize that developing the next generation of pilots and maintenance technicians requires a long-term commitment.

We appreciate Congress setting up the Aviation Workforce Development Grants programs in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act and likewise express gratitude for the funds made available for the programs. The grants have encouraged collaboration between schools, aviation companies, unions, and government to find innovative solutions to close the existing skills gap and help more Americans pursue aviation careers. That, in turn, will contribute to the long-term efficiency and competitiveness of US aviation, as well as to the country’s overall economic health.

HAI encourages congressional support for innovative state programs that enable outreach to and education for students to get started in the aviation industry. One such effort is the Utah Rotor Pathway Program (URPP), which serves as a first-in-the-nation model for education and training programs preparing high school students for STEM careers in rotary-wing aviation.

The URPP provides students an avenue to earn college credits and learn skills specific to rotary-wing aviation while participating in technical classes and hands-on learning at the secondary-school level. The program has expanded to 32 high schools in Utah, and the number of industry partners continues to grow as well.

This year, HAI participated in an Aviation Workforce Development Roundtable in Salt Lake City, Utah. The event, organized by Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah-04), discussed ways to build on the success of the URPP.   The roundtable, which consisted of helicopter operators, educators, and government stakeholders, convened to identify federal resources available to support aviation workforce efforts.

We are deeply grateful to Rep. Owens for his efforts to address the continuing shortages of pilots and maintenance personnel in Utah and across the nation. Owens remarked that he enjoyed sitting down with statewide aviation experts to address the workforce shortages affecting this critical industry and ways we can continue to benefit from successful resources such as the URPP, the nonprofits Choose Aerospace and Women in Aviation International, and the FAA Reauthorization Act. We look forward to expanding HAI’s Rotor Pathway Program across the nation in 2023.

As we enter the new year, we’ll continue to work ceaselessly to support policy changes that will benefit the vertical flight industry and oppose proposals that could harm it.

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Cade Clark

Cade Clark

VAI’s chief government affairs officer, Cade Clark has directed association advocacy programs for over 20 years. Growing up, he worked at an FBO where Cade learned to fly, washed planes, got in the mechanics’ way, idolized the old-timers and their stories, and deepened his love for all things general aviation.

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