GBTA U.S. Advocacy Newsletter – March 2024

Welcome to the March edition of the GBTA U.S. Advocacy Newsletter designed to keep you up to date with what’s happening in relation to business travel in the US, and how GBTA is advocating on your behalf. 

GBTA Action in the US

Key Points

➤ Transportation

Aviation / FAA extension: Congress passed a short-term FAA extension until May 8th, ahead of a March 8th expiration. The extension (H.R. 7454) passed the House by a vote of 401 to 19, and the Senate by Unanimous Consent. Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee emphasized the extension’s role in providing sufficient time for the House and Senate to reconcile a final FAA bill for a long-term reauthorization. Previously, the House passed a five-year FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 3935) on July 20, 2023, but Senate delays necessitated several short-term extensions. On February 8th, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a markup of its version, S. 1939, signaling progress in the legislative process. Efforts are currently underway to reconcile the language and pass a final FAA bill. 

The delays in passage have stemmed from debates over mandatory pilot retirement age, pilot training requirements, and DCA slot and perimeter rules. 

Actions: GBTA has been pushing for the passage of the FAA Reauthorization bill this year which will continue to address these issues. GBTA sent letters to Congressional leadership emphasizing the importance of a long-term FAA Reauthorization and urging its swift passage.  

Why it Matters: Business travelers need a safe and efficient air travel system. Congress is taking many steps to improve the National Air Space and infrastructure/staffing. GBTA will continue to push for passage of the FAA Reauthorization bill until it is signed into law. 

Additionally, GBTA supports legislation working its way through Congress to increase tuition assistance for students to enter into aviation programs. Sens. Tammy Baldwin

(D-WI) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan Flight Education Access Act. 

➤ Government Funding

On Sunday, March 3, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees unveiled a six-bill funding package, which included Department of Transportation funding through the end of fiscal year 2024. The House passed the bill on March 6 and the Senate on

March 8.  

Negotiations are ongoing for a second package encompassing the remaining six bills, which will include funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.  

Under the agreement, the FAA would get $20 billion, a $1 billion increase over last year, allowing the agency to hire 1,800 new air traffic controllers and improve training facilities. The bill also increases the budget request for ground surveillance technologies by $15 million, for a total of $48 million, intended to address growing runway incursion incidents. In addition, the bill includes $2.4 billion for Amtrak, a $25 million cut from fiscal year 2023, but robust compared to a $1 billion cut proposed in earlier drafts of the bill.  

In addition, the spending package requires the Northeast Corridor Commission to create a public dashboard for all NEC projects, showing key performance indicators, project timelines, the amount of funding awarded and other accountability metrics. 

See here for the Committee summary and explanatory statement

➤ Sustainability

SEC Climate Disclosure Rule: The SEC, by a 3-2 vote, approved its long-delayed climate related disclosure rule for publicly traded companies on March 6th. As was widely expected, the SEC dropped mandatory Scope 3 emissions reporting, which includes business travel, from the final rule and altered some other requirements. This was done to protect the rule from inevitable lawsuits and a Supreme Court that has generally been skeptical of climate regulation. Despite the vote on the final rule, this debate is far from over and will play out in the courts for the time being, with lawsuits both from groups opposed to the rule in any form, and those who believe the final rule does not go far enough. 

GBTA Actions: In June 2022, GBTA filed comments with the SEC supporting the inclusion of Scope 3 emissions reporting. GBTA believes that reporting business travel emissions as part of scope 3 emissions when they are material will create a sense of ownership over travel-related emissions and incentivize companies to work with travel providers on solutions for decarbonizing the industry. 

Sustainable Aviation Fuel: The Biden Administration missed a self-imposed March 1st deadline for updates to the GREET model, a critical step for determining eligibility for the Inflation Reduction Act’s SAF tax credit. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s previous assurance to farmers about crop-based fuels qualifying for tax credits is seen as a strategic move to address concerns about the green transition’s costs. During his March 1st appearance at the 2024 Commodity Classic in Texas, Vilsack explained that the working group needs more time to get the climate-smart agriculture components of 40BSAF-GREET right but stressed that the delay will be a matter of weeks, not a matter of months. 

An extended delay could hamper the certainty needed in the marketplace for achieving the Biden Administration’s SAF goals, threatening investment and innovation in SAF technologies.  

GBTA Actions: GBTA supports the wide-scale adoption of SAF in the U.S. and abroad as the only near-term solution to decarbonizing air travel. GBTA supported the original Sustainable Skies Act, which became the model for the current SAF tax credit, and is an active member of the SAF BTC Coalition.  

Electric Vehicles: In a March 7 letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, three Rust Belt Democratic senators asked the Biden Administration to increase tariffs on Chinese-made electric vehicles, citing national security risks.  At present, the U.S. has a 27.5 percent tariff on Chinese automobiles, intended to counter subsidies and keep them out of the U.S. consumer market. In addition, the Senators requested the Department of Commerce to focus its recently announced investigation into connected vehicles on the threat of Chinese state backed companies entering the U.S. connected vehicle supply chain. 

A survey by J.D. Power revealed a decline in EV owners’ satisfaction with public charging infrastructure, with first-time EV buyers being less likely to consider another EV purchase compared to a year ago, posing a challenge for the EV industry as it moves from early adopters to mass market consumers. The survey, based on responses from 4,650 EV owners, indicates a 32-point drop in satisfaction with the availability of public chargers. Meanwhile, S&P Global Mobility projects a slight rebound in new vehicle sales in February, reaching 1.22 million units, while environmental groups invest in ad campaigns urging the Biden administration to maintain strong emissions rules for both passenger vehicles and heavy trucks. 

Why it matters: Auto emissions are a major source of business travel emissions, and the transition to more sustainable technologies, including electric vehicles, is key to decarbonizing the business travel ecosystem as a whole. GBTA supports policies aimed at incentivizing EV adoption and charging infrastructure more widespread and reliable.  

Passenger Rail: The first tranche of long-delayed fiscal year 2024 government funding bills includes $2.4 billion for Amtrak, a $25 million cut from fiscal year 2023, but robust compared to a $1 billion cut proposed in earlier drafts of the bill. Of the total, $1.41 billion is for the Northeast Corridor, and $1.28 billion supports the National Network. $40 million is directed for the accessibility, safety, and capacity modernization for Chicago’s Union Station, the hub for national network Amtrak service and the busiest corridor outside of the northeast. In addition, hundreds of other transit and rail projects will be funded through congressional earmarks in the package. 

The bill also requires the Northeast Corridor Commission to create a public dashboard for all NEC projects, showing key performance indicators, project timelines, the amount of funding awarded and other accountability metrics. 

Why it Matters: Business travelers need options, and a robust passenger rail network offers a sustainable option beyond taking a flight or driving. 

➤ Passenger Experience

Passengers with Disabilities: On February 29, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a proposed rule from the U.S. DOT to ensure airline passengers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity. The proposed rule, the most significant expansion of rights for these passengers since 2008, would mandate airlines to meet rigorous standards for accommodating passengers with disabilities. Notable aspects include penalties for wheelchair mishandling, prompt repair or replacement of damaged wheelchairs, and the provision of loaner wheelchairs. The proposal also emphasizes enhanced training for airline employees, safe and dignified assistance, and improved standards for on-board wheelchairs. Secretary Buttigieg aims to address barriers faced by the estimated 5.5 million Americans using wheelchairs during air travel, with the proposed rule covering issues such as mishandling penalties, prompt assistance, and improved plane standards. 

TSA Issues: As part of a debate surrounding public charter flights, nearly 60 lawmakers, led by Reps. Nick Langworthy (R-NY) and Marc Veasey (D-TX), urged the TSA to ensure comprehensive security screening for passengers on all-sized aircraft, emphasizing the need to address security gaps, particularly in charter operations. The lawmakers, in a bipartisan letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske on February 27, called for immediate action and emphasized not waiting for the FAA to conclude its separate rulemaking on charter airlines and safety.  

On March 6th, TSA unveiled a prototype self-screening lane at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. TSA PreCheck® passengers at the new Innovation Checkpoint will be the first travelers to have the option to use the new system starting in mid-March, when the testing begins. The pilot program is expected to last six months, after which TSA will assess whether a broader rollout is feasible.  

Additionally, concerns about low morale among TSA workers were raised in a GAO report, stating that historically low morale could have consequences for aviation security, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz proposed legislation to prevent the diversion of federal air marshals to the southern border. 

Why it Matters: Secure, efficient TSA screening is a vital part of the air traveler experience. The advancement of new screening technologies and a robust TSA workforce are key to improving upon the existing security system. 

GBTA Actions: GBTA has historically supported passenger facilitation through expanding Precheck and Global Entry enrollment, increased funding for TSA and CBP officers, and for the responsible adoption of biometrics and other advanced screening tools to move travelers smoothly through the security checkpoint.

➤ Upcoming Events

GBTA U.S. Legislative Summit: June 10-12, 2024, Washington, DC