Among the many groups hoping that the Obama administration will embrace its priorities for change is the National Business Travel Association, focused on issues affecting corporate travel managers. NBTA's agenda includes modernization and funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, travel tax relief, the Registered Traveler program, and more. We spoke to Don Draves, chair of the NBTA Legislative Advisory Council and corporate services manager for MillerCoors in Milwaukee, about NBTA's upcoming legislative efforts.
CORPORATE MEETINGS & INCENTIVES: Which of NBTA's key legislative issues will be most affected by the new administration?
DON DRAVES: NBTA's No. 1 priority is to have the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill passed. The bill failed in June 2008, and short-term funding is in place until March 2009. President-elect Obama is expected to make FAA reauthorization a top priority. He also supports the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the hiring of additional air traffic controllers with hopes to improve relations between controllers and the FAA.
Reauthorization of the FAA sets the stage for a more modern air traffic control system that can address today's capacity constraints. Think about the GPS system in your car: You can plug in an address and get the best route to your destination. A new air traffic system called the Next Generation Air Transport System (NextGen) would allow the airlines to use similar technology, already on board most aircraft, to go from point A to point B on a straighter line than FAA controllers can direct them now, reduce separation, and reduce fuel burn. It's the next evolutionary step.
CMI: Do the airlines want to see this happen?
DRAVES: Yes. The NextGen system will increase airline efficiency, which will reduce expenses and ease airport congestion. It will force a redesign of the Northeast airspace. The Northeast accounted for 77 percent of all delays nationwide in 2007, so a redesign will also help eliminate the ripple effect of delays throughout the rest of the country.
CMI: Will an Obama administration affect efforts to establish an appeal process for individuals who are incorrectly placed on terrorist watch lists?
DRAVES: Obama believes that a comprehensive and accurate watch list is necessary, and NBTA will continue working to secure support from Congress and the new administration for the FAST Redress Act, which would set up an office within the Department of Homeland Security to streamline the process of appeal for passengers who are wrongly placed on terrorist watch lists. On June 18, 2008, the House of Representatives passed the FAST Redress Act, but the Senate companion bill failed in August.
CMI: NBTA advocates the expansion of the Registered Traveler program. What are the benefits for people who are not participants?
DRAVES: The Registered Traveler Program is going to help all travelers. Airports that have Registered Traveler security lines will draw RT travelers away from the standard security lines, and therefore move everyone through much faster. In addition, NBTA supports the new Global Entry program, which provides frequent, low-risk business travelers expedited processing through U.S. immigration.
CMI: How is the down economy affecting the business of NBTA itself?
DRAVES: We won't really see the impact until membership renewals come through in January, but right now, we've got over 4,000 members. NBTA has a far-reaching knowledge base, and its network of chapters across the country is there to provide information to the membership that will help them help their companies save money. For example, there could be activity in the airline industry, like the Northwest/Delta merger — what does that mean for business travel? NBTA members rely on updates, white papers, and member forums to discuss solutions and exchange ideas.
CMI: Do we need the Travel Promotion Act?
DRAVES: To briefly explain, the Travel Promotion Act was designed to create a nonprofit corporation to fund overseas marketing of the U.S. as a destination and to communicate U.S. entry policies. The proposed legislation requires a $10 fee on Visa Waiver Program travelers to fund half of the program. Traditionally, NBTA has not been a pro-tax organization because we know that taxes affect membership companies and could actually reduce travel. We are unclear what the new administration's policy will be on this issue.
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