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With the Election Over, Neither Candidate Offers Answers for Aviation

With the Election Over, Neither Candidate Offers Answers for Aviation
Joe Cortez

Now that the contentious 2020 Election season is coming to an end, will the eventual winner offer infrastructure support to America’s aviation sector? Reports suggest that no matter who wins the White House and Congress, aviation infrastructure will be among the last action items at the federal level.

Election Day 2020 marks the end of one of the longest and most arduous presidential elections in American history. Once the votes are counted across the United States, either Republican Donald J. Trump will win a second term as president, or he will be unseated by Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

While we’ve heard plenty about their stances on the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration and the economy, neither candidate has presented a solid platform for the U.S. aviation industry. According to a report by CAPA Centre for Aviation, airports and airlines might be the last thing on the mind of either candidate.

Both Biden and Trump Offer Little on Aviation Solutions

Citing the Federal Bar Association publishing of both major parties’ candidate statements on transportation issues, CAPA came to the conclusion that neither Biden nor Trump offered any solutions for the aviation space. When FlyerTalk searched both candidates’ websites for the keywords “aviation,” “airlines” and “airports,” only one page came up on the Biden site on his plan “to invest in middle class competitiveness,” while Trump’s site offered a statement from 2017.

Analysis on the Trump Campaign Statement on Transportation

According to CAPA’s analysis, the Trump plan only focuses on the past achievements of his four years in office, while offering little substance towards the future. The position statement cites the CARES Act as a crowning achievement to save airlines and prevent layoffs, but the carriers ultimately released thousands of employees when that funding ended.

Furthermore, much of the transportation section of the plan was focused on roads, bridges, and fueling the truck transportation industry. The remaining commentary revolved around rejecting the “Green New Deal” and reducing environmental review periods to hasten construction.

“An opportunity appears to have been missed to relate these activities to the small commercial airports around the U.S. that lost out initially to post-deregulation hub and spoke activities and more recently to the pandemic,” the CAPA analysis reads. “And to explain how these policies will help those airports regain services, their status, and play a part in economic revitalization of communities.”

Analysis on the Biden Campaign Statement on Transportation

Whereas the Trump campaign looked backwards, CAPA discovered that Biden’s plan is focused on clean fuels and a renewed focus on railroad transportation. Citing experience from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed on the heels of the “Great Recession” of 2008, the former vice president said his government would invest $800 billion into infrastructure and stimulus spending.

Biden has already tipped some of his hand about a hands-on approach to the nation’s transportation policy. At a campaign stop, he announced a plan to create a face mask mandate for all public transportation options, including aircraft. But that being said, the focus may shift towards options that do not include new air terminals or expanded service to smaller communities.

“Where there is commonality is that little is said directly about the aviation sector,” CAPA concludes in their analysis. “However the Biden camp does talk at length about aviation and the environment, as suggested in the Trump camp review above, and also devotes lengthy paragraphs to the development of high-speed rail, which could be interpreted as a threat to domestic aviation, short haul at least.”

The Aviation Issues the Future President Will Inherit

No matter who wins the White House, the president will face a set of challenges in the aviation space. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX, the administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration will take a front-and-center role in 2021 and beyond.

“It is difficult to look beyond the short term with respect to what’s needed by the US aviation industry from the country’s presidential candidates,” the CAPA report concludes. “America is facing a third wave of COVID-19 infections, and airlines continue to burn through millions in cash on a daily basis. Those operators have pushed out their target dates to achieve a breakeven cash performance well into 2021.”

Under a second Trump administration, current DOT secretary Elaine Chao would be expected to keep her role, with little change to her staff. The immediate focus would be on passing a second stimulus package to support airlines, but the FAA and others would probably maintain a neutral stance on managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

If Biden were to win, he has not indicated who might be the leading candidates for Secretary of Transportation, which would most likely come with a new FAA administrator. However, it is expected his leadership would focus first on managing the pandemic, including expanding COVID-19 testing plans, followed by achieving carbon emission neutrality.

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