In 1984, the IRS classified USPA as a 501(c)4 non-profit association. That was based on its finding that USPA’s main purposes “promote the common good and social welfare.” Importantly, 501(c)4 organizations can lobby government officials as long as they meet all lobby registration and lobby reporting rules. And USPA does lobby on behalf of skydiving. What does that mean? Primarily, USPA’s executive director and director of government relations engage in efforts to build relationships with various officials, usually those in the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration but sometimes other federal and state agencies.
We work to educate those officials about skydiving operations and procedures, safety standards and skydiving’s inherent right to the national airspace system and the nation’s airports. More specifically, we strive to learn of any proposed regulatory or guidance changes that could affect skydiving operations and help the board determine whether USPA needs to act to modify or block those changes. Then we go to work to get the changes we need. Over the years, USPA has been extremely successful in ensuring skydiving’s rightful place in the sky, reducing costs and preventing unnecessary regulations.
Occasionally, USPA lobbies Congress with our views on pending aviation-related bills. This usually takes the form of letters and one-on-one conversations, but on occasion USPA staff testifies before congressional committees. Unlike many associations, USPA does not have a political action committee that makes campaign donations to members of Congress. USPA does not endorse candidates for office, nor do we allow political ads in Parachutist.
That said, and now that the federal election is over, USPA joins many in trying to anticipate what a new Trump administration might mean for aviation—general aviation in particular and skydiving specifically. And the answer is … nobody knows. There are two reasons: first, the Trump campaign divulged very few policy specifics. Second, we know who very few of the 4,000 political appointees who will drive the new policies will be.
We do know a few things: As the owner of four aircraft, Trump should have an appreciation for aviation. He also talks about reducing regulations and cutting taxes. And during his campaign, Trump advocated for increased investment in our transportation infrastructure, including airports. These all might be good signs for general aviation and for skydiving. But we also know that some in Congress, including the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, continue to push the idea of privatizing the FAA’s air traffic control function. And the idea of collecting user fees from aircraft operators in the national airspace system is still alive as well. Might the new administration consider these ideas? We don’t know.
Why should skydivers be concerned about a privatized ATC and about user fees? In last year’s proposal for ATC privatization, a board dominated by airline interests would have run the company. It isn’t difficult to imagine that the FAA’s current ATC policy of “first come, first served” might change to the detriment of jump aircraft. The last iteration of the user-fees proposal floated the idea of turbine operators paying $100 per takeoff. That would be a new $3,000 daily fee for some jump plane operators … paid for by skydivers, of course.
Again, no one yet knows what new policies aviation and skydiving will face in the next four years. But USPA staff will be reading, talking, meeting and preparing to engage officials to ensure skydiving’s rightful place without added costs and with minimal regulation.