Delta leaves industry lobbying group over differences

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

Delta Air Lines is taking the unusual step of leaving the leading U.S. airline industry lobbying group over differences on policy issues.

Atlanta-based Delta said it will leave the industry association Airlines for America next year. Delta's departure takes effect April 26, 2016, according to A4A, as the trade group is called.

The airline issued a statement saying the $5 million it pays in annual dues to the association can be better used for its own business and to support "what we believe is a more efficient way of communicating in Washington on issues that are important to Delta customers and employees."

The airline said A4A "failed to support Delta on several key issues" in recent years, including allegations that Gulf carriers unfairly get government subsidies and issues with the Export-Import Bank. The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to revive the Export-Import Bank, a defeat to critics.

Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

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Credit: Kelly Yamanouchi

A4A in a press release said Delta "has not been aligned with other A4A members on a few key industry positions," including in a debate over the nation's air traffic control system.

Delta is advocating a position contrary to the airline industry as a whole in supporting air traffic control modernization under the Federal Aviation Administration and opposing an effort to privatize air traffic control.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson is chair of the NextGen Advisory committee, which makes recommendations on implementation of NextGen air traffic control modernization under the FAA.

A4A president and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a written statement that the association is "most effective advocating for the traveling and shipping public when we speak with a unified industry voice." American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, chair of A4A's board, said in a statement that the group "will continue to be more effective as an industry advocating for our customers and employees with a unified voice in Washington."

The development comes as Delta has grown into one of the leading three airlines, and points toward the company's -- and Anderson's -- view of Delta's own size and influence nationally. Delta has also not shied away from taking unpopular positions and ruffling feathers.

The split also highlights the conflicting priorities that companies in the same industry can hold.

For example, JetBlue did not agree with Delta and other airlines in their criticism of the Gulf carriers. JetBlue, which is not part of a global alliance like Delta, United and American are, has partnerships with the three Gulf carriers at the center of the debate.

Meanwhile, in the fight over the Export-Import Bank, Delta is going up against Boeing -- a major aircraft supplier to airlines -- and that's a fight no other airline has taken on in such a way.

Delta's move away from A4A is an unusual departure in part because Anderson served as chairman of A4A just three years ago, and was a vocal advocate for the association and its agenda. With Anderson as chair and Calio as president of the association, the group renamed itself Airlines for America -- doing away with the previous name, Air Transport Association -- and pushed for priorities like a national airline policy.