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The Illinois Airports Council (IAC) met recently with U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth to discuss issues as well as opportunities facing the state’s aviation industry. The Illinois Democrat, who chairs the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation, hosted a roundtable discussion on Saturday, March 18, to discuss the upcoming FAA Reauthorization and the critical priorities for Illinois regional airports. Among those representing the IAC was current chair Benjamin Leischner, the executive director of the Quad Cities International Airport, Moline. “Our council was established in 2020 to advocate for the interests of the aviation industry but we need champions like Sen. Duckworth to enact meaningful policies to advance those interests,” Mr. Leischner said in a news release issued by IAC after the meeting. “As a pilot, Sen. Duckworth has expertise that helps her better understand the challenges but also the vested interest to see aviation continue to thrive,” he added. IAC, a nonprofit corporation, represents the aviation industry statewide and is led by Illinois’ airport executives. It is committed to working with peers, industry experts and elected officials to identify innovative solutions to complex industry issues, the release said. The roundtable discussion came as commercial air travel is emerging from the largest recession in its history and amid challenges with supply chain issues, aviation staffing shortages and environmental concerns. The council is working to address those challenges by collaborating with elected officials. “General aviation airports play a vital role in their local and state economies, as well as our national economy,” Sandra Shore, IAC’s vice chair and the St. Louis Downtown Airport director, said in the release. “The system that funds these airports must be modernized to reflect these contributions.” Other Illinois airports represented at the meeting with the senator included: MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, Mt. Vernon Outland Airport, St. Louis Regional Airport, Decatur Airport and Central Illinois Regional Airport. Ms. Shore and Mr. Leischner both expressed their gratitude for the senator’s interest and advocacy in their industry. “Confronting what’s happening within the industry today, as well as problem-solving for the future, starts with a dialogue and we are grateful for the opportunity to meet with the senator and start that conversation,” Mr. Leischner added. The meeting also comes on the heels of the reintroduction of the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act. by Ms. Duckworth, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and the U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois. The proposed legislation would provide airport service workers – a predominantly Black, Brown and immigrant workforce – with increased wages and benefits. The legislators said in a separate news release that the workers would receive the wages and benefits “they deserve after serving on the frontlines of the nation’s aviation system during the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disasters and busy travel seasons.” “Airport service workers are long overdue for a boost in wages and benefits because they’re the reason our airports can operate,” Ms. Duckworth said in the release. “I’m so proud to join my colleagues to introduce the Good Jobs for Good Airports Act so these essential workers get everything they deserve.” While her roundtable discussion with airport leaders did not focus on the proposed legislation, Mr. Leischner told the QCBJ that the act “as written pushes accountability and responsibility to airports for things they have little to no control over.” The act would prevent small, medium and large hub airports from accessing federal funds unless service workers are paid the prevailing wage and benefits set by the Department of Labor. “Third-party operators, which includes airlines, have independent leadership and policies that airports are not involved in so it would be difficult to have any meaningful influence over how they choose to compensate their employees,” Mr. Leischner said. “But perhaps the most concerning aspect is that under the current act, bad players in the industry would put an airport’s federal funding at risk,” he warned. “Federal funding is a major component to an airport’s ability to conduct routine maintenance of its facilities, including the airfield, and make necessary improvements to meet FAA requirements.”