House lawmakers on Thursday dealt a blow to an amendment proposed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, which aimed to reinstate pilots who were dismissed or resigned due to vaccine mandates. The amendment, presented as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, was offered on the House floor by Rep. Mary Miller from Illinois. Ultimately, it was rejected in a 141-298 vote, with 83 Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it. Surprisingly, the measure found support from only one House Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine.
During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, several major U.S. airlines had implemented vaccine mandates in line with President Biden’s executive order from 2021, requiring federal contractors to be vaccinated. These policies stirred up controversy and led to legal challenges from pilots. One notable attempt was made by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA), although it proved unsuccessful in blocking the mandate from taking effect.
In her defense of the amendment, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene asserted on Wednesday that hundreds of pilots had lost their livelihoods over the past few years due to their refusal to receive the COVID vaccine. She argued that these pilots were denied medical freedom and had to choose between taking an experimental vaccine or facing termination from their jobs.
Determining the exact number of airline pilots who lost their jobs for not complying with vaccine mandates remains unclear. Some airlines reported an overwhelming compliance rate among their staff. For instance, United Airlines’ CEO, Scott Kirby, stated in December 2021 that only six pilots out of a 13,000-strong pilot workforce had refused the vaccine and subsequently were fired. Earlier, the Chicago-based airline had indicated that approximately 200 of its 67,000 employees who refused vaccination were terminated.
Interestingly, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines expressed that they had no intention of firing unvaccinated workers, as revealed in 2021 by their respective CEOs.
The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act
Following the rejection of Greene’s amendment, the House gave strong approval to the underlying bill, providing the FAA with a new five-year authorization and sending it to the Senate. The legislation, aptly named the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, aims to reauthorize the FAA until fiscal year 2028. Additionally, the bill includes provisions to address the pilot shortage, which has severely impacted air travel in recent months.
A crucial element of the legislation is raising the retirement age for pilots to 67, which has drawn support from Rep. Sam Graves, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He emphasized the importance of the bill for the economy, millions of American jobs, and the 850 million passengers relying on the national airspace system annually.
Notably, the Biden administration has expressed support for the bill. However, the White House raised concerns about the proposed increase in the pilot retirement age and requested lawmakers to add more consumer protections against unfair fees.
The Senate will now take up the bill for further consideration, with hopes that the reauthorization of the FAA will lead to greater stability and growth in the American aviation industry while addressing the challenges posed by the pilot shortage and ensuring the safety of air travel.
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