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What Lee Moak Learned in Washington

Tickers in this article: DAL BA

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- The first thing to say about Lee Moak's assignment to Washington, where he is president of the Air Line Pilots Association, is that he maintains his currency as a Delta (DAL) 767 captain. He even plans to fly a trip over the Christmas holiday.

After six years as chairman of the Delta ALPA chapter, Moak was elected national president and took office in January 2011. "Being ALPA president is a great job," he said. "You have the ability to affect government policy that directly impacts the day-to-day lives of airline pilots in the U.S., and that is rewarding.

"But it's quite difficult here," Moak said, in an interview. "If you compare Washington with Wall Street, on Wall Street everybody is interested in getting a deal done as soon as possible and moving forward. In Washington, some people want to get a deal done, but there is a cottage industry devoted to slowing things down and making sure you get nothing done. If you're trying to get something done quickly, Washington is going to frustrate you."

One key complicating factor for ALPA, as it seeks to represent pilot interests, is the number of agencies -- at least eight of them -- that oversee aspects of aviation. The agencies include the Department of Homeland Security and its Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of State, and the Department of Transportation, including the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as Congress and the president's office. Unfortunately, despite all of the oversight, "there is a fundamental lack of aviation policy and there is a lack of cross-departmental policy through Washington," Moak said.

Fortunately, Moak arrived in Washington with coalition-building skills he had nurtured at Delta. He has put them to use working with Airlines for America, the airline industry trade group; the Regional Airline Association; the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and various airline unions; and the Chamber of Commerce.

"We have a pilot-partisan agenda, and we are willing to build a coalition with anyone who will work with us on our issues," Moak said. "We do our best work when we bring our own executive team, government, industry and labor together -- that is how you get things done in Washington."

Delta CEO Richard Anderson said Moak realizes that "the real challenges for the U.S. airline industry are outside the borders of this country, where you have airlines that are government-owned or depend on governments for backstop financing and run a world-domination tour.

"We have two models: the Delta model, which doesn't get government aid, and airlines that don't care about profitability because they are economic development arms of sovereign governments," Anderson said, in an interview.