Top Republican lobbyist to become CEO of airline group

The chief lobbyist for Citigroup is headed to the Air Transport Association (ATA) during the next Congress. 

Nick Calio, who managed legislative affairs at the White House during both Bush presidencies, will become president and CEO of the airline trade group on Jan. 1. Calio will succeed Jim May, who has been with the association since 2003.

In an interview with The Hill, Calio said the chance to run the association is “an incredible opportunity.”

“I have done pretty much everything in my career, but I have never run a trade association,” Calio said. “The leaders of the industry are very forward-looking, and it is a very good platform to work off of.”

Calio has been executive vice president of Citigroup’s global government affairs since 2003. The well-known Republican lobbyist played a big part in the bank’s response to the 2008 financial crisis, which led to an infusion of government bailout funds. He was also influential during this year’s debate over the financial-services reform bill.

Before Citigroup, Calio was President George W. Bush’s liaison to Congress for two years, a position he also held with President George H.W. Bush. 

In between the two Republican administrations, Calio co-founded the bipartisan lobbying shop O’Brien-Calio with Democratic fundraiser Larry O’Brien. (The firm is now known as OB-C Group.) Calio has also worked at the Duberstein Group and the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

May, also a Republican, is looking at "a number of a different opportunities." The airline lobbyist has known Calio for several years and will help him transition into ATA's top job before his contract with the trade group runs out at the end of January next year. 

"He has got the skills as a lobbyist but he needs to learn a great deal about this business," May said. "Once we get that transition under way, I will be able to take a step back and take a look." 

The chairman of the ATA said he is excited about employing someone of Calio’s pedigree. 

“A recognized leader in Washington and other world capitals, Nick has a record of success in managing complex issues and working collaboratively with people at the highest levels both in the private and public sectors. His leadership skills and reputation for integrity on both sides of the aisle make him uniquely suited to head ATA,” said Glenn Tilton, chairman of ATA and of the board of United Continental Holdings, in a statement. 

The trade group has a sizable lobbying presence in Washington, having spent almost $3.4 million on lobbying so far this year, according to disclosure records. ATA also has a political action committee that contributed more than $20,000 in donations to federal candidates and other committees during the 2010 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Calio said he would work to get up to speed on the trade group’s operations and the airline industry on his first day, but he already sees a number of issues where the industry needs to work with Congress. Calio said the sector is excessively taxed and regulated and in desperate need of more federal investment in infrastructure. He also said airlines should be granted greater access to international markets.

The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill will also be a top issue for Calio next year.

Calio said the airline industry is “right in the middle of everything” in public policy. He said the new Congress is a chance for the sector to help move legislation to President Obama’s desk. 

“The new Congress means an opportunity to educate new members and hopefully to get action on a bipartisan basis to serve the industry,” Calio said. “My goal here is to make ATA the most effective voice for the industry."