Trish Gilbert has served as the National Air Traffic Controllers Association’s seventh Executive Vice President since she was elected in September 2009. Gilbert was re-elected to a fourth three-year term in July 2018 for an unprecedented fourth term as NATCA executive vice president.
Working as a team with NATCA President Paul Rinaldi, Gilbert has helped lead and oversee NATCA’s comprehensive efforts to build successful working relationships with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), the aviation industry, the AFL-CIO, and members of Congress that have resulted in excellent progress on aviation safety. Her efforts include serving on many boards and committees: the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC), the FAA/NATCA Collaborative Steering Committee, the Aero Club of Washington Board of Governors, the National Aeronautic Association Board of Directors, Director of the NATCA Charitable Foundation, the Vice Chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Air Traffic Services Committee and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) representative to the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems panel (RPASP) at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). She also serves on IFATCA’s Equality, Diversity and Ethics Task Force. Gilbert served for two years on the IFATCA Constitution and Administration Committee (CAC) and then another year on IFATCA’s Finance Committee (FIC). Gilbert also sits on the AFL-CIO Political Committee, Legislative/Policy Committee, and the Committee on Women Workers. She is also the former Labor Chair and is still a current member of the FAA National Employee Involvement Committee, which was tasked with modeling collaborative behavior, providing leadership, sharing best practices, and developing templates regarding pre-decisional involvement and cooperation.
In May 2018, at its annual Women in Aviation Scholarship luncheon, the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) honored Gilbert by announcing the creation of a new permanently-endowed scholarship in her name.
In May 2020, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao appointed Gilbert to the newly-formed Women in Aviation Advisory Board (WIAAB). The WIAAB was established on Oct. 3, 2019, under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The purpose of the WIAAB is to develop strategies and recommendations that would encourage women and girls to enter the field of aviation. The objective is to promote organizations and programs that are providing education, training, mentorship, outreach, and recruitment of women for positions in the aviation industry.
Prior to election as NATCA EVP, Gilbert worked 21 years as an air traffic controller at Houston Center, and served in many activist roles within the union including Facility Representative, Southwest Region Chair of NATCA’s National Legislative Committee and Chair of the National Legislative Committee. She also chaired NATCA’s National Organizing Committee, served as NATCA Charitable Foundation Vice President and then, the Foundation’s President.
Trish Gilbert resides in Texas with her husband John, who is a retired air traffic controller. They have a son, John Colby and are proud grandparents of Oliver Sterling, son of their daughter, Jenna and son-in-law Parker.
Gilbert’s Path to Leadership
Gilbert’s activism within NATCA began in 1992, with the Quality Through Partnership (QTP) program. Two years later, she began the first of three terms as Houston Center’s Facility Representative. In 2001, Gilbert became Southwest Region Chair of the National Legislative Committee (NLC). In 2005, she earned the position of National Legislative Committee Chair, which she held until becoming NATCA’s EVP. In addition, Gilbert chaired the National Organizing Committee from 1996-1999. She also served as vice president of the NATCA Charitable Foundation (NCF) from 1998-2000, and then led the foundation as its president from 2001-2008.
Leading the Union
Gilbert is dedicated to the platform on which she and Rinaldi ran for office, committing every day to the NATCA membership, striving to make every NATCA member’s quality of life better, securing NATCA’s voice in improving the quality of the service its members provide, and making NATCA stronger and more united than ever before. Above all, she and Rinaldi believe in honesty, integrity, open communication, dedication, solidarity, tenacity, unity, leading by example, and loyalty.
Gilbert has worked with top administration and agency officials who have committed to restoring a productive working environment with its employees and recognize that a strong, respected and fully staffed workforce is essential to ensuring the safety of the system. Gilbert has led the union’s effort to emphasize professional standards and impart the message to the union membership that in order to advance safety, NATCA must not only identify problems, but must also help craft solutions. Thus, current efforts include the design, construction, and deployment of new technology and equipment, the redesign of airspace, and an expansion of safety reporting systems that have been very successful in bringing safety issues to the forefront.
In all her roles within the union, Gilbert has been fiercely dedicated to aviation safety, working to ensure that the air traffic control profession and the National Airspace System (NAS) are held in the highest regard and function with the greatest integrity. She believes communication and collaboration are the keys to improving aviation safety professionals’ workplaces and being a part of the move to a true safety culture in the FAA.
“We continue to sit on a growing number of safety risk management panels, from the national level to the local level,” says Gilbert. “Early, pre-decisional involvement is key to pushing system improvements forward.”
Gilbert has led the union to success by battling many attacks on federal employees and collective bargaining rights because she continually advocates for union members to stand together, knowing the collective spirit is a much stronger force than the individual.
Gilbert has a keen sense of the membership’s collective attitude and direction, and knows how to motivate them when morale is low, and keep them from fracturing from within.
“A union is all about its membership,” says Gilbert. “Our strength will always be in our numbers and our united commitment to our cause. Always remember, we can achieve so much more as a collective than we ever could as individuals.”
And like Rinaldi, Gilbert always reminds NATCA members about previous battles and the past sacrifices others have had to make so those in future generations could thrive and have a stronger union and workforce.
“We must never forget the lessons learned from our past and from the struggles of our sisters and brothers in the labor movement who came before us,” she says. “We must keep these lessons firmly in mind and apply what we’ve learned to current events. “
A fierce legislative voice and activist for NATCA, Gilbert has led the union through many legislative battles, including the fight to fix Title 49, securing an FAA Reauthorization Bill, pay re-classification, preserving union official time, streamline hiring rules, and more. “Seeing the FAA bill signed into law, with our Title 49 fix intact, represents one of the great highlights of my NATCA career,” said Gilbert. “Every day of that battle strengthened my deep commitment to our union and steeled my resolve to ensure our members are well represented, and that our union continues to succeed and grow.”
She’s testified in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation about the need to improve aging FAA facilities and working conditions, improvements to the federal contract tower program, and air traffic modernization and staffing reductions. She’s also represented NATCA in front of the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee, testifying about aviation safety.
In September 2019, Gilbert testified before the Senate Aviation and Space Subcommittee about how more than a decade of stop-and-go funding has negatively affected all aspects of the National Airspace System (NAS). Gilbert testified that although the United States has the safest, most efficient, and most complex system in the world, the absence of a stable, predictable funding stream is a serious challenge. She described how the safety professionals NATCA represents are dedicated and put the safety and efficiency of the system as their top priorities. However when the shutdown earlier this year finally ended, she said, “the system was on the verge of unraveling.” Gilbert added, “We cannot afford to suffer another government shutdown.” Another highlight of the hearing was the support she voiced for S. 762, the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019. Both the Senate bill and the companion House bill (H.R. 1108), Gilbert said, “are crucial to bringing stability into the air traffic control system.”
She also helps lead NATCA’s in its efforts in developing the next generation of NATCA’s legislative leaders. As a long-time government employee, Gilbert recognizes the need for strong grassroots activism to build the relationships that are essential to having NATCA’s voice heard.
Media and Public Affairs
Gilbert has been a resounding voice for NATCA in the media. She’s represented NATCA on every medium, from print to radio to TV, speaking about many issues of importance to the union and advocating its position. Issues include the negative effects of sequestration on the aviation system, air traffic control workforce staffing, and the federal government shutdown. Her most notable media appearances include CNN, CNBC’s The Squawk Box, CBS Evening News, the Ed Schultz Radio Show, NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and The Washington Post.
Gilbert also represents NATCA members at events throughout the national and international aviation communities, including the RTCA Annual Symposium, the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) conferences, the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Air Traffic Services and Civil Aviation meetings, and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (IFATCA) Annual and Americas meetings. Gilbert served for two years on IFATCA’s Constitution and Administration Committee (CAC) and one year on IFATCA’s Finance Committee (FIC). She also represents NATCA at many labor industry events, including the AFL-CIO convention, the Department Of Transportations’ Future of Aviation Advisory Summit (2010) and a Workforce Development Panel (2012), the White House Labor and Management Partnership Summit, RTCA annual aviation symposium, ATCA annual aviation conference, and the Association of Labor Relations Agencies (ALRA) Advocates Day.
In 2017, Gilbert spoke at a Brookings Institution panel discussion on the future of air traffic control. The event, at one of the most prominent public policy organizations in Washington, D.C., put the spotlight back on the many reasons why a stable funding stream for the system is urgently needed. She said that while appropriators do an incredible job writing good bills that address the needs of the system, those bills are not the ones signed into law. “We see continuing resolutions instead of those bills,” she said. “We have never said the funding is not adequate. What we’ve said is the funding is uncertain.”
The NATCA Difference
Although membership is voluntary, NATCA has the highest percentage of representation of any federal employee union.
“Whatever your place in this union, you are NATCA,” says Gilbert. “You are part of a family, a brotherhood and sisterhood, committed to something real, committed to each other as we, together, advance the status, professionalism, and working conditions of our membership.”
NATCA strives to enhance the overall union membership experience by offering a collective voice in aviation safety to enrich members’ professional careers and personal lives. Gilbert knows that no other union provides the kind of support that NATCA does, and that’s “The NATCA Difference.”
Learn more about the difference NATCA can make for you.
Gilbert did not have her sights set on becoming the Executive Vice President of NATCA. But like Rinaldi, Gilbert was passionate about her profession and making it better, so she got involved with the Union in any way she could to make those changes.
Gilbert and Rinaldi expanded and strengthened the NATCA Reloaded program because they know from experience the importance of understanding why the Union exists and is important, and why being active within the Union is so critical. Gilbert also understands there is a different path for everyone within NATCA. Exposure to different events, positions and programs is the only way to make sure every member finds a particular issue they are passionate about and to which they will become dedicated and involved.
Gilbert actually lost her first election when she ran for Area Representative at Houston Center. She credits her dedication and never-give-up mindset for staying on course and not letting that loss deter her from being a NATCAvist.
“You can never give up,” she said. “If you truly believe and work as this union does, you can’t give up just because someone doesn’t vote you in at that particular time or because you don’t get picked for a particular committee or project.”