WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the election year begins, Congress and the President are ratcheting up actions to gain an upper hand, which is putting issues affecting general aviation in both critical positions and on the back burner.
This means a busy year for GA’s alphabet organizations, with both opportunities and potential problems.
Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), told members of his organization, “2014 will bring with it a significant need for advocacy and vigilance on behalf of the industry’s interests.”
The fiscal situation affects many issues. Sequester means mandatory cuts in spending. Democrats in both the House and Senate want to keep up spending while the Republicans want to offset spending increases with cuts. Seeking sources of revenue keeps the President’s proposal of a $100 per flight user fee for some flights high on the list to watch. Seeing this as a problem to again defeat, Aircraft Owners and Pilots (AOPA) calls user fees “a perennial problem.” AOPA also sees the question of the third-class medical certificate as another important government movement on which to keep pressure.
A bill was recently introduced in the House of Representatives that would require the FAA to replacing the third-class medical with a policy that allows pilots to fly day
VFR below 14,000 feet AGL with a valid driver’s license. Action on the bill may take a back seat amid the many skirmishes in the Congress. Even if it gets action in the House, it still must go through the Senate.
Officials at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have these concerns to work on, as well as special government dealings. The massive fly-in held in Oshkosh in the summer of 2013 saw the FAA insisting on payment for the air traffic controllers working approach and control at the airport. EAA is already starting to gear up for another fight in 2014.
Sleep apnea testing and treatment for pilots with a body mass index of 40 or higher was delayed in December, but the FAA has indicated the issue is “a policy enhancement” that would be brought up early in 2014. FAA officials did note they would work with advocacy groups on the proposal that has many pilots up in arms.
Efforts by the city of Santa Monica, Calif., to close busy Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) and replace it with a city park has repercussions throughout the United States. The FAA says providing funds to the city for the airport meant keeping the facility open as an airport for perpetuity. Not so, claims the city. The outcome of the city’s lawsuit might determine the future of airports of all levels.
These are just a few of the key interests to be faced this year. While there are laws and regulations of interest to be faced and met, there also are some encouraging signs. More than half the representatives in the House of Representatives now belong to the General Aviation Caucus, making it that body’s largest caucus. The Senate also has a growing group. Some members of the caucuses are pilots and there are others who understand GA, what it does and its effect on travel and economics. These members actively support issues and work closely with advocacy groups. Some members of the caucuses are less active and belong only because they see membership as a political move in gaining support.
Although some members are not too active, the meetings also attract their staff members. Staffers do much in researching and drafting of bills. The more these people know about GA, the better.
This past Congress produced fewer bills than in many recent past sessions. This might be considered a blessing. But it demonstrate the divided views of members of Congress and the challenges faced almost daily by GA’s alphabet groups.