WASHINGTON, D.C. — This time of year, as Congress looks to the next fiscal year and hurries to get off to its summer “”district work”” period (aka vacation), a variety of events occur. Some move swiftly along the path to enactment, others might get changed along the way, some never make it.
Here are just a few Congressional actions to keep an eye on:
– The House approved the funding bill for the FAA, providing a total of $14.427 billion for FY 2006. That’s $877 million above the FY 2005 appropriations and $1.741 billion above the President’s request. This includes $8.2 billion for operations and $3.6 billion for airport improvements. The bill also includes provisions that 22% of the money should come from the general fund, not from the aviation trust fund. The committee-approved bill also includes language that prohibits use of any FAA funds to develop user fees. The use of general funds for a portion of appropriations plus the no-user-fee provision are issues supported by general aviation interests, with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association particularly active. The Senate subcommittee was expected to take up its funding bill for the FAA about the middle of this month. Then, the two must be reconciled.
– Officials at the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) caught an item in the Highway Bill that would have an impact on operators of jet aircraft if it goes through. Under the proposal, aviation jet fuel would be taxed at the same rate as diesel fuel used on the highways. Aviation jet-fuel purchasers would pay 24.4 cents a gallon tax and then have to submit a claim to the Internal Revenue Service for the difference between that and the 21.8 cents jet-fuel tax.
– The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the nomination of Edmund Hawley to be assistant secretary of homeland security. This approval sent the nomination to the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. If no action is taken in 30 days, the nomination will be placed on the Executive Calendar.
– The House also passed a bill pushed by the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists that would have Flight Service Station workers remain employees of the FAA and cancel the deal with Lockheed Martin, which is scheduled to take over the FSS in October. NAATS warns that under the present contract, FSS specialists need protection and would lose their pensions. The association warns that general aviation would not have some services now available and the contract with Lockheed-Martin does not prohibit user fees for the service provided by FSS. A Senate version must also pass and the two reconciled. The President, however, has vowed a veto if the bill comes to his desk.
Another GA airplane penetrated the no-fly area around Washington and again forced evacuation of the White House and the Capitol buildings. This time it was a corporate KingAir that had canceled its IFR flight plan and was flying VFR. When it approached adverse weather north of the city, it turned south, pointing it toward government buildings. It was the third such intrusion that day, the other two having been directed out of the ADIZ before appearing to pose a threat. Over the July 4th weekend, three aircraft penetrated the TFR around Camp David in Maryland where the President was staying. One of the three was in the TFR long enough to cause the interceptors to be called out.
Government officials, tired of the evacuation procedures, suggested enlarging the no-fly area to permit interceptions before approaching aircraft appear to be a threat. Enlarging the ADIZ would add work to the ATC personnel in the area as well as make flight more difficult for pilots who plan flight routes to avoid the area.
The Sport Pilot program got a favorable push recently with a visit to AOPA headquarters by many planes of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association. The airport at Frederick, Md., where AOPA has its headquarters, is now outside the Washington/Baltimore ADIZ. Any expansion of the ADIZ — or any airspace off limits to sport plane pilots — would curtail Sport Pilot, which is beginning to show that general aviation can get back to less expensive operation for current pilots wanting more recreational flight, as well as introducing aviation to more people.
AOPA staffers flew many of the light sport aircraft and officials discussed with LAMA officials ways to work on aircraft financing and insurance issues.
Another big step for the sport pilot program is an agreement between LAMA and the Experimental Aircraft Association to provide the benefits of both organizations to people who build, buy or fly the new category of aircraft.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.