Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Craig L. Fuller told Congress on Feb. 11 that AOPA members strongly support the new Federal Aviation Administration funding (reauthorization) bill, just introduced in the House of Representatives.
Testifying during the sixth week of his presidency, Fuller reminded the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation subcommittee that he has flown for 42 years and understands at first hand what it means to be a general aviation pilot.
“The bottom line for us is that we support the measure, we support the use of aviation fuel taxes as a means of support from our segment of the aviation community,” Fuller said in his testimony. He stated that general aviation had agreed to do its share to support air traffic control modernization by accepting an increase in aviation fuel taxes, rather than user fees.
Fuller pointed out that, unlike in past years, the entire aviation industry supports the new FAA funding bill.
“I think it is important and impressive that we are here today in agreement on FAA reauthorization,” said Fuller. “We’re all unified, all believing from our unique perspectives that the FAA reauthorization needs to go forward for a four-year period, not only to give certainty to the agency, but to give certainty to all of us who fly in the system, and who invest in system.”
In his prepared testimony, Fuller said that AOPA members strongly endorse a four-year authorization bill that provides much needed investment in safety, ATC modernization, FAA operations, airport improvements, and aviation research. Members also supported, “the time-tested system of passenger transportation and general aviation fuel taxes in combination with general fund revenues to support the FAA and the aviation system.”
He praised Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) for their leadership in the last Congress, which led to the agreement not to impose user fees. Prior to his testimony, Fuller held private meetings with Oberstar and other key members of Congress concerned with FAA funding. The new FAA funding bill – The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 (H.R.915) – is nearly identical to H.R. 2881. Reps. Oberstar and Costello introduced the new bill Feb. 10.
During the hearing, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) asked Fuller about fees for FAA services such as aircraft registration. He replied that while AOPA understand the existing fees, the association “would take exception” to the proposed new $42 fee for renewing a medical certificate.
Fuller endorsed the general concepts of the FAA’s NextGen Implementation Plan to modernize the air traffic control system using ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast). “That should lead to a proliferation of much-needed precision approaches at thousands of GA airports,” Fuller said. “The FAA should upgrade the level of ATC services at small airports to nearly the same quality as those found now only at large hub airports.” To get to that state, however, aircraft owners would have to make a significant investment in new avionics. He asked Congress for federal assistance for grants or tax breaks to owners to “jump start” equipage with new technology.
“As I travel to airports across the nation, I’m constantly reminded that airports are as critical to the aviation transportation system as on- and off-ramps are to our federal highway system,” Fuller told the Committee. “General aviation facilities are an important part of the U.S. infrastructure and should not be left out of any infrastructure imitative. Fuller supported $16.2 billion envisioned in the bill for the Airport Improvement Program over the next four years, and the additional $3 billion for airports contained in the House economic stimulus package.
“I know this Committee is well aware of the importance of strong leadership at the FAA,” Fuller concluded in his prepared testimony. “AOPA believes that the next administrator must make unifying the aviation community a priority; should have technical and people management skills, including labor relations skills. And the next administrator must have an understanding of the aviation industry and the political acumen to lead the organization.”
Once the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 is approved by the Transportation Committee, other committees will hold hearings on the tax portion of the bill and other issues. Then the full House will vote on the legislation and send it to the Senate for approval.
The previous FAA authorization legislation expired last year. The agency has been operating under a series of temporary extensions. The current extension will expire March 31.