While user fees are a threat, there’s an even bigger monster lurking for GA: TSA.
“We not only have to be vigilant about user fees, but also about misunderstood and destructive regulations,” Rep. Tom Petri (R.-Wis.) said at a Congressional panel during AirVenture. Many of these regulations, from the Department of Homeland Security and TSA in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, were “enacted with the best of intentions and hopes, but with unintended consequences on GA,” he said.
The latest “unintended consequences” are from the Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP), which would impose airline-like security on all aircraft weighing over 12,500 lbs. Besides requiring the vetting of passengers, the proposed rule also would prohibit carrying tools or even golf clubs on these planes, as they are seen as potential weapons.
“They are trying to ID potential threats,” said Rep. Sam Graves, (R.-Mo.), a pilot and ardent advocate for GA in Washington, D.C. “The problem is they are not using any common sense.”
He reports that a compromise is in the works to raise the weight limit. “I’d like to get it to 150,000 lbs., but I don’t think we’ll get it,” he added.
Many alphabet groups are fighting the proposed rule, including the warbird community and those organizations that sell rides in vintage aircraft.
“That Ford Tri-Motor in AeroShell Square would be grounded,” Graves said. “The Tri-Motor isn’t a threat, it’s just a big, lumbering airplane.”
Part of the negotiations involves exempting certain aircraft, such as piston aircraft, from the rule, he said. “We’re trying to bring some common sense to the table.”
He noted the proposed rule wouldn’t have gotten as much attention if the GA community had not sent in “thousands and thousands” of letters against it.
“They didn’t realize the tentacles this thing had,” he said, “and how it would affect not just pilots, but FBOs, mechanics, air shows and fly-ins. Those letters had a big impact.”
It’s important to keep those lines of communication open, he added. “You have to let government know where you stand,” he said. “We have to be vigilante in educating members of Congress who don’t understand aviation in any way.”
Helping in that is the newly formed House General Aviation Caucus, which has already attracted more than 60 members of Congress.
“Don’t hesitate to call your Congressmen and tell them to get on the ball,” said Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), also a pilot and GA advocate.
The Congressional representatives who showed up at AirVenture made it very clear that the House is opposed to user fees, but acknowledge that a fight still remains as many in Congress think GA should be paying more.
“We argue that GA pays through fuel taxes,” Graves said.
A big concern is an attempt by user fee proponents to use a “divide and conquer” strategy. For instance, some compromise recommendations call to levying user fees only on business aviation.
“We have to be careful that they don’t split GA apart,” Graves said. “All of GA has to stick together to beat back user fees. If we do get user fees, it will kill GA here like it has in Europe.”
Boswell echoed those sentiments.
“We got a wake-up call a few years ago that we’re getting walked on,” he said. “We have to stand up, link arms and work together and we’re going to win.”