President's Position

108th Congress

January 1, 2003

Entering his twelfth year as AOPA president, Phil Boyer has worked with six Congresses.

To many pilots outside of the immediate area, Washington, D.C., doesn't play much of a role in their thoughts about flying. But, for that very reason, AOPA exists to do the "heavy lifting" on behalf of general aviation in the nation's capital. Every two years, however, it's hard to escape the media coverage surrounding America's federal elections. All of you, and your association, play a vital role in these elections, ensuring that politicians friendly to general aviation are elected or returned to Congress. With almost 400,000 AOPA members, both candidates and incumbents know we mean business when it comes to endorsing races and in terms of financial support for campaigns. The AOPA Political Action Committee (PAC) raises money for just that purpose. Federal election laws prohibit using any portion of your AOPA member dues to support candidates. That's why you receive separate mail solicitations from the AOPA PAC. This isn't the "soft money" that airlines and other special interests pass by the millions of dollars to politicians and that new campaign laws were supposed to eliminate. These are dollars raised from individual pilots, not companies, which are then limited to a maximum contribution of $5,000 per candidate per election cycle.

November 5, 2002, was a banner election night for GA. In the House, 93 percent of the AOPA-supported candidates were elected, while in the Senate, 78 percent of supported candidates won election. More than 90 stalwart supporters of GA were reelected, and more than 20 AOPA members and pilots will now serve in Congress. Four new AOPA member pilots joined the House of Representatives, including Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), John Kline (R-Minn.), and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.). All received strong support from the AOPA PAC.

Now more than ever, it is critical for us to have pilots and friends of GA in Congress. As the nation faces dramatic budget deficits, Congress will have to approve legislation establishing funding levels for improving airports, modernizing the air traffic control system, and operating the FAA. Unfortunately, the budget drafters in the White House continue to keep the idea of user fees and a privatized ATC system alive despite huge financial woes being experienced in Canada and Great Britain where privatized systems have failed. During tight budget times, Congress has a penchant for coming up with wild ideas for new taxes disguised as fees or dramatic across-the-board budget cuts that hit aviation programs particularly hard. This Congress will also vote on a new FAA reauthorization, since the trust fund off-budget bill you helped us win in 2000 expires next year.

If we go to war with Iraq, we could see increased pressures for GA security. Many in Congress and the White House continue to misunderstand who and what GA is. We need pilots in key places to set the record straight on why we are not a threat to the nation's security. Thankfully, we've got friends in leadership positions on both sides of the proverbial aisle who are "watching our backside."

Election night was dramatic. For the first time since Roosevelt, a first-term president picked up seats in both chambers of Congress. The biggest surprise was the flip in Senate leadership. In the upper chamber, Hartranft award winner Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) reclaims the gavel from AOPA member and pilot Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) as Senate majority leader. With the December runoff election in Louisiana, the GOP has a margin of 51 to 48, with one independent Senate seat. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has not always seen eye-to-eye with me on user fees, reclaims the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Pilot, AOPA award winner, and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee that provides funding for the FAA and the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA). What a pleasure it is to have someone who understands GA in this powerful position to ensure that initiatives important to GA, such as improvements to the notam system, graphical TFR advisories, and modernization of flight service stations, are funded. Likewise, Stevens can block attempts by individual members of Congress to insert detrimental "riders" to aviation in larger "must pass" spending bills.

In the House, Rep J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will remain as speaker of the House and AOPA friend and supporter Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will assume the role of House majority leader.

It looks like transportation appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) may be tapped to take over the new subcommittee overseeing the appropriations subcommittee which funds the Department of Homeland Security, including TSA. This is important, as AOPA will continue to fight misguided anti-GA security provisions.

House Transportation Chairman and pilot Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is expected to stay on with Committee Ranking Member Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) to guide FAA Reauthorization in the 108th Congress. Aviation subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) is expected to remain as well. This committee is probably the most active in overseeing the FAA and establishing many of the policies that affect us as pilots and aircraft owners.

AOPA members traditionally turn out at the polls in greater percentages than the national average. Your support of GA candidates and financial contributions to the AOPA PAC allow us to start a new Congress with friends on both sides of the aisle. With your help and their support, we'll work hard to guarantee the freedom and future of general aviation.