AOPA's Boyer puts Meigs closure center stage at congressional hearing

September 4, 2003

Statement of Phil Boyer

President
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

Before the

COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

The Honorable John L. Mica, Chairman
The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio, Ranking Member

Concerning

FAA Reauthorization

April 9, 2003


Good morning, I am Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, representing over 395,000 dues-paying members who own or fly general aviation aircraft—more than half of all pilots in the United States. As an association, our objective is to protect and preserve access of general aviation pilots to the nation's airspace and airports. We are pleased to be here today, to testify before this committee on how FAA reauthorization can address the critical infrastructure needs of the general aviation community.

Meigs

The timing of my message is essential. It is with disappointment that I report that just last week, this vital infrastructure was attacked. The aviation community lost an icon—Chicago's Meigs Field; closed and its runways destroyed in the still of the night. Without warning, notice, or due process, this important downtown airport received a death sentence at the hands of bulldozers and backhoes.

AOPA has battled Mayor Daley and the city of Chicago for more than 10 years to ensure Meigs Field would continue to serve its key role within the national aviation system, rather than being turned into a park. The 3,900-foot runway at Meigs provided general aviation operators with an ideal location to access the heart of Chicago. In addition to being an integral part of the city's disaster relief plan and providing medical airlift transportation needs, the federal government listed Meigs in the National Plan of Integrated Airport System (NPIAS), identifying its important role within the national air transportation system.

After expending tremendous resources to save the airport, which included lawsuits and negotiations with Mayor Daley and then Illinois Governor Ryan, an agreement was finally reached in 2001 between then Governor Ryan and Mayor Daley to keep Meigs open for at least 25 years. This was embodied in legislation that has yet to be approved by Congress.

With blatant disregard for the airport's importance, city officials destroyed the lone runway at Chicago's Meigs Field under the cover of night for "homeland security reasons." The Department of Homeland Security never indicated such a risk existed after an analysis of intelligence information. AOPA is shocked and outraged that an elected official, using the pretext of national security, can destroy a national asset, create a significant safety risk, and reduce capacity in an area already faced with significant aviation congestion. Operations from Meigs Field will immediately need to be accommodated at other already capacity constrained airports.

It is vital that the federal government reaffirm its authority over security matters affecting our national air transportation system. Our nation's airports and airspace face a patchwork of restrictions and closures via local and state power grabs that further endanger the continued viability, safety, and welfare of the aviation system. We need to work together to take steps to prevent what happened in Chicago from ever happening again, and we need work to restore flight operations at Meigs Field. While Mayor Daley may not have respect for the infrastructure needs of the aviation community, there are over 5,400 communities with public-use airports throughout the nation that do. And they depend on the federal government to develop a stable system and adequate funding.

Funding of GA airports

We are pleased to see the administration identify and address the needs of small airports throughout its proposal. In fact, FAA Administrator Blakey just last week quoted AOPA that, "A mile of road will get you a mile, a mile of runway will get you anywhere." We strongly embrace this idea as we sit here today to advocate the important needs of small airports at issue in FAA reauthorization.

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), general aviation airports rely on Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for 65 percent of their total funding. Unlike larger commercial service airports, general aviation airports do not have as many available revenue sources and rely on federal AIP money in order to maintain their infrastructure. Commercial service airports utilize revenues from passenger facility charges, concessions, parking, landing fees, gate fees, restaurants, gift shops, and numerous other sources for airport development. As a result, our nation's large and medium hub airports are able to rely primarily on bonds (59 percent) for their funding. General aviation airports do not have these options, and remain dependent on federal funding.

AIR-21 dramatically changed the AIP grant distribution formula to improve general aviation funding. AIR-21 created an entitlement for general aviation airports, however, there are outstanding issues that reauthorization can address to more fully improve funding needs for small airports. Larger general aviation airports (airports with more than 100 based aircraft) have accepted 77 percent of their FY2001 entitlement grants in comparison to smaller airports (airports less than 20 based) that have only accepted 65 percent of their entitlement grants. Since federal funding is often the only means of funding options available for smaller general aviation airports, more needs to be done to ensure smaller general aviation airports can take advantage of AIP dollars.

Increase in AIP funding levels

While AOPA supports the administration's recommendation for a four-year reauthorization, we strongly recommend that AIP reauthorization be funded at a level of $3.5 billion in 2004 with $100 million increases each subsequent year of this reauthorization, a recommendation consistent with that of state aviation officials.

Keeping AIP funding for infrastructure

Furthermore, we believe it critical that AIP dollars be used primarily to plan, build, and improve airport infrastructure, not to serve as the principal fund for security-related measures at airports.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, the Aviation Transportation Security Act modified AIP project eligibility to fund additional security-related measures. In FY 2002, the FAA awarded $561 million, 17 percent of the total AIP fund in AIP grants for airport security projects, a sharp increase from previous years, which generally averaged less than 2 percent of the total AIP. As a result, several airports, including our based airport in Frederick, were forced to delay necessary airport improvements because of increased security spending. 1

Nonprimary airport apportionment

Increase in funding

Under the current formula, for any fiscal year in which AIP levels are $3.2 billion or more, nonprimary airports are eligible to receive $150,000 per year, for up to three years for capital improvement projects. AOPA recommends increasing the grant limit to $250,000 per year to help general aviation airports meet their projected capital improvements. 2 Consistent with the formula established by AIR-21, the additional funds would come from the state apportionment.

Flexibility in local match for smaller airports

In February 2003, GAO reported that smaller general aviation airports (those with fewer than 50 based aircraft) are less likely to use federal grants, denying smaller communities the opportunity to take advantage of federal grants for needed airport improvements. To encourage smaller airports to accept federal AIP dollars and to encourage those less likely to receive enough revenue to cover the required local match, AOPA recommends up to 5 percent of the local match requirement of the GA entitlement grant issued under Section 47114(d)(3) for airports with fewer than 50 based aircraft be waived. 3

Funding flexibility

Section 302 of the administration's bill addresses flexible spending for nonprimary airport grants for revenue-generating aeronautical support facilities, including fuel farms and hangars. While we support this flexibility, we believe that priority be given to projects that would further the financial stability of the airports. For example, the development of a terminal building is not always a necessary investment at a general aviation airport, but would be more wisely spent on hangar developments that would raise airport revenue to be used to construct other facilities at the airport. We also recommend that federal protections be provided for "reasonable fees and conditions" associated with any use of federal funds in the construction of a hangar facility.

State discretion

In addition to the administration's recommendations, AOPA supports an initiative suggested by state aviation officials that would allow states to utilize unused portions of nonprimary airport grants in their state. Present policy requires any unused grant money, including nonprimary entitlements, to be deposited into the AIP discretionary fund for use nationwide at the FAA's discretion, including funding for large airports. AOPA recommends that unused grants be reprogrammed into the state's apportionment to be used at the state's discretion.

Federal land use initiatives

Section 408 of the administration's proposal includes compatible land use planning projects; however, it is only applicable for large and medium hub primary airports. Compatible land use initiatives impact all airports, and states have a significant role in ensuring land use around nonprimary airports. However, AOPA believes these airports must have land use planning as well. AOPA supports the implementation of land use planning in all states—we cannot afford to have residential units are developed up to airport boundaries. It's bad for the residents of these communities and bad for the continued future of these airports. AOPA believes the most appropriate way to encourage land use planning at the state level is through an incentive-based program. AOPA recommends that any state acting in accordance with this section should be reimbursed from federal discretionary funds an amount not to exceed $2 million for the developing, promoting, or maintenance of land use commissions or other such similar organizations.

Such successful commissions or similar organization would possess the following powers and duties:

  • To assist local agencies in ensuring compatible land uses in the vicinity of those airports located within the commission's jurisdiction to the extent that the land in the vicinity of those airports is not already devoted to incompatible uses;
  • To coordinate planning at the state, regional, and local levels for land uses in the vicinity of those airports located within the commission's jurisdiction, so as to provide for orderly development of air transportation while at the same time protecting the public health, safety, and welfare and to review and approve actions affecting that planning;
  • To prepare and adopt an airport land use plan for compatible land uses in the vicinity of each public-use airport within the commission's jurisdiction; and
  • To review and approve the plans, regulations, and other actions of local agencies and airport operators, excluding airport development projects, as they may affect the area surrounding the airport in relation to preserving, maintaining, and developing the airport.

Program for purchase of development rights

There are more than 1,154 privately owned airports open to the public (nearly 22 percent of public-use airports). More than other airports, these facilities are at a greater risk of being closed and the property sold to developers. (There are 138 NPIAS airports that are privately owned.)

AOPA recommends the FAA be authorized to establish a program for the purchase of development rights of a privately owned, public-use airport. The program would allow the participation of 5-10 airports in coordination with their respective state agencies having oversight of such airports to participate in a program whereby federal funds (80 percent) would be allocated for the market value of a privately owned, public-use airport. In exchange, the airport owner provides an easement to the state agency that permanently preserves the property for use as a public-use airport. This easement would be preserved on the seller's title and all terms of the easement would transfer with the property should the property be sold. The property owner would maintain title and right to manage said property provided all agreements in the easement are maintained. This program is established to ensure the public's interest in maintaining privately owned, public-use airports that are essential to our national air transportation system.

Other issues that AOPA supports for inclusion in the new reauthorization bill:

FAA/TSA airman revocation rule

AOPA requests that the committee direct the Transportation Security Administration to include proper due process involving a third party to the recently issued direct final rule, which directs the revocation of airman certificates held by those suspected of potentially posing security risks.

Change in air traffic control and National Aeronautical Charting Office categorization

The 1998 Federal Activities Inventory Reform (FAIR) Act requires federal agencies to look at their various activities and report to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which functions are "commercial" and could be performed by private contractors. Food service or janitorial services are examples of activities that can be contracted out. "Inherently governmental" agency functions are those "so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by federal employees," according to OMB. AOPA members strongly oppose efforts to privatize or establish a federal corporation for air traffic control, and the FAA's categorization raises serious concerns in the general aviation community. We believe that air traffic control meets the definition of "inherently governmental" and request inclusion of legislative language that would restore the ATC system to an "inherently governmental" classification.

AOPA also contends that the National Aeronautical Charting Office (NACO) should not be classified as commercial. Aeronautical charts and related publications are essential sources of information for the safety of flight, national defense, and compliance with FAA regulations. Aeronautical charting products directly support the operation of the ATC system and the National Airspace System (NAS) infrastructure, and it is therefore logical that the program's priorities remain under the direct control of the FAA.

It is AOPA's recommendation that wording be added to the reauthorization preventing expending of federal funding for outsourcing study of this office because the NACO function is inherently governmental and should not be contracted out. NACO has primary responsibility for the U.S. government civil aeronautical charts, navigation databases, and flight information publications.

Security coordination of notams

Since September 11, notams have been the primary tool for the implementation of airspace restrictions (temporary flight restrictions or TFRs) on general aviation for security purposes. It is AOPA's experience that it is important that the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to initiate the development of security TFRs, before FAA implementation. This ensures that the appropriate analysis of intelligence and security issues are performed in the development of airspace restrictions. Without this streamlined process, we fear proliferation of politically motivated airspace restrictions and airspace riddled with "holes." AOPA requests that language be adopted giving direction to the FAA requiring the approval of the TSA before security TFRs or other security-related airspace restrictions can be issued.

FAA Airport Privatization Pilot program

The Airport Privatization Pilot Program permits private companies to own, lease, manage, and develop public airports, as a way of exploring alternate means of generating sources of private capital for airport improvement and development. AOPA's primary concern is the protection of general aviation users at an airport participating in the program.

In the administration's proposal, Section 304 is intended to make the program more attractive for small hub, non-hub, and general aviation airports (the airports most used by general aviation) by eliminating the 65 percent airline approval to revenue diversion. The provision authorizes the Secretary to approve the diversion at these smaller airports instead of requiring air carrier approval. AOPA objects to this proposal because it does not ensure that federal financial investments at these airports are preserved and that general aviation operators at these airports are not adversely impacted. We believe the 65 percent approvals should also include owners of aircraft based at the airport.

There is a companion provision with similar intent for large and medium hub airports that would redefine "air carrier" to be a Part 121 operator, so that a Part 135 air taxi/FBO wouldn't have a say as an "air carrier" in revenue diversion at these larger airports and even fee increases. AOPA opposes this change.

Under existing law, Section 47134(c) states that the percentage of fees increased on general aviation aircraft at a privatized airport will not exceed the percentage of increase in fees imposed on air carriers at that airport. At airports served by air carriers, any increases in fees greater than the rate of inflation must be approved by at least 65 percent of air carriers serving the airport. One airport participating in the Airport Privatization Pilot Program must be a general aviation airport. No measures are currently adopted in federal law to protect the rights of the users of that general aviation airport.

AOPA proposes language be adopted to require that at least 65 percent of general aviation users based at an airport approve a fee increase greater than the rate of inflation at any general aviation airport participating in the FAA Airport Privatization Program. To allow general aviation users the same rights enjoyed by commercial operators, the approval of 65 percent of general aviation users based at the airport should be necessary to obtain any waiver issued under §47134(b)(1) for the use of airport revenue. This language is necessary to protect the rights of general aviation users and to afford them the same rights enjoyed by air carriers.

In addition, AOPA suggests that during the application process and prior to the administrator's final approval for an airport to participate in the Airport Privatization Program, the FAA should conduct a financial and compliance audit to ensure proper use of the federal investment at that airport.

FAA structural reform

AOPA offers the following comments on structural reforms requested in the administration's proposal:

Appointment of deputy—AOPA supports the concepts outlined including eliminating the requirement for Senate confirmation.

MAC appointments—AOPA endorses modifying the authority of the Federal Aviation Management Advisory Council (MAC) to change the requirement that the one remaining vacancy for an aviation interest member be filled through a nomination by the President, with confirmation by the Senate. Instead, the position would be filled by a nomination from the Secretary of Transportation, as well as for future appointments.

Responsibilities of the COO—AOPA supports changes being proposed to change the responsibilities for the chief operating officer.

Civil penalties

Section 205 of the administration's proposal, amends the general civil penalty provisions. Currently there is a significant difference in the amount of a civil penalty that can be imposed on an individual (i.e., a pilot) and an air carrier for operational violations—$1,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an air carrier. It is common practice for the FAA to charge multiple violations for a single event. AOPA is opposed to raising the maximum penalties for an individual airman to a level that would make it equal to that charged an air carrier. The proposed revised provisions could have a serious negative effect on general aviation.

AOPA opposes the administration's request that would permit the FAA to administratively impose civil penalties above $50,000 (the current limit) rather than requiring the FAA to refer to Justice for prosecution in the court.

In closing, Chairman Mica, Ranking Member DeFazio, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present our ideas and concerns today. I look forward to answering any questions you may have.


1 Congress created the AIP program through the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 as a means to develop a nationwide system of public-use airports that could adequately meet the demands of the projected growth of civil aviation.

2 On average, general aviation airports have identified more than $2.9 million (or $587,027 per year) in needed capital improvements in the National Plan of Integrated Airport System (NPIAS) for the five-year period between 2001-2005.

3 The federal government's share of a GA entitlement grant is 90 percent, with the state and local community generally splitting the remaining 10 percent. Of the 3,067 existing general aviation, or proposed general aviation airports in the 2001-2005 NPIAS, 2,293 (75 percent) have fewer than 50 based aircraft.