June 3, 2008
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has asked Congress to change legislation that might result in the destruction of historic military aircraft now flying in the general aviation fleet.
And it now appears that Congress will make the change. A member of the House Armed Services Committee staff told AOPA that the committee chairman has directed that the legislation either be fixed or deleted.
At issue is Section 361 of the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act ( H.R.4205). That section would authorize the secretary of Defense to require "demilitarization" of significant military equipment—including aircraft—formerly owned by the Department of Defense. A House/Senate conference committee is currently considering the bill.
In a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), AOPA President Phil Boyer explained the problems that the demilitarization section, as currently drafted, could cause.
"If enacted, this section could destroy an important part of our nation's aviation history," Boyer wrote. "At a time when this nation faces a serious pilot shortage, predicted to last until the end of this decade, there is no better visibility given to aviation than the appearances many of these historical aircraft make at public airshows and airports around the country."
Boyer noted that these classic "warbirds" have been carefully preserved by dedicated civilians. Many now tour the country, encouraging young people to seek a military or civilian aviation career.
Section 361 is intended to address a problem first uncovered in 1996 by the Department of Defense inspector general. Through the years, the military had improperly classified more than 50 percent of the surplus equipment it sold or destroyed. That meant that some sensitive military equipment had been inadvertently sold to the public.
In order to get that military technology out of public hands, Section 361 states that the secretary of Defense "may" require any person in possession of "significant" military equipment formerly owned by the Department of Defense to demilitarize the equipment. The intent is to make sure the equipment can't be used as a weapon. The secretary of Defense would have the authority to set demilitarization standards for each type of equipment.
"We understand there is a valid military purpose for this provision," said Boyer. "However, this 'reachback' provision is so broad that it might lead to the unnecessary destruction of general aviation aircraft. It could also force aircraft owners to pay for demilitarization of their own property, even though it was legally sold to them in that condition."
The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
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