January 23, 2009
By Warren D. Morningstar
Illinois Representative Ray LaHood
The Senate Jan. 22 confirmed former Illinois Representative Ray LaHood to be Secretary of Transportation. During his confirmation hearing Jan. 21, LaHood promised “openness and fairness” at DOT, an intent to implement President Obama’s economic priorities, and a commitment to repairing and improving the nation’s ground and aviation infrastructures.
“We look forward to quickly establishing a close working relationship with Secretary LaHood,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “We would suggest that one of his first priorities should be to nominate an FAA Administrator with proven aviation and management experience, and the diplomatic skills to find consensus among all of the users and Congress. AOPA would be grateful to offer advice on that selection.”
Fuller also urged Secretary LaHood to begin immediate work with Congress to pass an FAA reauthorization bill and resolve the FAA funding issue for the long term.
“Last year we had a good bill that would have provided sufficient funding for air traffic control modernization through an acceptable aviation fuel tax increase,” said Fuller. “Unfortunately, the bill did not get through the Senate before the session expired. That bill would be a great model to start with, and Congress could pass it quickly.”
LaHood did not address general aviation specifically in his prepared statement for the Commerce Committee or during his confirmation hearing. But Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who will become Commerce Committee Chairman, said during the hearing that private jets were not paying for all the air traffic control services that they use. LaHood didn’t address that specifically, but noted that the “bigger picture” should be considered, and that there should be a consensus on a roadmap for funding and implementing the NextGen ATC modernization program.
LaHood served on the House Appropriations Committee, which has historically opposed user fees. He previously served on the House aviation subcommittee, and has been a leading advocate for improving the state of Illinois' transportation infrastructure, including being a proponent for improving local airports.
The moderate Republican is known for consensus building and has long-term relationships with both President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
In a letter to LaHood upon his nomination, AOPA President Fuller said, “I want to express our enthusiasm in working with you in shaping aviation policy that improves safety and supports the air transportation system that is vital to the nation’s economy. Your background in Congress as a member of the House aviation subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee gives you a special insight into the aviation industry and many of the issues we face. Your understanding of the importance of the economic impact of aviation is especially important as you take on this leadership role.”
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