Wins for GA in appropriations bill

December 22, 2011

President Barack Obama will soon sign the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The bill contains two hard-fought provisions for general aviation: language that helps protect the GPS system from interference by a proposed wireless network, and language that provides funding for veterans’ readjustment benefits to include flight training for veterans.

The appropriations bill, H.R. 2055, contains language introduced by Reps. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) preventing the Federal Communications Commission from removing the conditions imposed on controversial wireless network venture LightSquared until the FCC resolves “concerns of potential widespread interference” with GPS from the ground-based components of its planned network.

The AOPA legislative affairs staff worked closely with the Coalition to Save Our GPS to ensure that the language, which did not appear in the Senate’s version of the bill, was included in the final legislation’s financial services section.

“This was a major victory for GA,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs.

Under the measure, the FCC may not lift the conditions it imposed on LightSquared on Jan. 26, 2011, or otherwise permit the company’s “commercial terrestrial operations,” until the interference issues identified by testing this year have been resolved.

For most of 2011, LightSquared has been involved in a public dispute with the GPS industry about its network’s impact on GPS after field tests showed that its ground transmitters can overwhelm the lower-powered GPS signals, posing safety concerns for aviation. LightSquared’s counter-claims against its critics and the GPS industry have provoked the ire of the congressional GA Caucus, and brought expressions of concern from GPS users in the public and private sectors.

Veterans’ flight training

Flight training funding for veterans, which took a big step forward under 2010 legislation expanding veterans’ educational assistance, took another important stride under the newly enacted appropriations bill.

Since Oct. 1, veterans have been able to make use of funding from the Post-911 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 in several new ways, including flight training. Last year’s revisions gave veterans in flight training and vocational programs eligibility for funding that previously had only been authorized for students at “degree-granting institutions.”

Under the new appropriations bill funding for readjustment benefits, which now include flight training, has been increased from $11 billion in both the House and Senate bills to $12 billion during conference committee negotiations.

The $915 billion consolidated bill contained the provisions of nine individual appropriations measures.