The next president addresses GA

Candidates talk about what's important to pilots

October 1, 2012

president obama

Pilots and aircraft owners will have the opportunity to make their voices heard in the voting booth on November 6.

To help you understand where the presidential candidates stand on issues important to general aviation, we asked the nominees from both major political parties an identical series of questions, and their responses are printed here verbatim.

Many factors will influence the votes you cast in the November elections. Consider this information about general aviation as you make your decisions. Voting is more than a right and a civic duty—it is a power.

—AOPA Government Affairs Division

President Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for re-election

1. What is your experience with general aviation? How have you personally and professionally used general aviation? Are you aware of the economic benefit of GA to the nation and if so, to what extent?
In today’s global economy, infrastructure is critical to economic growth and competitiveness. The strength of our general aviation industry is a critical piece of this, providing an invaluable service to our communities and economy. I have benefitted from general aviation for years, and will continue to do so once leaving office. The services provided keep families and loved ones close, allow businesses to grow and prosper, and create jobs that fuel our economy. I will continue to support the industry and the service that it provides.

2. As an elected official, can you cite actions you have taken to support general aviation?
I believe that a well-functioning transportation system is critical to America’s economic future. Whether it is by road, transit, rail, pipeline, waterway, or aviation, we rely on our transportation system to move people and goods safely, facilitate commerce, attract and retain businesses, and support jobs.

We are building the NextGen air transportation system that is based upon satellites and GPS technology—rather than ground-based radar—to make breakthrough improvements in our air traffic control system. The result will be a more efficient, safer system that accommodates more planes with fewer delays, and uses less jet fuel. The long-term resources provided by the FAA legislation I signed earlier this year will encourage airlines to make billions in additional investments of their own.

3. The administration has proposed augmenting the current system of fuel and ticket taxes to fund the FAA with a $100-per-flight user fee on general aviation aircraft using controlled airspace. A majority of Congress on a bipartisan basis has consistently rejected user fees on general aviation. What is your view on general aviation user fees and how would you propose to fund the aviation system?
To create an economy that is built to last and create good jobs that pay well for generations to come, we must make investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure, while ensuring that we pay for those investments and restore responsibility for what we spend and accountability for how we spend it.

All flights that use controlled airspace require a similar level of air traffic services. However, commercial and general aviation can pay very different aviation fees for the same air traffic services. To reduce the deficit and more equitably share the cost of air traffic services across the aviation user community, my administration proposes a $100-per-flight fee by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace. All piston aircraft, military aircraft, public aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights would be exempted. The fee would generate an estimated $7.4 billion over 10 years and total charges collected would be used to finance roughly three-fourths of airport investments and air traffic control system costs.

4. Airports foster air transportation and an integrated plan for airport improvements go hand in glove with national air transportation infrastructure. General aviation airports are an important part of the national air transportation system but are often faced with the threat of closure or limits on access and funding. How will you support general aviation airports as part of the national airport system?
General aviation has a presence in every state, with more than 230,000 general aviation aircraft servicing nearly 19,000 small airports and regional hubs across the country. To ensure that taxpayer funding is used efficiently and wisely, my budget eliminates guaranteed funding for large and medium hub airports and instead focuses grants to support smaller commercial and general aviation airports that do not have access to additional revenue or other outside sources of capital. At the same time, my budget would allow larger airports to increase non-federal passenger facility charges, thereby giving larger airports greater flexibility to generate their own revenue.

5. Recognizing that both aviation users and the general public receive significant benefits from a safe and efficient air transportation system, Congress has funded the FAA through an appropriation that combines funding from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (aviation taxes) and the general fund. Do you support continuing to fund approximately 28 percent of the FAA’s budget with general fund dollars?
My goal is to support our aviation system in a way that is more stable, fair, and transparent and that helps move our aviation system forward; both dedicated revenues and the general fund play an important role in achieving that goal.

6. For nearly two decades the FAA has been in the process of migrating from a ground-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based system known as NextGen that relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation. What will you do to continue NextGen implementation within tight budget constraints without reducing funding to other vital aviation programs such as the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)?
I continue to support significant investments in the NextGen project, as described in more detail above and in my budget proposals.

7. On the issue of homeland security, the challenge facing policymakers is finding the right balance between security, individual rights, and the economic viability of the general aviation industry. In your view, what challenges exist and/or lie ahead for general aviation and what would you do to help mitigate their impact on our freedom to fly?
I am committed to maintaining support for aviation security, while continuing to modernize and streamline transportation security vetting and credentialing for individuals who access our country’s transportation infrastructure. I also commend efforts of organizations like yours for maintaining our security. Through your partnership with the Transportation Security Administration, you created the Airport Watch Program, and now have more than 600,000 pilots monitoring our airports. I am committed to working in partnership with general aviation to ensure our security policies are effective and do not burden the industry.

Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president

romney and ryan

1. What is your experience with general aviation: How have you personally and professionally used aviation? Are you aware of the economic benefit of GA to the nation and if so, to what extent?
I understand the immense benefits that this form of transportation provides to Americans, both for travel and leisure. On the campaign trail, general aviation is key to ensuring that I can meet Americans across the country to gain a better understanding of how they are personally affected by issues central to this election.

2. As an elected official, can you cite actions you have taken to support general aviation?
As governor, I proposed reforms to eliminate duplication and cut costs, ensuring that Massachusetts’ taxpayers were receiving the best transportation options at the lowest cost possible. I also prioritized safety by putting in place experienced individuals in order to keep residents and travelers secure.

3. The administration has proposed augmenting the current system of fuel and ticket taxes to fund the FAA with a $100-per-flight user fee on general aviation aircraft using controlled airspace. A majority of Congress on a bipartisan basis has consistently rejected user fees on general aviation. What is your view on general aviation user fees and how would you propose to fund the aviation system?
I believe that we should invest in our national infrastructure, specifically the aviation system. Yet, spending is only part of the equation. Eliminating burdensome regulations and working with the aviation industry to ensure that consumers are receiving the best service possible are equally important to keeping cost down.

4. Airports foster air transportation and an integrated plan for airport improvements goes hand in glove with national air transportation infrastructure. General aviation airports are an important part of the national air transportation system but are often faced with the threat of closure or limits on access and funding. How will you support general aviation airports as part of the national airport system?
Our national air transportation infrastructure is critically important to America’s economic success. It must be a priority. I understand that funding concerns are common in these difficult economic times, but I also recognize that general aviation airports are an important part of our national transportation system. These decisions should be made in conjunction with key stakeholders to ensure that proper decisions are made concerning access and funding.

5. Recognizing that both aviation users and the general public receive significant benefits from a safe and efficient air transportation system, Congress has funded the FAA through an appropriation that combines funding from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (aviation taxes) and the general fund. Do you support continuing to fund approximately 28 percent of the FAA’s budget with general fund dollars?
As president, I will work with Congress to ensure that the FAA is appropriately funded to meet the needs of aviation users and the general public.

6. For nearly two decades the FAA has been in the process of migrating from a ground-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based system known as NextGen that relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation. What will you do to continue NextGen implementation within tight budget constraints without reducing funding to other vital aviation programs such as the Airport Improvement Program (AIP)?
We have an incredibly safe aviation system. However, the system clearly is not as reliable or efficient as it could be. NextGen was launched eight years ago by the Bush Administration and progress has been slow. It is another example of a vital program that has been allowed to flounder because of a fundamental lack of leadership. Commercial aviation creates more than 10 million jobs and generates more than $1 trillion in economic activity every year. It is expected to grow substantially over the next decade. It is critically important that NextGen moves into the fast lane, and as president, I will make sure that happens.

7. On the issue of homeland security, the challenge facing policymakers is finding the right balance between security, individual rights, and the economic viability of the general aviation industry. In your view, what challenges exist and/or lie ahead for general aviation, and what would you do to help mitigate their impact on our freedom to fly?
With the threat of terrorists trying to turn airplanes into weapons it is imperative we are vigilant in ensuring the safety of everyone involved. We should, however, be smart in our approach. As president, I will work with the Department of Homeland Security, the aviation industry, and experts in the field to develop an effective system that minimizes intrusiveness and maximizes efficiency.

GA supporters in Congress

The presidential race on November 6 isn’t the only contest that could affect general aviation. Every seat in the House of Representatives and approximately one-third of the Senate also is up for election. AOPA’s Legislative Affairs team is very active in both houses of Congress and as a result, the GA caucuses in both the House and Senate have grown to record levels. In fact, AOPA’s leadership was instrumental in the creation of the caucuses—and GA has never had so many supporters in Congress.

If general aviation loses these important allies in November, it will be more difficult to win the next battle over user fees, keep the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control modernization program on track, and address other threats. The AOPA Political Action Committee is working hard to support these friends of general aviation, but more help is needed. For more information or to make a contribution to the PAC, visit the website ( www.aopa.org/members/pac/) or call AOPA at 800/872-2672.

Four key supporters in Congress are profiled below. Visit AOPA’s interactive online map ( www.aopa.org/pilot/GAcaucus2012) to learn which candidates from your state have demonstrated their support for general aviation. The map offers links to profiles of all of the GA Caucus members in both the House and the Senate who are running in November’s election.

Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.-12)

rep. barrowSince being elected to Congress in 2004, Rep. John Barrow has been one of GA’s staunchest supporters on Capitol Hill. Although he isn’t a pilot, the size of his large rural district has encouraged him to use single-engine piston aircraft to fly from one remote area to the next. He joined AOPA in 2006 because he saw the value it brings to general aviation and the nation’s freedom to fly.

Barrow has been at the helm of every congressional GA effort AOPA has undertaken, including opposition to user fees, an FCC decision that would have caused GPS interference, and aircraft depreciation rule changes that would harm GA’s struggling manufacturing base. He also has supported avgas agency stakeholder decisions, the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, a robust general fund contribution, the right to fly vintage aircraft purchased from the Department of Defense, and returning to the aviation trust fund jet fuel tax money that has erroneously gone into the Highway Trust Fund.

It is no surprise that he signed up as a co-chair of the House GA Caucus and has worked side by side with Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.-6) in growing the GA Caucus to a record 185 members. Through the Caucus, Barrow has worked tirelessly to educate his fellow members of Congress about the value of general aviation. He is running for his fifth term in Congress and because of redistricting is running a very hard campaign.


Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.-2)

rep. bassA pilot and an AOPA member since 1977, Rep. Charles Bass is on his second tour of duty in Congress, having served from 1995 to 2006 before being elected again in 2010. He is a strong supporter of general aviation and quickly joined the GA Caucus.

In his first two years back in Congress, Bass has expressed his strong opposition to user fees and publically questioned the FCC’s decision as it relates to GPS interference. He signed letters opposing the $100-per-flight user fee in the president’s budget proposals and user fees that were included in the Obama Administration’s deficit reduction plan. Bass also wrote to the chairman of the FCC, urging him to not allow a company called LightSquared to build a mobile satellite network that interferes with GPS reception, which would have a safety impact on general aviation.

Bass earned his private pilot certificate in 1971 and his instrument rating in 1976. He has experience in aerobatics, and has owned a Citabria and a Maule, which he currently flies out of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. He clearly understands the importance of GA airports and the need to fully fund the AIP.


Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.)

rep. bergRep. Rick Berg, a pilot and an AOPA member since 1993, has proven to be a knowledgeable and avid supporter of general aviation. He opposes user fees, signing three separate letters opposing the administration’s proposal. Berg also signed two letters to the chairman of the FCC expressing concern with LightSquared’s plans to build a mobile satellite network that interferes with GPS reception.

Berg brings his extensive knowledge and experience with GA to the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the tax and revenue portion of the FAA authorization bill. He also has been engaged in the House GA Caucus, using his personal experience as a pilot as a resource for educating his colleagues on issues of importance to general aviation. And he continues to fly his Beech Bonanza every chance he gets.

Berg is running for the open Senate seat in North Dakota being vacated by Sen. Kent Conrad, who is retiring.


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

rep. manchinA 1963 ride in a Lake Central DC–3 planted the seed of aviation for Sen. Joe Manchin, and by late 1967 he was taking lessons in a Piper Cherokee 140. Before long he convinced his parents that they were better off buying the Piper for $7,500 than renting it by the hour. Manchin soon had his certificate and was using the small four-seater to take his wife, Gayle, and then the first of the Manchin children flying. “Our children grew up going to vacations in that little airplane,” he says. “We’d just put them in the back and go. They later had a hard time adjusting to driving to vacations.”

The Cherokee 140 gave way in 1975 to a Cherokee 235, which was replaced in 1981 with a brand-new Piper Saratoga that the instrument-rated Manchin still owns and flies.

Since being sworn into the U.S. Senate on November 15, 2010, to fill the seat left vacant by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Manchin has been strong in his opposition to user fees. He signed two letters to the president opposing the $100-per-flight user fee in his budget proposals. He also is a co-sponsor of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, legislation which ensures pilots fairer treatment and more access to information in FAA enforcement actions, removes a pro-FAA bias from the appellate process, and creates advisory boards to help improve the notam and medical certification processes.

Manchin, who joined AOPA in 1968, brings first-hand knowledge to conversations about general aviation issues. He knows from personal experience just how effective GA is as a tool for business, for personal transportation, and for building the economy. That depth of understanding has made him a powerful advocate for GA in the Senate and a valuable member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus.