Congress began the year with a newly elected President—whose election was steeped in controversy—an evenly split Senate and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Then, in May, Republican Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced that he was becoming an Independent, thus switching control of the Senate from Republicans to Democrats. Despite these unprecedented political parameters, it was the terrorist attacks of September 11 that had the largest impact on this congressional session's agenda. After the attacks, citizens looked to Congress to restore security and to provide economic relief. AOPA was involved in key initiatives affecting members ranging from aviation security and FAA funding (including funding priorities), to general aviation small business relief.
After the congressional recess ends in late January, the highest priorities for AOPA Legislative Affairs will be to work with Congress for passage of a GA relief package, to see the Chicago airports bill preserving Meigs Field signed into law, to continue working on comprehensive airport land-use legislation, advancing AOPA's priorities in FAA spending, as well as beginning work on the new FAA Reauthorization Act. The current act, AIR-21, will authorize funding for federal aviation programs through 2003 to the sum of $40 billion.
Key issues AOPA Legislative Affairs worked on during 2001:
- Aviation security. Aviation security legislation (PL 107-71) was among the anti-terrorism bills Congress passed. AOPA Legislative Affairs staff worked with the House and Senate aviation security conferees on many provisions affecting GA, including a compromise to a harmful amendment requiring prescriptive security measures for general aviation aircraft sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). The provision was included in the Senate version of the legislation, but this onerous GA requirement was ultimately removed in the final version of the legislation. [See AOPA's issue brief.]
- GA relief. After the terrorist attacks, Congress was quick to provide a bailout bill for the airline industry (PL 107-42), and AOPA has lobbied and helped draft legislation for a similar financial package for GA businesses that have suffered as a result of the attacks. While there were five individual bills that would offer some form of relief to these businesses, none of the bills were voted on by either of the chambers before Congress recessed for the holidays. AOPA will continue to work with the bills' sponsors when Congress reconvenes January 23. >[See AOPA's issue brief.]
- Appropriations. Congress passed all of the 13 spending bills for fiscal year 2002. Those of particular interest to AOPA included the following issue:
- Upgrades to the aviation system for general aviation. AOPA worked with conferees on the Transportation Appropriations bill (PL 107-87)—the bill that provides funding for the FAA—to include a number of GA-related provisions, such as requiring that FAA disseminate the database of airport diagrams to manufacturers at no cost as a first step in reducing runway incursions and enhancing aviation safety; an increase in funding for research on general aviation unleaded fuels; and modernization of the notams platform. [See AOPA's issue brief.]
- Chicago airports legislation. Another appropriations bill that AOPA was closely engaged with was the Defense Appropriations bill. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) attempted to include the historic agreement between Illinois Governor George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley that preserves Meigs, expands O'Hare International, and creates a new airport at Peotone, into the defense spending bill but was unsuccessful. However, both Senator Durbin and Representative William Lipinski (D-Ill.) introduced "stand-alone" legislation (S.1786/H.R.3479), the National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act, which would legislate the historic agreement. AOPA will work with the bill's sponsors to pass this legislation next session.
- Peru shootdown provision. AOPA also monitored the Foreign Operations spending bill (H.R.2506), in which the final version includes an AOPA-backed provision that withholds funds to support a Peruvian air interdiction program until the Bush administration sets up safeguards to protect civilian aircraft. This provision was added to the House version of the spending bill by Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) after the fatal shoot-down of a civilian aircraft carrying U.S. missionaries on April 20. [See AOPA's issue brief.]
- Aerial fish spotters. AOPA put its support behind the prevention of any further legislation prohibiting the Department of Commerce from issuing licenses for aerial fish spotters to operate. A provision to prohibit use of aircraft in Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing was added behind closed doors to last year's version of the Commerce-Justice-State (C-J-S) appropriations bill, but it was not included in the final version of the bill for fiscal year 2002 (PL 107-77). AOPA, along with some environmental and conservation groups, believes that spotter aircraft play a crucial environmental role by directing fisherman away from undersized tuna.
- Warbird provision. AOPA also worked with House-Senate conferees on the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1438), in particular Chairman Bob Stump of the House Armed Services Committee (R-Ariz.), Senator Max Cleland (D-Ga.), and AOPA member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), to remove the "warbird provision" in the final version of the legislation. This provision could have resulted in the destruction of vintage military aircraft.
- Backcountry airstrips. This year, once again, AOPA fought to prevent the closure of more backcountry airstrips, and in this congressional session the Bush administration committed itself to implementing a national policy governing general aviation issues related to federal land. Facing the possibility that an AOPA-supported prohibition against the closure of backcountry airstrips would be extended by Congress until October 2002, an agreement was reached between Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and the departments of Agriculture and Interior to develop a national policy governing backcountry airstrips on federal lands. The administration stated there will now be a process that will include periods of public notice, comment, and participation by the states. Senator Crapo has stated that he hopes that Congress ultimately will be able to pass such legislation on a permanent basis, and AOPA will continue to work with Senator Crapo and other members of Congress so this goal is realized. Both Senator Crapo and Representative C.L. Butch Otter (R-Idaho) introduced reintroduced the Backcountry Landing Strip Access Act this year (S.681/H.R.1363), but no action was taken on the bills since the administration made this agreement.