AOPA Legislative Affairs staff along with President Phil Boyer spent a second day on Capitol Hill yesterday enlisting support from members of Congress for lifting the prohibitions on VFR in enhanced Class B airspace. The second round of meetings targeted members of intelligence and armed services committees, but also included the leadership of the House of Representatives. The flood of phone calls that continues to pour in from AOPA members around the country once again announced AOPA's arrival.
Following his appearance on CNN Thursday morning, Boyer and staff met with Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee whose district includes AOPA's Frederick, Maryland, headquarters. Bartlett was very receptive to AOPA's message, saying, "They [the National Security Council] have got to talk to you. It is very unrealistic to focus on general aviation aircraft." Barlett attempted to reach several White House aides while AOPA was in the office, but all were away from their phones.
After speaking at a press conference where he joined members of Congress to announce the introduction of legislation—developed by AOPA—to provide economic relief for small GA businesses, Boyer then headed to the office of Congressman Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Young greeted Boyer, saying, "I'll bet I know why you're coming in today." He placed a personal phone call to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to ask him to address the issue. Young told Card's assistant that he would wait by his phone for the chief of staff's return call.
Boyer then met with Congressman Jim Oberstar, the Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar said he felt the situation is irrational. "They don't understand what GA is, they are paralyzed by fear, so they do nothing," Oberstar said. He pledged his help any way possible. Interestingly, one of Oberstar's staff has a plane trapped at Potomac Airport, in the Washington, D.C., "no fly zone." She is relying on AOPA Online information to determine when she can move her airplane out of the TFR and fly again.
The final meeting of the day took place with House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas. Congressman DeLay is a member of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee and widely considered one of the most powerful politicians in Washington. Boyer told DeLay about the 2,000 Houston-area pilots who have been affected by the Class B restrictions. DeLay agreed that something needs to be done immediately. He committed to looking into the matter and promised to have information for AOPA shortly.
Utah Senator Bob Bennett fired off a letter to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to register his concerns with the prohibitions on VFR flight in the Class B airspace surrounding the Salt Lake City International Airport. "If these restrictions remain in place, I fear that many of my constituents will have to close their businesses permanently," Bennett said. "I would appreciate your assistance in working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to do all that is reasonable...to modify these restrictions so as to alleviate these impacts," he added.
Congress recessed for the Columbus Day weekend Thursday afternoon, and members left Washington for their home districts. AOPA Legislative Affairs will return to Capitol Hill and continue to push for a resolution to the matter when members return on Tuesday.