The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved by voice vote yesterday the General Aviation Reparations Act of 2001 (H.R.3347) to provide $2.5 billion in direct grants and $3 billion in loan guarantees to general aviation businesses that suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the nationwide grounding of general aviation aircraft in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, an act whose length AOPA member Rep. Vern Ehlers of Michigan characterized as a "borderline unconstitutional seizure of assets."
As expected, an amendment was adopted to extend direct compensation to general aviation workers who lost their jobs as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. The measure compensates laid-off workers for lost wages and health-care costs. Furthermore, it requires that any GA business that receives a loan guarantee enter into an agreement to provide health-care coverage for six months for all current and former employees who had coverage on Sept. 11. The amendment also makes compensation available to general aviation businesses that were adversely affected by the airspace closures surrounding the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. And finally, although the amendment lowers the loan guarantee figure from the previously reported $5 billion to $3 billion, the loan guarantees will be funded by monies already made available by Congress in the airline relief legislation passed earlier this year and will not require addition appropriation.
The bill's author, House aviation subcommittee Chairman John Mica of Florida, asked for the committee's support, saying general aviation businesses were "the forgotten victims of the tragedies of Sept. 11." Ranking Minority Member Jim Oberstar of Minnesota called general aviation the "entrepreneurial lifeblood of aviation" and noted that "general aviation is still hostage to the national security agencies who continue to limit the use of the nation's airspace."
H.R.3347 must now be approved by the full House of Representatives. Meanwhile in the Senate, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma is expected to introduce the companion bill to H.R.3347 in the coming weeks.