The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed its version of the FAA reauthorization bill, which contains many of the things AOPA has been fighting for on Capitol Hill. Many of the provisions in the Senate bill that benefit general aviation mirror provisions in the House version.
One of the key amendments, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), declares air traffic controllers' jobs to be inherently governmental, meaning that they could not be contracted out: Their services must be provided directly by the government. The House bill contains a similar, but somewhat narrower, amendment.
"Our members have told us over and over again that the threat of user fees to fly in the National Airspace System is one of their top three concerns," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Changing the designation of air traffic control (ATC) from "commercial," and therefore vulnerable to privatization, to "inherently governmental" is one of the single strongest steps Congress can take to protect access to the sky."
The Senate bill also includes the "Meigs Legacy" amendment. Offered by Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin, AOPA 1112773, and co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), AOPA 238902, the amendment imposes stiff fines for any local community that fails to give adequate notice before closing any airport that's part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Companion legislation, sponsored by AOPA member Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), is included in the House version of the bill.
"What happened in Chicago happened because of a very unique set of circumstances," said Boyer. "Nothing exactly like it could happen anywhere else in the country. But the Meigs Legacy legislation would provide the FAA with a big enough bite that any community even contemplating closing such a crucial airport would be forced to think twice."
The Senate approved an amendment offered by Sen. Inhofe that requires that if the FAA imposes an air defense identification zone (ADIZ), the administrator must within 60 days justify its continuation to the two congressional transportation committees, and must continue to provide written reports on the need every 60 days that the ADIZ is in effect. The amendment also requires the FAA to include in each report ways that operations within the ADIZ can be improved.
Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) introduced a measure to compensate businesses harmed by restrictions imposed immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks. AOPA supported Sen. Burns's legislation, which closely mirrored an earlier effort backed by AOPA to help GA businesses after the airspace shutdown. That earlier effort died after the bill became bloated with special-interest money.
The Senate's FAA reauthorization bill contains a number of other measures advocated by AOPA, including creation of a pilot program to help preserve privately owned, public-use airports and provisions that encourage development of hangars on airports and improve the way airport improvements at GA airports are funded.
Because the House and Senate versions of the bill differ, the two sides must now meet in conference to hammer out a compromise bill. The conference session has not yet been scheduled.