The FAA reauthorization bill is now on its way to the White House for the President's signature. Despite the lack of long-term protection from privatization, the bill contains important victories for general aviation.
Through every step of the legislative process, AOPA's staff worked to ensure the bill included provisions that fund critical general aviation infrastructure, help pilots deal with FAA security issues, and protect general aviation airports threatened with closure or access restrictions.
"Although AOPA is disappointed that the bill postpones the privatization issue, our members can be pleased with what our staff of Hill professionals was able to accomplish," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We worked with friends of GA on Capitol Hill to insert some fairness into the 'pilot insecurity' rule, find money to repay GA businesses for September 11-related losses, and guarantee funding for improving GA airports."
AOPA fought to ensure that the bill provides U.S. citizens with a third-party review under the "pilot insecurity" rule that enables the Transportation Security Administration to tell the FAA to suspend or revoke a pilot certificate if the individual is deemed to be a security threat. Prior to AOPA's involvement, pilots could only appeal the revocation to the TSA—the very agency that ordered it in the first place. Now, appeal hearings will be conducted before an administrative law judge whose decision can be reviewed by the Transportation Security Oversight Board.
Additional security provisions recommended by AOPA force the FAA to reevaluate the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and report to Congress on suggested ways improve the operational efficiency for general aviation pilots and controllers.
The bill commits over $1.3 billion to improve airport infrastructure. The funding will help over 2,500 small airports in every state in the nation, as some of that money is specifically earmarked for GA airports. The bill also recognizes the difficult financial situation of many local airport sponsors and makes it easier to qualify for grant funding.
In addition, AOPA pushed for the provision that allows airports to use funds for hangar development and support facilities once general aviation airside needs are met.
Airports also receive greater protection under the newly passed bill. AOPA helped develop the "Meigs Legacy" language that authorizes fines of up to $10,000 per day for any airport that is closed without providing at least 30 day written notice to the FAA.
The bill also establishes a pilot program that will allow for the purchase of development rights at public-use airports to help protect against encroachment pressures.
The bill recognizes that general aviation was severely damaged by the events of September 11, 2001. While commercial airlines have received billions of dollars in assistance to help recover, general aviation has received nothing. With the support of AOPA, provisions were included that now make general aviation businesses eligible for loss reimbursements due to security costs incurred and revenue forgone as a result of the post-September 11 security restrictions.
"GA pilots for the most part can feel very good about the FAA reauthorization bill," said Boyer. "It contains almost everything on AOPA's wish list. And FAA Administrator Marion Blakey did commit to leaving air traffic control jobs alone until at least next October.
"But the threat of privatization, and with it the threat of user fees, is still very real. AOPA is already girding for the battle that is going to have to be fought again.