AOPA is fighting in the halls of Congress to make sure that the anti-general aviation bill (H.R. 5035) introduced by New York Democratic Congressman Anthony D. Weiner doesn't even get a toehold.
"We're using our professional Washington, D.C.-based legislative staff and our personal, ongoing relationships with powerful members of Congress to drive a stake through the heart of this ill-conceived bill," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The congressmen closest to aviation issues know exactly how AOPA members feel about this legislation."
The first opportunity for the ill-advised security legislation to advance would be this Wednesday when the House considers the "mark-up" of legislation implementing recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. (A mark-up is the meeting of a congressional committee to review and amend a bill before sending it to the full House or Senate for consideration.)
Weiner could try to offer his bill as an amendment to that legislation, but AOPA has lobbied hard - and will continue to do so - to prevent that.
On Sept. 8, the same day Weiner released his bill, an AOPA legislative affairs staff member met with Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a member of the House aviation subcommittee, to express opposition to the bill. Graves, a pilot and AOPA member, confirmed he would oppose the bill and made sure AOPA's staff had a copy of it, even before it was publicly available.
AOPA also contacted subcommittee members Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) and Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), both pilots and AOPA members.
AOPA talked to the staff of aviation subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); with chairman of the full committee, Don Young (R-Alaska); and with James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking member. Any aviation legislation ultimately has to be approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Young.
"It was very clear from all of our contacts that there is significant opposition to this bill within the committees," said Jon Hixson, AOPA vice president of Legislative Affairs. With that kind of opposition, it would be very difficult for the bill to advance.
But AOPA is keeping the pressure on. AOPA met with Weiner's staff on Sept. 9, outlining the association's opposition to the bill and providing information on the steps already being taken to secure general aviation, including AOPA's Airport Watch program.
And AOPA is already talking to key contacts in the Senate, in an attempt to forestall the introduction of a similar bill in that body.
"Weiner's bill would have to clear a lot of hurdles before it would even be considered by the House," said Boyer. "There are significant checks and balances to a piece of legislation like this - the subcommittee, full committee, full House - then the same over in the Senate.
"With our long experience in lobbying Congress, we know when and how to target politicians to express our position," Boyer added. "Rarely has AOPA ever been placed in a position to bring in the full power of our 400,000 members to stop a bill on either the House or Senate floor because we work at being effective well prior to that point."
Weiner's bill would require the Transportation Security Administration to set up airline-style passenger screening at every landing facility in the United States (some 19,500) to screen every passenger boarding every general aviation aircraft (more than 211,000) for every flight (more than 43 million per year). That means the TSA would have to conduct an additional 108 million passenger screenings at more than 19,000 facilities where TSA today doesn't currently have any officers. (Data from AOPA's 2004 Fact Card.)
But Weiner's bill doesn't stop there. It would also require every pilot of every flight to remain "in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration regardless of the altitude of such aircraft." That would increase the workload of air traffic controllers by at least nine times, requiring the agency to significantly increase the size of the workforce and to install new communications and radar equipment to cover all the areas of the country.
September 14, 2004