The House aviation subcommittee Wednesday advanced an aviation security bill, but anti-general aviation security procedures proposed by New York Congressman Anthony D. Weiner weren't part of it. AOPA had worked quickly with key members of the subcommittee to make sure Weiner's bill wasn't included. Weiner introduced legislation last week that would require airline-style security screening and continuous contact with the FAA for every GA flight.
At an aviation subcommittee hearing Wednesday to review any changes to the aviation security bill before sending it to the next level, Weiner acknowledged he had received "additional insight" on general aviation security from other committee members, including Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), a pilot and AOPA member.
Boswell said he had a "lengthy discussion" with Weiner the day before the hearing. The Iowa congressman said that legitimate security concerns could be addressed with the expertise in the federal government and "with the assistance of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association."
AOPA has "put a lot of study into this on how we can deal with these [security issues] without the broader impact that Congressman Weiner is concerned about," Boswell said at Wednesday's hearing. "I will be available to assist and I know AOPA will available to assist."
( Listen to portions of Rep. Anthony Weiner's statements to the House aviation subcommittee and the exchange with Rep. Leonard Boswell.)
Weiner responded, "I want to thank the gentleman from Iowa for giving me some additional insight into this issue. It is an issue where it is very easy to identify the tree and lose sight of the forest. We still want general aviation, we still want commerce, we still want transportation to go on, and for that reason I didn't offer this [amendment] today."
Before the hearing AOPA had registered its concerns about the tremendous impact the bill could have on general aviation directly with Weiner's staff. AOPA's legislative affairs staff had also lobbied other influential members of the aviation subcommittee and its parent committee, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"What happened in the aviation subcommittee on Wednesday clearly illustrates AOPA's strong relationships and support in Congress," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "For our 400,000 members, it is important to have a dedicated staff on Capitol Hill working on behalf of pilots."
On September 8, the same day Weiner released his bill, an AOPA legislative affairs staff member had 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.
AOPA also contacted subcommittee member Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), a pilot and AOPA member, along with Boswell.
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 Transportation Committee, Don Young (R-Alaska); and with James Oberstar (D-Minn.), the ranking member.
The leadership of both committees made it very clear there would be no support for Weiner's bill. Without the backing of the senior members of the aviation subcommittee and the Transportation Committee, there's little chance a piece of legislation will get passed. Weiner's bill is still technically alive; he hasn't officially withdrawn it. But it will die when Congress adjourns early next month if no further action is taken.
"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. In this case, we did just that and didn't need to call on our members for assistance."
Weiner's bill (H.R. 5035) 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 wouldn'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.
The aviation security bill that the subcommittee sent to the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday deals primarily with commercial aviation, where the risk of terrorism remains greatest.
Update: September 16, 2004