AOPA President Phil Boyer was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, making sure members of Congress understand the needs and concerns of general aviation pilots.
That included a meeting with Rep. Jerry Costello of Illinois, the ranking Democrat on the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. That important committee sets the agenda for the FAA, telling it what programs to work on and establishing spending limits.
And the critical item on AOPA's Capitol Hill agenda this year is protecting GA from user fees as the debate over the FAA's budget intensifies.
"User fees - specifically preventing them - remain at the top of AOPA and GA pilots' lists," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "I explained to Rep. Costello that aviation fuel taxes are the fair and efficient way for GA to pay for air traffic control and other FAA services."
Making the FAA more efficient is the second point. "AOPA is committed to helping the FAA reduce the cost of its services while maintaining pilot safety," said Boyer. "Rather than debate new taxes or fees, we should first improve the system. Let's not fund inefficiency."
Boyer told Costello that AOPA has supported the modernization and cost savings to the flight service station system through recently announced changes. Lockheed Martin won the contract to operate flight service for the FAA. That contract is expected to save the FAA some $2.2 billion over the next 10 years.
Boyer also asked for Costello's help in restoring federal funds to general aviation airports. The proposed budget for FAA in 2006 cuts some $600 million from previously authorized levels in funding for the Airport Improvement Program. The cuts would hit general aviation airports harder than the big airports and could eliminate the general aviation airport $150,000 entitlement.
"The small GA airports that can afford it the least are the ones that will be hurt the most under this budget proposal," said Boyer.
He also explained that the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) continues to hurt GA pilots and said AOPA would likely be looking to Congress for relief.
Boyer touted general aviation's safety record, noting that last year was the safest yet. GA had the fewest accidents since record keeping began in 1938 and the lowest number of fatal accidents since 1945.
"AOPA already has important and strong relationships with key members of Congress. Building on those relationships and educating our representatives is the best way to make sure that GA's interests are represented in Congress," said Boyer. "AOPA's presence on Capitol Hill, day in and day out, makes it possible for us to meet with members of Congress and make sure they understand what's important to our 400,000-plus members."
Update: March 9, 2005