Statement of Bill Dunn
AOPA Vice President of Airports
Minnesota House of Representatives
House Local Government Committee
Representative Mark Olson
March 30, 2005
Good evening, Chairman Olson and members of the Committee. My name is Bill Dunn, vice president of Airports for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. AOPA represents over 404,000 pilots and aircraft owners nationwide, with nearly 8,000 residing in the State of Minnesota. Over one-half of our Minnesota members are based at the six-reliever airports operated by Metropolitan Airport Commission - MAC. As a national association, formed over 66 years ago, AOPA has significant experience in matters such as those before you today.
We appreciate the opportunity to address you with our views on this very important issue impacting general aviation in the Twin Cities area. Before I directly address H.F. 2086, I believe it is important to provide the committee with the federal definition of general aviation. General aviation is all aircraft operations conducted with the exception of scheduled airline and military aircraft operations. There are more than 5,700 general aircraft based in the state, and these aircraft flew over 585,000 hours last year.
As my first point, AOPA strongly supports H.F. 2086. While the bill may not provide a perfect fix to every MAC issue, it is a bill that is worthy of your support since it brings much needed legislative oversight to MAC, oversight that for years has been lacking and needed in order to ensure a strong air transportation system for your great state.
Over 50 years ago, your predecessors created MAC and defined MAC's purpose as codified in Minnesota Statutes 473.602. The intent of the legislature at that time was very clearly stated with a "Declaration of Purpose." The purpose includes such elements as promoting public welfare; serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity; promoting air transportation and developing the "full potentialities of the metropolitan area in this state as an aviation center...."
With great wisdom and vision your predecessors clearly recognized the need to establish a regional transportation system for aviation to meet the Declaration of Purpose. Rather than simply placing the air carrier airport into the new agency - the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), they created an airport system - a system of seven airports covering all points of the compass in the Twin Cities. But in recent years, that vision is growing much dimmer. Unilateral decisions made by MAC in recent years essentially overturn and override decades of MAC policies and direction that at one time included a shared vision with the legislature for a balanced, efficient aviation transportation system. MAC's decisions have far-reaching consequences not only in the Twin Cities, but the entire state and the national airport system. We believe the legislature must address the considerable autonomy currently exercised by MAC in order for the Twin Cities to remain a leader in serving the needs of aviation - all segments of aviation - in the area.
Quite frankly, we are not the first to express significant concerns regarding the lack of legislative oversight of MAC.
In January 2003, the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) released the findings of an audit of MAC begun in April 2002. This report included a number of "Key Recommendations." But the key finding I wish to address is one of oversight and accountability. The OLA report stated, in relevant part:
H.F. 2086 moves in a positive direction to create that oversight. We believe the legislature must ensure that potential appointees to MAC share the vision of the entire state and not just a particular governor over time regarding a balanced, efficient, and world-class aviation transportation system. In many states throughout the United States and even within the federal government, requiring individuals who are nominated to serve on a government-authorized commission or committee is to receive the approval of some legislative body is nothing new. It is done every day. We simply cannot understand why a private individual who desires to serve on a vital, if not critical, public body would be unwilling to undergo some level of scrutiny before appointment. You and your colleagues do this every time you run for office. Metropolitan Council goes through this process, so why not MAC?
Additionally, H.F. 2086 sets out a requirement that commissioners appointed to MAC "must have demonstrated aviation experience." Some would argue that MAC commissioners are appointed for their financial wisdom and business management skills - that aviation experience is unnecessary. We do not share that opinion. Airports are unique businesses. Normal, "standard" business models of the corporate world cannot be applied to the operation of an airport or system of airports like the system operated by MAC.
You wouldn't confirm a judge who didn't know the law. The FAA appoints airport regional managers with people who understand aviation and airports. In order to fully realize the possibilities and manage the MAC airport system, commissioners should have at least a basic level of aviation knowledge and experience.
In our experience nationwide, we have had interactions with numerous airport commissions and airport authorities. Most of these require aviation experience of the individuals appointed to the commission. California has an existing law requiring local governments to implement airport land use commissions. And although these commissions are fundamentally advisory in nature, the law is very specific in requiring aviation expertise of those individuals appointed to the commission.
We believe the legislature has a tremendous opportunity to cement a positive future as a leader in the air transportation system of the United States - to rekindle the aviation vision of your predecessors when they created MAC.
Now, more than ever, MAC must be held accountable to all of its tenants; to aviation as an industry - as the sum of its parts - not just one airline. Just look to St. Louis, Missouri, for lessons learned. They focused on and built the airport's infrastructure focused on the needs of only one airline - TWA, now American. It has cost them dearly.
This concludes my remarks. I will be pleased to answer any questions the Committee may have regarding our comments.