It doesn't have to be big to be important. In some ways, that sums up the way the 109th Congress (which has just adjourned) treated general aviation this legislative session. While there were no blockbuster bills, your AOPA Legislative Affairs team was again busy behind the scenes, with a number of important successes.
Foremost, of course, was maintaining pressure against the FAA and airlines' user fee proposal. AOPA worked hard in personal meetings to educate members of Congress about pilots' strong opposition to user fees. In addition to those multiple briefings, AOPA President Phil Boyer publicly testified before the House aviation subcommittee on the robust health of the aviation trust fund and the harm that user fees would cause to general aviation.
The 109th Congress did leave the FAA budget hanging for next year when it failed to pass an appropriations bill before adjourning. Instead, Congress passed a continuing resolution, which keeps the FAA budget for fiscal year 2007 at the same level as 2006.
The new Democratic leadership has said they intend to extend the continuing resolution for the full fiscal year. That will probably have little visible effect on FAA services to GA.
But it could have a significant effect on some FAA programs. The agency is accustomed to, and plans for, Congress increasing its budget every year. With the budget frozen at its current level, some FAA programs may be put on hold. Already managers in some FAA offices have canceled all but essential trips and frozen new hiring.
Even through the FAA budget didn't pass, the budget for Homeland Security did, and included in that was some $275,000 to promote AOPA's Airport Watch program and continuing funding for the toll-free security hotline (866/GA-SECUR).
AOPA also weighed in with members of Congress on a plethora of issues important to GA pilots, including the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ); unmanned aerial vehicles sharing airspace with GA aircraft; attempts to restrict National Weather Service products in favor of private, fee-based providers; and a range of regional issues including threats to local airports.
But while the last legislative session was relatively quiet for GA, the 110th Congress will be anything but quiet.
That's because the authority to fund the FAA expires in September, and the FAA, the airlines, and the White House intend to get user fees into the next reauthorization bill.
"This is the most critical issue facing general aviation and your association's single most important focus for 2007," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "While a Democratic Congress is likely to be more sympathetic to our view on user fees, the battle is far from won."
December 28, 2006