Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg of Montana, an AOPA member, has joined as a sponsor of a bill to protect backcountry airstrips. The legislation was introduced in the House last month by Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-Idaho) and co-sponsors Rep. Michael Simpson (R-Idaho), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).
AOPA's Legislative Affairs staff worked closely with the congressmen and their staffs to help move the bill forward.
This bill closely parallels legislation introduced in the Senate in January. It would prevent the U.S. Interior and Agriculture departments from permanently closing or rendering unserviceable backcountry airstrips without first consulting with the appropriate state aviation departments that would be impacted by the decision.
"Rural landing strips are a part of life in the West," Rehberg said. "Western states rely on these landing strips for everything from essential services such as firefighting to recreational purposes.
"Too often, these airstrips are targeted for closure by the federal government or environmental groups. This bill puts the control of rural airstrips in the hands of the states and towns that need them most."
The bill also directs the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to adopt a nationwide policy governing general aviation on federal lands, while also consulting with state aviation officials to ensure the airstrips are appropriately maintained.
AOPA has lobbied Congress for years to protect airstrips in remote areas because they not only allow public access to public lands, but are critical to managing and protecting those national treasures.
In 1998, for example, AOPA President Phil Boyer went before a House of Representatives committee to remind Congress that it has always encouraged public access to wilderness areas, including access by aircraft.
Since then, there have been numerous attempts to write that access assurance into law, but except for some measures attached to funding legislation (which expires), no permanent solution has yet to clear both houses of Congress.
April 5, 2006