AOPA President Phil Boyer began renewing old relationships - plus a few new ones - on Capitol Hill this week. Pilots won't find Phil holding an AOPA Pilot Town Meeting in the first quarter of this year since, within the next few weeks, he intends to meet with all of the leaders and key members of the House and Senate committees involved with aviation.
Supported by the seasoned leadership of AOPA's government and legislative affairs offices, this is all part of AOPA's campaign against user fees. And AOPA has good contacts in high places on the congressional committees that will be key in the user fee battle.
This week Boyer dropped by to talk to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the new ranking member of the Senate aviation subcommittee. Sen. Lott was a recipient of AOPA's Hartranft Award for pushing through the AIR-21 legislation that unlocked the aviation trust fund.
AOPA also has a long relationship with aviation subcommittee chairman Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), another AIR-21 supporter. He has strongly supported general aviation industries in his state.
However, the user fee action will most likely heat up in the House first.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) is the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This AOPA Hartranft Award winner has called user fees "a bad idea," and said, "The idea of a cash register in the sky to cover the cost of aviation is not appealing to me, to general aviation, to regional aviation."
"I think Rep. Oberstar is relishing the chance to challenge user fees and the baseless claim that the FAA funding system is broken," said Boyer.
Oberstar introduced Boyer last week at a well-attended event for his new committee members. He cited the AOPA TV commercials, which ran over the holiday season, introducing the looming FAA funding battle to the public and directing their attention to AOPA's GA Serving America Web site. The chairman stated that "all over the Christmas season, wherever he was, he couldn't escape Phil's voice," providing background for the coming debate.
The chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), doesn't buy the idea that the FAA will run out of money, either. And he supports a robust contribution from the general fund to aviation because "the American people clearly receive a significant benefit from a safe and reliable air transportation system."
Ranking subcommittee member Tom Petri's (R-Wis.) district includes EAA's headquarters, making him no stranger to GA. Boyer will meet with him next week to follow up on a lengthy breakfast meeting held late last year.
Friday (January 19) Boyer and Christine Corcoran, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs, are on the schedule of the former chairman of the aviation subcommittee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who is now the ranking member of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Mica is one of the experts in Congress on FAA funding. AOPA has a long-term relationship with him as well and has testified numerous times before his committee.
And, a longtime member of that committee spent more than an hour Thursday with Boyer for an in-depth briefing of this important issue. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) is a pilot, aircraft owner, and AOPA member. His insights were valuable on this issue, and he pledged support in any manner necessary to aid us as the year progresses.
Back in the Senate, the Commerce Committee has the top-level jurisdiction over FAA funding proposals.
Ranking member Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) certainly understands the importance of GA to his state. The highly decorated World War II aviator has also been a civilian pilot and an AOPA Hartranft Award winner.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), Commerce Committee chairman, has told AOPA that he will make certain that any FAA funding bill is "fair and equitable to all parties" and is determined to see that "the affordability of GA is not damaged by this process."
"These are all people that I know personally, and that AOPA has been working with for a very long time," said Boyer. "Our members can rest assured that the people in Congress from either party or with any preconceived opinion clearly understand the disastrous effect of user fees or significant tax increases on general aviation."
January 18, 2007