Congress is now considering an AOPA-supported bill that would help protect general aviation access to "back-country" airstrips on federal lands. Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), chairman of the House national parks and public lands subcommittee, introduced H.R.3661 on February 15.
Known as the "General Aviation Access Act," the bill would turn back efforts by federal agencies to restrict or prohibit GA use of back-country airstrips, particularly in the western United States.
In recent years, such restrictions have been proposed for the Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area (Oregon), Desolation Wilderness Area (California), Glacier National Park (Montana), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado), and Sedona National Forest (California).
In addition, four airstrips have been targeted for closure in the 3,750-square-mile Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in the rugged mountains of central Idaho.
Chairman Hansen's bill came after congressional testimony by AOPA President Phil Boyer, who pointed out that such airstrips are necessary for search-and-rescue operations, firefighting, and forest management and research, as well as emergency landing areas.
"Aircraft overflights do not leave litter, clog roads, or physically damage wilderness areas," Boyer told Congress in 1998. "Aviation provides access to those physically unable to enjoy this often rough terrain from the ground."
AOPA's Legislative Affairs staff worked with Rep. Hansen to draft the bill.
The General Aviation Access Act would severely limit the ability of federal land managers to close an aircraft landing strip. Closures would have to be approved by the FAA and the head of the appropriate state aviation department. The public would be given an opportunity to comment on a proposed closure.
The Interior and Agriculture departments couldn't force an airstrip to close by neglecting it, either. The bill requires that aircraft landing strips be maintained "in a manner that is consistent with the resource values of the adjacent areas."
Chairman Hansen is a pilot and longtime AOPA member.
Joining Hansen in sponsoring the General Aviation Access Act were Representatives John Duncan (R-Tenn.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Robert Hayes (R-N.C.), Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), Helen Chenoweth-Hayes (R-Idaho), William Jenkins (R-Tenn.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), James Gibbons (R-Nev.), George Radanovich (R-Calif.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah).
Three powerful committees in the House—Resources, Agriculture, and Transportation and Infrastructure—will now study the bill.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents more than 355,000 pilots who own or fly three quarters of the nation's 192,000 general aviation aircraft. General aviation aircraft comprise 96 percent of the total U.S. civilian air fleet.
February 29, 2000