Most of the national attention centers on the race for the White House, however, the congressional races will have a crucial impact on issues of interest for general aviation. Congress is important because this group of 535 elected officials must approve the policy legislation that sets the course for the government.
The historic fight over FAA funding resulted in a stalemate win for general aviation in the current session of Congress, but significant challenges lay ahead. A long-term bill to finance air traffic control modernization, airports, and the operations of the FAA is desperately needed and user fee advocates are already preparing their strategies. Likewise, the nation’s attention on the economy, the environment, fuel prices, national security, and tax policy will all have an effect on pilots.
That is why AOPA backs congressional candidates who understand and support legislation favorable to general aviation pilots. The following summarizes only a few Congressional candidates who face close races and serve on committees that will be part of the legislative process on aviation issues next year. It is not intended to be all-inclusive, nor does it reflect any of the candidate’s views on non-aviation issues. AOPA supports and endorses a candidate for their position on general aviation issues, not taking into account their views on social, economic, foreign policy, or other areas.
Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) remembers being inspired by wings—on the AOPA decals of his parents’ cars. Although not a pilot, Udall, who is running for election to the Senate, has developed his own passion for ensuring the future of general aviation. As chairman of the House Science Committee, he authored the research and development section of the FAA bill. Concerned by environmental pressures associated with 100LL and how it could impact future pilots, Udall included a provision requiring the FAA to research an economically viable alternative that can satisfy the needs of the entire existing general aviation piston engine fleet. He also opposed user fees and voted in support of the AOPA endorsed FAA reauthorization bill.
Rep. Jon Porter moved from the House aviation subcommittee to the Ways and Means Committee, using his new assignment to urge his colleagues on the tax writing committee to reject user fees. His efforts were successful, and the Ways and Means Committee produced a bill that extended the taxes used to fund aviation programs. This legislation was eventually combined into the broader FAA reauthorization bill and was endorsed by AOPA. Representative Porter has also been a strong supporter of general aviation in the Las Vegas area, recognizing the valuable role it plays in the state’s economy.
Rep. Nick Lampson, a pilot and AOPA member, serves on the House aviation subcommittee where he is a vocal advocate for general aviation issues. Representative Lampson opposes user fees, and he voted in support of the FAA reauthorization bill endorsed by AOPA. Recognizing the importance of airports in the Houston area, Representative Lampson has supported FAA investments in the region’s airports.
A member of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. Randy Kuhl recognizes the vital role of general aviation airports in the state’s infrastructure network. As a result, he supports a robust airport improvement grant program and has assisted several of his local aviation facilities in securing these federal grants. Most important, he showed his support for pilots when he voted to reject the administration’s proposed user fee scheme and backed an FAA reauthorization bill endorsed by AOPA.
Currently serving his eighth term in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Joe Knollenberg is used to asking the tough questions. For example, last year, he put the Department of Transportation’s inspector general on the spot when he asked if the current tax-funded aviation system could pay for air traffic control modernization. After hearing that the current system could provide the funding needed, he dismissed the FAA’s user-fee scheme and supported legislative language banning the agency from implementing any fees not authorized by Congress. As the leading Republican on the transportation appropriations subcommittee, Representative Knollenberg recognizes that our nation’s aviation infrastructure requires investment. His leadership has resulted in annual increases for aviation safety as well as record funding for airport improvement program grants.
An AOPA member for more than 30 years and an active pilot and aircraft owner, Rep. Robin Hayes’ general aviation credentials are stellar. Serving on the House aviation subcommittee, Representative Hayes frequently is a strong voice, boldly correcting misconceptions about safety, costs, and impacts of federal policy on the nation’s pilots. During the debate on FAA funding, Representative Hayes was one of the first to state, “There is no way that I can come to the conclusion that this user fee proposal is fair, equitable, or that it will work.” He has also been instrumental in fostering airport protections and most recently, Representative Hayes has been pressing the FAA for low-cost alternatives for general aviation in the planned transition to a satellite-based air traffic control system.
“I am truly at a loss. I'm bothered. I'm flustered. I don’t even know where to begin,” is how Rep. Sam Graves described his shock in the wake of the FAA’s proposal to increase taxes on aviation gas by 365 percent. An avid pilot and Piper Cub owner, this AOPA member consistently brings the grass-roots pilot perspective to the debate as a member of the aviation subcommittee. His passion for flying is often reflected during hearings on issues such as FAA funding, modernizing the air traffic control system, pilot medical requirements, and aviation safety. He also has a unique way of educating his colleagues about general aviation—he invites them to the fly-in hosted by his home airport in Tarkio, Missouri.
A member of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. Jim Gerlach’s door is always open to general aviation. Despite intense pressure from the administration to support its user fee-funding scheme, Representative Gerlach opted to look at the facts. With a track record of promoting efficiency in government, Representative Gerlach questioned how creating a new bureaucracy would truly promote modernizing the air traffic control system. He also looked at the math and concluded that the administration’s proposal just didn’t add up. As a result, he rejected user fees and voted in support of the FAA reauthorization bill endorsed by AOPA.
Now completing his third term in Congress, Rep. Charlie Dent has established the reputation as someone who looks to general aviation to be a part of the solution. Locally, he opposed attempts to close Allentown’s Queen City Municipal Airport, citing its importance to the community’s transportation network and economic development. Serving on both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Dent is uniquely positioned to address general aviation’s concerns on numerous policy issues. Currently, he is working on legislation to study how the Civil Air Patrol can help support homeland security missions such as border security and search and rescue. Recognizing that burdensome user fees would threaten the very survival of general aviation, Representative Dent voted in support of the AOPA-endorsed FAA reauthorization bill.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has worked with AOPA in her role as a member of the House aviation subcommittee. Representative Capito rejected user fees and voted in support of the FAA reauthorization bill (H.R.2881) endorsed by AOPA. She has been an important advocate for airports, understanding the role they play in her district and across the country. Representative Capito has also been a supporter of efforts to address the soaring cost of fuel.
A stalwart defender of general aviation, owner of a Piper Comanche, and AOPA member Rep. Leonard Boswell responded strongly against the FAA’s push for user fees and excessive increases in the avgas tax. Representative Boswell also took on the airlines, which were blaming general aviation for congestion in the skies, by going on record against the anti-general aviation editorials and advertising sponsored by the airlines. He said, “It irritates me to see in the publication in the pockets of your seats the distortion of...general aviation…so quit it. You don’t make any mention of the taxation on fuel and the other things that general aviation pays.” A senior member of the House aviation subcommittee, Representative Boswell is well respected for his knowledge and understanding of the aviation industry. AOPA has a long relationship with Representative Boswell, a tough negotiator for general aviation in the debate over FAA funding, aviation security, and protecting our airports.
As a member of the Senate aviation subcommittee, Sen. John Sununu answered general aviation pilots’ mayday call when the Commerce Committee’s bill proposed to levy a $25 user fee on flights. He co-sponsored the amendment to strip the user fee from the bill, stressing that it would require another bureaucracy to assess and collect the fees, and that simply didn’t make sense. With a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Senator Sununu often analyzes the unintended consequences of policy changes and looks for ways to minimize them. As he explained to his colleagues on the Senate floor, “We have a system for collecting aviation taxes in place, taxes on aviation fuel and jet fuel. There was recognition on all sides that that tax burden needed to be increased to keep pace with the needs of the aviation system. It is an efficient system. It is one that works. It is one that is well understood. I think it would have been a mistake to try to create a new bureaucracy when we have such a system in place.” Senator Sununu is a true champion for general aviation.
Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996, Sen. Gordon Smith has quickly earned a reputation as a statesman with an independent streak and a supporter for pilots in the state. Last year, Sen. Smith put the interests of Oregon’s pilots first and voted for an amendment to strike the $25 user fee from the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill. At a Commerce Committee hearing speaking against user fees, Senator Smith explained, “I do not agree with the premise that we have to create a new bureaucratic system to pay for the improvements to the air traffic control system. I see no reason why we cannot use the current system of fuel and excise taxes to fund the FAA and the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen). The money needed to pay for the NextGen system can be collected through the current financing structure.” This statement is a strong reflection of why Senator Smith is important for general aviation.
Receiving AOPA’s distinguished Hartranft Award in recognition for his nearly three decades of hard work as a tenacious champion for general aviation in the U.S. Congress, Sen. Pat Roberts is important for pilots in Kansas and across the country. Whether it’s questioning the continued need for the air defense identification zone around Washington, D.C., opposing legislation that would hurt U.S. aircraft production, or fighting off attempts to impose user fees, Senator Roberts understands general aviation issues. As a member of the Finance Committee, Senator Roberts led the campaign to educate his colleagues about the detrimental impact of user fees. He began his efforts early, hosting Transportation Secretary Mary Peters at a tour of Wichita-based Cessna Aircraft Company in October of 2006 and never let up—despite those who wanted a compromise to allow user fees. As we work on an FAA funding bill next year, AOPA wants aviation experts and friends like Senator Roberts to be members of the Senate.
Rep. Steve Pearce, an AOPA member, aircraft owner, and pilot, loves new challenges. After serving three terms in the House of Representatives, he is seeking election to the U.S. Senate. Throughout his tenure in Congress, Representative Pearce has been a vocal advocate for general aviation pilots. Last year he reflected pilot concerns about a Customs proposal that would make it more difficult for U.S. pilots to fly across the border. Representative Pearce has also rejected the call for user fees, voting in support of the FAA reauthorization bill endorsed by AOPA. Whenever the FAA, TSA, or other government agencies proposes something that could impact a general aviation pilot’s ability to fly, Representative Pearce is questioning it and demanding answers.
A pilot for more than 30 years and an AOPA member, Sen. John Kerry believes the most important action he has taken on behalf of general aviation was to support the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, he proposed making low-interest government loans available to general aviation businesses struggling to survive. Most important, Senator Kerry has consistently opposed efforts to outsource or privatize air traffic control services. In fact, just last year, he voted in support of the Finance Committee’s FAA funding bill that rejected user fees. Serving on both the Commerce and Finance Committees, Senator Kerry is an important player in the FAA reauthorization debate.
An active pilot for more than 50 years, aircraft owner and AOPA member, Sen. Jim Inhofe has been at the forefront of every aviation debate since arriving in Congress in 1986, offering his real-world perspective. He was a major force behind passage of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 that is credited with reviving aviation manufacturing in America. During the current battle over user fees, Senator Inhofe spent countless hours working behind the scenes to educate his colleagues in the Senate about the negative impacts of a user fee-funded system. He even took the unusual step of testifying before the Senate’s aviation subcommittee to explain his opposition to user fees and the detrimental impact it would have on general aviation. Oklahoma pilots can be proud of Senator Inhofe’s accomplishments and dedication to work on issues affecting pilots.
Like quite a few of his fellow AOPA members, Sen. Tom Harkin learned to fly in the Navy. Recognizing that Iowa’s airport infrastructure is a key to drawing new businesses to the state and boosting local economies, Senator Harkin has been a solid advocate for general aviation airport funding. His work on the Senate Appropriations Committee has resulted in record funding for airport improvement grants. His presence in the Senate will be important as legislation to modernize air traffic control and transition to a satellite-based system is considered.
Representing the “Big Sky” state, Sen. Max Baucus sees the big picture when it comes to general aviation. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he is responsible for writing the legislation required to reauthorize the taxes that fund the FAA. Under his leadership, the Finance Committee produced a bill that rejected user fees, allowing general aviation to continue supporting FAA programs through taxes on aviation fuel. Senator Baucus understands the vital role general aviation plays and AOPA looks forward to working with him to move FAA reauthorization legislation next year.
The AOPA Political Action Committee (PAC) provides members with another collective tool to ensure the needs of general aviation are recognized in Congress. AOPA PAC is an independent fund of voluntary, personal contributions. The fund is strictly regulated by the Federal Election Commission and is used by political candidates to defray the costs of a campaign. AOPA PAC is a completely non-partisan entity. Its primary goal is to elect a general aviation majority in Congress. The PAC supports qualified men and women, regardless of party affiliation, who recognize and support your right to fly. In addition to our proven friends in Congress, AOPA works to cultivate new members and candidates who are supportive of the industry.
AOPA members who are interested in a specific member of Congress for which they would like more information about their position on general aviation should contact the association by calling 800-USA-AOPA.
There are many reasons that you may choose to vote for a candidate running for Congress. The following highlights some of the key races and is only intended to reflect a candidate’s position on general aviation. It is of course up to you on the choice you make.