Congress has passed an AOPA-supported provision to protect backcountry airstrips on federal lands. The hard-won provision was included in the Interior appropriations bill ( H.R.4578), which received final congressional approval October 4.
"This is an important victory for general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "These airstrips not only provide a vital link to the outside world for many rural communities, but they are an essential safety tool for pilots operating in rural and mountainous areas."
The provision requires that federal funds "shall not be used to permanently close aircraft landing strips, officially recognized by state or federal aviation officials, without public notice, consultation with cognizant state and federal aviation officials, and the consent of the Federal Aviation Administration."
In the Senate, the fight to protect backcountry airstrips was led by senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash.). Sen. Gorton forcefully defended the provision in conference committee, arguing that "safety demands that these airstrips remain open."
In the House, Representative Jim Hansen (R-Utah) introduced an even stronger backcountry airstrip protection bill. Unfortunately, that bill is not likely to be voted on before Congress adjourns next week.
Both Rep. Hansen and Sen. Crapo plan to advance this more comprehensive legislation in the next session of Congress beginning in 2001. That legislation would require approval from state aviation officials before federal agencies could close landing sites on federal land.
"We want to reach the point where state aeronautics officials are the final voice in backcountry airstrip closures," Boyer said. "But the passage of Sen. Crapo's provision is significant. Congress has finally recognized the need to establish a national policy regarding the closure of backcountry airstrips by the federal government."
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents more than 360,000 pilots who own or fly three quarters of the nation's 206,000 general aviation aircraft. General aviation aircraft comprise 96 percent of the total U.S. civilian air fleet.
October 6, 2000