It’s a good thing when lawmakers who shape aviation policy are familiar with flying—and even better when they are pilots themselves.
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) is an instrument-rated commercial pilot with a multiengine rating, and he’s got a pair of airplanes under construction: a Van’s RV-8 and a Skybolt biplane. He also flies a BT-13, a World War II-era trainer, and other vintage airplanes including a Stearman and Piper Cub.
“I washed airplanes as a kid and mooched as many rides as I could,” said Graves, 45, of rural Tarkio, Mo. “I started taking flying lessons in my early 20s but had to stop along the way when I got short on cash.”
Graves is a sixth-generation farmer and planned to make his living from the land. But he’s also got a family legacy in aviation. His uncle was a B-24 Liberator pilot killed during World War II, and Tarkio’s Gould Peterson Municipal Airport is named for him.
Graves was elected to Congress for the first time in 2000 after serving six years in the state legislature. He’s used aviation extensively for travel within his home state and district and has logged about 1,600 flying hours.
“My district is bigger geographically than six U.S. states,” he said, “and flying is a tremendously efficient way to get around and meet with people.”
In addition to public-use airports, Graves has been known to drop in on private fields. He even landed a Piper Cherokee on a friend’s long driveway.
“I love airports with character and use them extensively,” he said. (Roosterville and Noah’s Ark are two of his favorites.)
Graves is the ranking member of the House Small Business Committee, and many key aviation businesses are located close to his home district including Bendix-King and Garmin.
Graves said that he is focused on issues of concern to general aviation pilots.
“User fees would devastate general aviation and the small businesses that cater to general aviation,” he said. “The NextGen air traffic control system is promising—but we can’t require aircraft owners to buy new equipment that, in some cases, would cost more than the aircraft themselves. And new security rules have got to make common sense.”
Graves said pilots should stick together to defeat what he called the government’s “constant onslaught” of “divide and conquer” strategies.
He also urged new pilots to get involved in defending GA by calling, writing, or speaking directly to elected officials about the issues they care about—and joining aviation organizations.
“Get involved,” Graves said. “Members of Congress listen to constituents over all else. When someone corners them and asks them about their position on the twelve-five rule or airport security badges, it makes a difference. There’s power in numbers.”