Jan. 29, 2004 - General aviation came out ahead in the huge omnibus spending bill Congress passed last week to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year. The FAA's piece of the pie contains money to fund a number of items that AOPA lobbied hard for.
"The bill fully funds the Airport Improvement Program, including $341 million for general aviation airports," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "And AOPA's hard work paid off, because for the first time, airports can use those funds for hangar construction."
The bill also addresses how pilots are going to keep their high compression engines running as leaded aviation fuel is phased out. At AOPA's suggestion, it contains half-a-million dollars for researching the use of unleaded fuels for general aviation.
There is $3 million set aside so the FAA can continue to develop ILS-like GPS approaches at GA airports using the wide area augmentation system, or WAAS. Because of the benefits WAAS provides GA pilots, AOPA has pressed the FAA to continue its development and deployment, despite airline indifference.
Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), the chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee, was instrumental in making sure both projects were funded.
The FAA appropriation also includes funding for the agency's long-range Operational Evolution Plan, or OEP. The bill directs the FAA to ensure that enhancements that benefit general aviation are part of the OEP.
The bill also prohibits the FAA from spending any of this year's money "to finalize or implement any regulation that would promulgate new aviation user fees." In other words, the FAA cannot spend any of its $14 billion budget to put any kind of fee-for-service scheme in place.
Although much of what the bill contains is good for GA, not everything AOPA had sought is included.
Before it was lumped into the catch-all omnibus spending bill, the FAA Appropriation bill included funds to reimburse general aviation businesses hurt by the national airspace shutdown after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The omnibus bill contains no money and merely "encourages" the FAA to reimburse the FBOs at Washington, D.C.'s Reagan National Airport (DCA), and the DC-3, College Park (CGS), Washington Executive/Hyde Field (W32), and Potomac Airfield (VKX).
And the bill continues the prohibition against banner towers over many major sporting events or the two Disney theme parks.
"As the budget and appropriation battles for FY 2005 get under way in these times of a growing national deficit, AOPA will be fighting to make sure general aviation doesn't lose any ground - that programs that benefit GA are not sacrificed to fund something that only helps the airlines," said Cebula. "And we'll continue to pressure the government to change the classification of air traffic control back to 'inherently governmental' so that our members will not face the specter of users' fees charged by a privatized ATC provider."