As the Senate considered a bill that would set the course for the FAA over the next two years, general aviation supporters in the Senate worked to ensure that the final bill would include benefits for GA.
The $34.5 billion, two-year Senate FAA reauthorization bill, which passed 93 to 0, focuses on modernizing the air traffic control system. It would fund modernization in part by an increase in general aviation jet fuel taxes—21.9 cents to 36 cents per gallon—but would not impose any new user fees.
Leading up to the passage of the bill March 22, members of the GA Caucus and other GA supporters worked to include provisions in the bill that would minimize the burden of regulations on the industry. While not every amendment made it to the final bill, senators’ efforts to include GA in considerations reflected growing understanding of GA on Capitol Hill.
Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said “airports are economic engines for many small communities, and everyone, everywhere, needs to be connected to our national air transportation system.”
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), chair of the aviation subcommittee, spoke on the Senate floor about the value of small aircraft—“to travel around the state and the country to do commerce, to haul parts, to haul people.” Dorgan explained the importance of business aircraft and that GA encompasses medical flights, transportation for troops reuniting with their families, relief flights to Haiti, and more.
“The legislation we have created has things that are so important to all of aviation—yes, commercial aviation, but to general aviation and to private pilots as well,” he said.
GA Caucus co-chair Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he was pleased with the legislation. “You can’t go wrong with a bill that creates jobs, improves the safety and efficiency of air travel, and invests in our airports,” he said. “Many of our communities have no road or ferry access. Aviation is our lifeline as many Alaskans rely completely on small aircraft to keep our communities connected.”
Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), the other GA Caucus co-chair, proposed amendments to ensure that equipment upgrade requirements would show a clear benefit without imposing an undue financial burden for small-aircraft owners.
“It is important to remember that the FAA’s responsibility goes beyond large airports and commercial airlines; rural airports and general aviation are sometimes hit much harder by federal regulations, which can cause a ripple effect in states like Nebraska,” Johanns said. “I am pleased the FAA Reauthorization bill now includes specific acknowledgement of these smaller yet significant contributors to our state economy and our aviation system as a whole.”
The bill establishes deadlines for equipage with NextGen technologies such as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B); one of Johanns’ amendments would require the FAA to first publish rules setting the standards for equipage so that operators would not absorb the cost of new equipment without clear directions from the FAA. Other Johanns amendments would require the FAA administrator to identify the benefits of the transition to satellite-based navigation for small- and medium-sized airports and GA users and require the Government Accountability Office to study the impact of increases in aviation fuel prices.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the unanimous support for the bill illustrates a consensus on modernizing the air traffic control system. “I am pleased to see that after 11 temporary FAA authorization extensions, the FAA Reauthorization Act (S. 1451) has finally passed the Senate,” Inhofe said. “Its passage marked true bipartisanship in the Senate as members from both sides of the aisle worked together to accelerate the deployment of NextGen and invest in the future of aviation, without crippling general aviation with unfair user fees.”