A bill that would have disbanded the Montana aeronautics board was tabled Jan. 28 after the state aviation community reached out to the sponsor to explain the bill’s potential impact.
Montana Sen. Kendall Van Dyk sponsored the bill, S.B. 181, which would have consolidated the nine-member volunteer board into one position on the state’s transportation board. Several aviation organizations and members of the aviation community called and wrote to Van Dyk, explaining the important role the board plays in advising the Montana Aeronautics Division and issuing airport loans and grants; he requested that the bill be tabled in a committee hearing Jan. 28, citing in part the response from the pilot community.
AOPA Northwest Regional Representative Mike Ferguson, who served as Aeronautics Division administrator for 27 years, contacted Van Dyk to explain the value of the board during his tenure and attended the hearing prepared to testify on behalf of AOPA.
“State lawmakers are facing difficult budget decisions this year, and Senator Van Dyk saw this bill as a way to cut costs,” Ferguson said. “He didn’t realize initially what the impact could be to Montana pilots, but he listened to members of the aviation community and responded to our concerns.”
In his message, Ferguson explained how the aeronautics commission, later the aeronautics board, was created to give aviation a voice in state government. The board issues loans and grants for airports, advises the Aeronautics Division and Department of Transportation, and can issue industrial revenue bonds for scheduled airlines based in Montana. Several of the members represent state aviation organizations and many, including chairman Tricia McKenna, voiced their concern to Van Dyk.
The aviation expertise of members is valuable and cannot be matched by a single position on a surface-transportation-oriented board, Ferguson said in the message. During his time as aeronautics administrator, he said, “I found the Aeronautics Board to be a wealth of information and I was able to seek their council on most all aviation issues. This is because the statute (2-15-206) requires each board member be from different MT aviation organizations plus the County Commissioners Assoc., airlines, MT Chamber of Commerce and one member at large.” Funding for the board comes from aviation fuel taxes, he explained, so the aeronautics division does not receive money from the general fund.