The House and Senate General Aviation caucuses faced a challenge after the 2012 general election: recruiting new members to the caucuses after losing 39 members in the House who retired or lost their seats, and three members in the Senate who retired. The House and Senate caucuses previously had 190 and 39 members, respectively.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he plans to use his role as the Senate GA Caucus co-chair in the 113th Congress to recruit more members and to highlight the importance of GA in every state. “GA is the backbone of commerce, small business and tourism in many places. In my home state of Alaska, it is the only way for people, supplies, food, medical personnel and even teachers to get to regions where needed,” he said.
"From its inception, the [Senate] General Aviation Caucus has served to promote a safe and vibrant environment for general aviation in America, and that continues to be the case today,” said Caucus Co-chair Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). “General aviation plays an important role in Nebraska and throughout the country. We depend on a system of airports and general aviation planes to help our businesses and communities stay connected,” he said.
Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs, who spoke of the changes to the caucus during a post-election edition of AOPA Live, said, “We continuously work with the co-chairs of the House GA Caucus, Congressman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Congressman John Barrow as well as current members of the Senate GA Caucus, on finding ways to educate new members.”
“The General Aviation Caucus is one of the largest and most bipartisan coalitions in the House, and our membership continues to grow. The general aviation community faces challenges in the 113th Congress, but we're united to strengthen and preserve this industry,” said Barrow (D-Ga.), an AOPA member.
AOPA’s job is to let members of Congress know about the importance of GA to include how it impacts their states and districts. AOPA’s legislative affairs office informs them of the number of AOPA members in their state and district and provides a breakdown of the economic impact of the GA industry. Once members are aware of those impacts, they are encouraged to join the GA Caucus, so that they can continue to be informed on a regular basis.
The GA caucus holds meetings to educate members and staff of important GA issues. An important aspect of the GA caucus is the ability of the co-chairs to communicate with caucus members on issues important to GA. For example, if the co-chairs propose a bill to benefit GA, they can circulate the bill to the caucus membership in order to seek co-sponsors. Or they may decide to send a letter expressing a concern over an issue and can easily make caucus members aware of the letter and encourage them to co-sign the letter.
“Through the GA Caucus, we are able to dispel many myths about GA—for instance, that it’s an industry that supports small businesses and not ‘fat cats’—and to pass along information about hot button general aviation issues like avgas and aviation user fees,” said Howerton.
The House Aviation Subcommittee under the leadership of Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) is working with the GA Caucus to circulate in the House a “no user fee” letter to the president in opposition to $100-per-flight user fees on commercial and general aviation.
Graves, an AOPA member and pilot, said, “The GA community has been fighting this tooth and nail for many years now. Commercial and general aviation, including aviation manufacturing, are vital industries in our nation, providing millions of jobs and making important contributions to our economy. We should work together to support policies that encourage job growth and strengthen U.S. economic activity.”
The letter received 195 cosigners last year in the House, and this year’s letter is quickly approaching that same number, said Graves. “The caucus [also hosted] a general aviation town hall discussion with actor Harrison Ford on March 19. Mr. Ford is an avid pilot, and his star power lends a respected voice to our cause,” Graves said. “Educating members about general aviation is important to our success, and so we [were] very excited for this event.”
AOPA members can help in the effort to further strengthen the GA Caucus, said Howerton. AOPA’s website is updated regularly by state and district, to include the current membership of both the House and Senate GA caucuses. The House GA Caucus currently has 173 House members. The Senate GA Caucus currently has 35 members.
The biggest challenge for GA is getting the message to all 435 lawmakers, said Graves. “I’ve found that lawmakers are very receptive to sitting down with their constituents and discussing the issues that are vital to pilots everywhere,” he said. “So I encourage your readers to reach out to their members of Congress and invite them to join the caucus if they haven’t already done so.”
If an AOPA member does not see that his or her congressman or senator is on the caucus list, the pilot is encouraged to give the member’s office a call and urge him or her to join in order to learn more about GA and what it accomplishes for communities, said Howerton. “Members of Congress really enjoy hearing directly from their constituents, whether it be at a local airport, a town hall or otherwise,” she said.
The Senate GA Caucus will have a busy year as it continues to support important aviation safety improvements, airport infrastructure, and recruiting young people into the world of flying, said Begich. “We will work to ensure FAA cutbacks under sequestration don’t unfairly target GA-intensive airports and will continue to oppose perennial issues like user fees and privacy infringements on pilots.”
Aviation is critical to Georgia, and whether the caucus is promoting safety issues or fighting for community airports, it has a lot of allies in Congress, said Barrow. “I’m looking forward to tackling the issues before us, and I'm ready to work with our co-chair, [Congressman] Sam Graves, on behalf of the 1.3 million general aviation employees in Georgia and all across the country.”
“The leadership of the House and Senate GA caucuses has been vital to its success since its inception,” Howerton said. “These members understand the economic impacts of the GA industry to our country and the ways in which congressional support can help it thrive.”