AOPA is standing firm in its opposition to user fees as FAA reauthorization legislation moves to the full House. The legislation passed out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee on a 32 to 26 vote following a marathon markup Feb. 11.
“We’re profoundly disappointed that user fees are still part of this legislation,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “AOPA simply won’t accept user fees in any form on any segment of general aviation. And while there are some very positive provisions for GA in this proposal, user fees are a nonstarter for us.”
Following an amendment, H.R. 4441, also known as the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016, would exempt Part 135 charter operations in Alaska and Hawaii from user fees, but operators in other states would still be subject to the charges—a situation AOPA says is unacceptable despite the inclusion of pro-GA provisions like third class medical reform and certification reform in the bill.
“User fees are an all-or-nothing proposition as far as we’re concerned,” Baker said. “This isn’t over. We’re going to keep fighting to protect every segment of general aviation in every state from user fees when this legislation goes to the full House.”
Baker pledged to continue to work with general aviation advocates, including Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), to defeat user fees. Both Graves and Rokita have a long history of opposition to user fees and both voted “no” on sending H.R. 4441 to the full House.
In addition to user fees, the bill that passed out of committee retains plans to separate air traffic control functions from the FAA and place them into a federally chartered not-for-profit entity. The controversial privatization plan survived a proposed amendment from Committee Ranking Member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), which would have kept the FAA intact and provided a portion of the agency’s funding through mandatory spending, reducing the funding uncertainty caused by the annual appropriations process. That measure failed on a 25-34 vote along party lines.
During the 10-hour markup, dozens of amendments were considered. Among those adopted was a provision to increase Airport Improvement Program funding to 2011 levels and provide a 2 percent annual increase in the funding level, which was accepted on a 47 to 12 vote.
Another provision affecting GA was an amendment that would allow private pilots to use the Internet to connect with passengers who want to share a ride, reversing a 2015 court decision that only pilots holding at least a commercial pilot certificate can seek passengers through some websites. While that amendment was accepted, DeFazio advised that he would take a close look at the language, saying he doesn’t want to create “an Uber in the sky” with inexperienced pilots.
Other amendments adopted by the committee include a measure to prohibit e-cigarettes and vaporizers on airplanes, require additional cockpit barriers in new commercial aircraft, and create a micro-UAS category for the purpose of regulating commercial drones weighing less than 4.4 pounds.
The bill now moves to the full House where it will likely face another round of amendments as well as skepticism from appropriators who have expressed opposition to removing ATC operations from the fiscal oversight of Congress. No timeline has been set for House consideration and it is not yet known when the Senate will offer its own proposal for FAA reforms. Current FAA authorization expires March 31, making it unlikely that the House and Senate will agree on final legislation before the deadline and setting the stage for another extension to keep the FAA operating.