By Sen. James Inhofe
In July 2016 third class medical reform, the cornerstone of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 legislation, was signed into law. Three months ago, those reforms officially took effect as BasicMed. Third class medical reform is a game-changer for pilots across the country—and it would not have been enacted without the strong and consistent advocacy of the general aviation community.
As a certificated pilot with more than 11,000 flight hours, I know firsthand the needs of pilots, the general aviation community, and how to improve airport infrastructure. A robust general aviation airport system substantially affects safety, the efficiency of large commercial airports, emergency medical operations, law enforcement activities, agriculture activities, and small businesses throughout the United States. Further, these airports manage military-related and national security air operations, directly supporting the readiness and training of our armed services.
I continue to observe the need to expand investments at general aviation airports, leading me to introduce the Forward Looking Investment in General Aviation, Hangars, and Tarmacs Act of 2017, the FLIGHT Act. This legislation will give general aviation airports more flexibility to facilitate greater investment in their airport infrastructure.
First, my legislation would give general aviation airports more time to accumulate FAA funding and annually make available discretionary funds for priority projects through a nationally competitive process. Second, this legislation would extend key environmental streamlining reforms used by major airports to general aviation airport construction or improvement projects.
Today, the FAA’s environmental review processes are especially burdensome on small airports, which operate under limited resources. These reforms would empower general aviation airports with flexibility to devote needed resources to improving their infrastructure.
General aviation airports are hubs of economic activity and job growth for their communities. However, some have difficulty attracting the public/private partnerships that can enable strong economic activity. The FLIGHT Act establishes a pilot program to encourage public/private partnerships. Participating airports would be able to use federal resources to attract private-sector investment for the construction of private hangars, business hangars, or investments in other facilities.
Finally, this legislation would designate certain airports across the country as “Disaster Relief Airports” in areas subject to natural disasters. Often with little warning natural disasters cause general aviation airports to become extremely active with aircraft movements and the need to stage responders or supplies for distribution as part of the response effort. Many general aviation airports lack the resources and personnel to adequately prepare and respond to disasters. With a disaster relief designation, airports would have access to funding set aside for airports to use for required emergency planning, equipment, or facilities.
As AOPA members know, the vast majority of airports across the nation support general aviation activities. This legislation builds on past congressional efforts to support general aviation airports and, ultimately, grow the positive impact general aviation airports have on the larger airport ecosystem.
I look forward to attending EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this year and once again hearing your feedback on issues facing the general aviation community and what general aviation priorities can be best addressed legislatively.