House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster announced in February he would no longer pursue a controversial proposal calling for the removal of air traffic control from the FAA. This was the closest the airlines have ever come to taking over our skies. Recognizing that, pilots and other supporters of general aviation spoke out in record numbers. Nearly 250 GA organizations and more than 200,000 AOPA members called or wrote their elected officials in Washington and made sure their voices were heard. Pilots across the country sent letters to editors of their local newspapers and vocalized their frustrations at congressional town halls and bent the ears of top elected officials.
Kudos to the AOPA government affairs team for guiding the way. Not only did the team apply significant pressure on Capitol Hill, but they also helped support the largest and most successful grassroots coalition our industry has ever seen. They visited hundreds of congressional offices and educated leaders on both sides of the aisle. They also teamed up with industry leaders to speak as one powerful voice against this legislation. It was an unprecedented display of unity compared to previous privatization battles.
Each of those voices was instrumental in pushing back against the thinly veiled control grab financed by the airlines.It wasn’t just GA; we heard from all segments of the aviation industry and many others. Retired airline pilot and celebrated hero for the “Miracle on the Hudson”, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, recorded messages and penned op-eds. One hundred mayors and 100 business CEOs joined forces to share what GA does for their towns and businesses. The plan to give airlines control over the air traffic system could have devastated rural communities, causing small-town mayors and others to speak loudly about that potential loss.
And while the airlines had some key Washington leaders supporting the bill, including the White House, we were lucky to have all of you and the facts on our side. When the airlines claimed that an ATC system under their control would solve flight delays, your calls and letters made sure our leaders knew just how slow the airlines have been to equip their aircraft with the latest technology. In fact, the airlines themselves are the leading cause of delays. And despite false claims about cost savings, you made sure key decision makers knew about the $100 billion the proposal would have added to the deficit.
Each of those voices singing the praises of GA was instrumental in pushing back against the thinly veiled control grab financed by the airlines.
With this latest threat behind us, we can redirect our resources that were focused on privatization toward other issues to reduce costs and ensure our system remains the safest and most efficient in the world. We’re working with the airlines and Congress to push forward on modernizing our ATC system. And we are very optimistic about the possibility of a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill that would support longer-term planning and improvement projects to help keep up with industry advancements.
While facing off with the airlines, our teams also worked overtime to ensure other initiatives did not take a back seat. We’ve seen great progress fighting against egregious FBO pricing and ushering in BasicMed, with some 30,000 pilots now using that alternative to the third class medical.
Another important initiative is the proposed FLIGHT Act—Forward Looking Investment in GA, Hangars, and Tarmacs—which would give airports more flexibility to access non-primary entitlement (NPE) funds, designate key disaster relief airports, and bolster public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects.
While I know this wasn’t the first time we had to defend GA and our freedom to fly, and it won’t be the last, I’m thankful to put this chapter to rest. I’m even more grateful for everything you’ve done, from all the calls and letters to Capitol Hill, to the time you put into making sure your voices were heard—from small towns to the halls of the Congress.
I believe the energy and unity that was cultivated during the latest fight will only make us more effective moving forward, and stronger as we take on our next challenges together.
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