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Aviation groups say three bills should never get off the ground

AOPA and five other aviation-industry groups urged House and Senate committees to reject several proposals they believe would compromise safety, “dismantle a thriving rotorcraft industry,” and disperse FAA regulatory clout among countless local governments.

In a November 14 letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its aviation subcommittee, the groups urged that the panels oppose H.R.4880, the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019, and H.R.4547, known as the Safe and Quiet Skies Act.

H.R.4880 would prohibit “operation of ‘nonessential’ civil rotorcraft in ‘covered airspace,’” defined as “airspace directly over any city with a population over 8 million people and with a population density of over 25,000 people per square mile, including the airspace over any waterways considered within the limits of such city.”

However, “the legislation would have no positive impact on improving the safety of commuter, charter, and tourism flights, and its negative impacts would be immediate and significant. It would completely dismantle a thriving rotorcraft industry in affected areas, dealing a [devastating] blow to the many businesses that depend on and support it,” the letter said.

Development of future flight technology might also be at stake: The bill “establishes a dangerous precedent for future legislative restrictions on access to airspace for general aviation and risks stymieing the development of vertical flight for both unmanned aircraft systems and urban air mobility,” the letter said.

The Safe and Quiet Skies Act would introduce restrictions on air tour operators by “prohibiting specific flight routes, altitudes, and common procedures,” including an impossible burden: a mandated noise signature standard for overflight of an “‘occupied area’… that ‘no currently certificated helicopter can meet.’”

Of further concern—and a common fatal flaw of many past ad-hoc forays into aviation regulation—is language ceding federal authority over the National Airspace System to state and local governments.

Both bills, whether through undermining federal preemption or prescribing unwarranted airspace restrictions, would be “detrimental to the industry” and the airspace system, the groups wrote.

Drone integration

A letter to the bipartisan leadership of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and its Subcommittee on Aviation and Space conveyed the groups’ strong opposition to another threat to the burgeoning drone industry, and to the effective federal aviation oversight that hearkens back to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. S.2607, the Drone Integration and Zoning Act, “proposes enabling thousands of local governments in the United States to impose their own restrictions on commercial UAS air carrier operations.”

The aviation groups said it would be premature for Congress to pursue legislation before a U.S. Department of Transportation UAS Integration Pilot Program wraps up its business. The pilot program is focused on determining how state and local entities can work with the DOT and the FAA “to craft new rules that support more complex low-altitude operations” that drone integration would bring about.

As with the other proposals, S.2607 would undo a “long-established regulatory structure” that is integral to aviation safety, they said, urging the lawmakers not to “unravel” the regulatory system’s ability to deliver safety.

The organizations signing both letters with AOPA included the Experimental Aircraft Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, the National Business Aviation Association, and the National Air Transportation Association.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.

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