House Meets to Consider Relief for General Aviation

 - October 3, 2007, 5:16 AM

On October 11 the House small business subcommittee on regulatory reform and oversight considered the financial hit to small aviation business from restrictions on the National Airspace System. The hearing was intended to quantify dollar needs and consider expansion of recipients for aid under H.R.3007, introduced on October 3 by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) with 25 cosponsors. The General Aviation Small Business Relief Act would authorize the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make grants for immediate losses, then issue loans at low or no interest for the first year, and extend the due date for excise taxes by up to four months.

NATA president Jim Coyne led the remarks presented to subcommittee chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), ranking minority member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), and committeewoman Dr. Donna Christensen (D-U.S. Virgin Islands). Key House members were absent, given a memorial ceremony held concurrently at the Pentagon.

The witness panel included NATA members David Wartofsky, a partner at Potomac Airfield in Fort Washington, Md.; and Maureen Tarascio, who attended along with her husband Mike as owners of Air East Management at Farmingdale (N.Y.) Republic Airport. George Doughty, executive director of the Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pa, testified on behalf of the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA). Quintin DeGroot, owner of Spencer Avionics at Spencer, Iowa, testified for the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA).

In testimony, Coyne measured the loss to NATA members at $400 million from suspension of fueling needs, catering and hangar rental. He cited one member’s war-risk insurance soared from $2,300 to $56,000 annually, with most now “naked” of insurance. Coyne also pointed to the elimination of thousands of positions by NATA member companies. “It’s as though a tornado has hit,” he said. “Not one, but hundreds of tornadoes have hit these airports.”

Maureen Tarascio reported that Farmingdale operations dropped from 580 per day before September 11 to 26 per day until October 6  (all 26 were Part 135 operators). By the middle of last month she expected Republic business to be at 40 percent of previous levels.

Doughty was skeptical that any of the $15 billion earmarked for major airline relief would trickle to his Lehigh Valley Airport. He said the best congressional action would be to allow unrestricted use of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds and passenger facility charge revenue. Doughty added that too much attention was paid to airport screening personnel, saying that without better procedures and equipment, converting these workers to the federal payroll would simply result in the same mistakes but at taxpayer expense.

DeGroot, one of the 1,100 AEA members, called for corridors into Class B airspace, wide enough to avoid accidental violations, directly to facilities such as his Spencer Avionics. Such corridors would allow delivery of both U.S.- and foreign-registered aircraft to U.S repair stations. He also suggested expansion of the definition of a disaster area for purposes of SBA relief to include all aviation business within Class B airspace.

The House subcommittee heard Wartofsky, whose facility is located halfway between Andrews Air Force Base and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, symbolize the balance of defense needs with business. He said the message by President Bush to return to normal life was contradicted by the prevalent fear that if pilots missed a departure window or strayed slightly from path they would be shot down. Wartofsky called for Congress via the FAA to lift Part 91 VFR restrictions at National, simply for parity. “You don’t distinguish between a 2,300-lb Cessna, and Bin Laden Airlines–a Gulfstream III doing an IFR touch-and-go at National then a barrel-roll into the White House. You release one, you should release the other.”