Proposed GA screening legislation withdrawn

 - October 3, 2007, 11:42 AM

Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) proposal to subject all general aviation passengers and property to security screening was short-lived in the face of strong opposition from general aviation interests.

General aviation was of one voice as it charged up Capitol Hill to shoot down the proposed legislation before it got off the ground, and Weiner withdrew the bill.

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), a private pilot and a member of the House aviation subcommittee, said he took Weiner aside for a “lengthy discussion” the day before Weiner planned to offer his bill as an amendment to legislation implementing some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The New York City lawmaker thanked “the gentleman from Iowa for giving me some additional insight into this issue. It is an issue where it is very easy to identify the tree and lose sight of the forest.”

Weiner’s bill, which is designated H.R.5035, would have required the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide the same screening used by the airlines for all passengers and property aboard any non-airline passenger aircraft operated in the U.S. It also would have prohibited general aviation overflights of cities with populations of one million or more or within 1,500 feet of any building, and it would have required pilots to maintain continuous contact with ATC.

The Experimental Aircraft Association was on the front lines, launching an early fusillade. AOPA said the bill would have required the Transportation Security Administration to set up airline-style screening at some 19,500 landing facilities to screen every passenger boarding any of the 211,000 U.S.-registered aircraft for every one of the more than 43 million annual general aviation flights.

Further, the association said the requirement for constant contact with ATC regardless of altitude would increase controller workload at least ninefold, requiring the FAA to increase the size of the workforce and install new communications and radar equipment to cover all areas of the country.

Even before general aviation interests began bombarding Congress with letters and lobbyists, Weiner’s bill had a short life expectancy. Its first stop would have been the House aviation subcommittee, where Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), an outspoken proponent of general aviation, is chairman. He spoke at last year’s NBAA Convention and his district includes Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), whose state relies on general aviation more than any other for everyday transportation, is the chairman of the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Further, both the subcommittee and the full committee are peppered with private pilots on both sides of the aisle. General aviation associations met with Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a private pilot and member of the subcommittee, on September 8–the day Weiner intended to release his bill–to express opposition to it. Graves said he would not only oppose the bill, but gave general aviation groups a copy before it was publicly available.

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen wrote in a letter to Weiner that his bill “would destroy the business aviation community, force the closure of some businesses and drastically weaken business aviation’s significant contributions to the economy.”

Following the outpouring from general aviation interests, Weiner decided against offering his bill as an amendment to legislation that incorporates some of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. “We still want general aviation, we still want commerce, we still want transportation to go on, for that reason I didn’t offer this [amendment] today,” Weiner said.