Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), considered the most knowledgeable member of Congress on aviation issues, will lead the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee when the 110th Congress convenes this month. The ranking Republican on the committee will be Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who was most recently chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) is in line to chair that subcommittee.
Oberstar has served more than a decade as the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, which traditionally has worked to build bipartisan compromises on aviation issues. Mica is a 14-year veteran of the committee.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters called the appointments of Oberstar and Mica “encouraging” as Congress works on new ways to fund and support the nation’s surface and aviation transportation systems. “Taxpayers, travelers, shippers and the American economy all stand to benefit from their years of experience and strong commitment to keeping our airports, highways, ports and rails safe and efficient,” she said.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will take the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) previously held that post.
With the defeat of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and the Democrat takeover of both houses of Congress, Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) would have first choice to chair the aviation subcommittee. He was instrumental in attracting Sino Swearingen and Tiger Aircraft to an industrial park at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, W.Va.
After the election, National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president Jim Coyne said the association has developed strong relationships with leaders of both parties over the years, and Oberstar and Inouye, as well as the aviation subcommittee chairs in each chamber, are familiar with and supportive of NATA’s legislative agenda.
AOPA president Phil Boyer said the shift in power from Republican to Democrat rule changes the picture on the user-fee fight, but he warned it doesn’t signal a victory for general aviation. Oberstar has long opposed user fees for GA, and as chairman he would control what legislation gets passed out to the full House to vote on.