Congressional Observer: April 2005
Beginning in mid-February, Congress took a couple of weeks off and returned to business in early March. Nevertheless, there has been no slowdown in the introduction of bills and, at press time, there were 1,133 bills introduced in the House and 533 in the Senate. A number of bills that failed to make the grade in the 108th Congress were reintroduced with the expectation that some could be enacted into law this go-around.
Congress has been reacting publicly to President Bush’s big push for Social Security reforms. When the debate reaches the Senate and House floors, other pending legislation, even bills that are part of the Administration’s agenda for the coming year may get hung up in the Congressional holding pattern.
S.433, introduced by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), and H.R.911, introduced by Rep. Thomas Davis, III (R-Va.), each called the “Reopen Reagan National to General Aviation Act of 2005,” would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and implement standards for the operation of non-scheduled, commercial air carrier (air-charter) and general aviation operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It was pure coincidence that the House bill was numbered 911, for 9/11 happens to be the way the media commonly refers to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
If enacted, the bills give the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, 180 days to finalize and implement regulations that would reopen DCA to general aviation operations. Those regulations may include screening and certification of air charter general aviation flight and ground crews; advance clearance of passenger manifests by the Transportation Security Administration; physical screening of passengers and luggage; physical inspection of aircraft; compliance with established special flight procedures; and limiting the airports from which flights into DCA can originate.
All the various entities that have been affected by the closure of DCA to general aviation traffic applauded the introduction of the bills and expressed hope that the legislation would be enacted without delay. However, it should be pointed out that Public Law 108-176 (Vision 100), enacted last year, directed the DHS to “develop and implement a security plan to permit general aviation aircraft to land and take off at Reagan National Airport.”
In spite of Congressional urging and internal activity by the Transportation Security Administration, no such security plan emerged from the DHS, which combines 22 government agencies into one. Coordination among the various agencies apparently consumes a lot of time and the current hope is that what coordinating that has been done before will not have to be done again.
Among other aviation bills put into the hopper were:
• S.486, introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), would require the Secretary of the Navy to procure helicopters under the VH-3D presidential helicopter fleet replacement program that are manufactured entirely in the U.S.
• H.R.734, the “Flight 587 Act” introduced by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), stipulates that the FAA Administrator shall require each manufacturer of aircraft to list in the limitation section of each flight manual any information that may affect the safe operation of an aircraft. A similar bill was introduced in the 108th Congress.
• Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) introduced H.R.1021, a bill to provide for a prize program to encourage development of space and aeronautics technologies and establish an endowment to educate and inspire the public’s interest in space and aeronautics; H.R.1023, a bill to authorize NASA to establish an awards program in honor of Charles “Pete” Conrad, astronaut and space scientist, that recognizes amateur astronomers who discover asteroids with near-earth orbit trajectories; and H.R.1024, a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for investing in companies involved in space-related activities.
• H.R.1117, introduced by Rep. Steve Pearce (R.-N.M.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, relating to the assurance required of owners and operators of airports with respect to long-term leases for construction of hangars. The bill would require an airport to compensate the lessee of a hangar in the event that the airport’s development plan requires the structure to be destroyed or removed.
• H.R.1119, introduced by Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.), would amend Title 49, U.S. Code, to repeal the essential air service local participation program.