Bush moves to deflate GA relief bill

 - October 3, 2007, 12:08 PM

The General Aviation Industry Reparations Act (H.R.3347) encountered rough air when the Bush Administration asked lawmakers to put off a vote on the measure because its estimated cost had ballooned from the original $450 million to more than $5.5 billion.

That prompted Congress to send a letter to AOPA asking for support from its more than 380,000 members, who represent almost 60 percent of U.S.-licensed pilots. Although the airlines are receiving help through the $15 billion Air Transportation and Stabilization Act, the letter said general aviation “has become a forgotten victim” of post-September 11 realities.

Stressing that the federal government imposed more severe and onerous restrictions on GA than on any other sector of the aviation industry, four congressmen said general aviation has lost hundreds of millions of dollars and “thousands of hardworking men and women” have lost their jobs. They cited FBOs, manufacturers, airport operators and independent contractors as being affected.

H.R.3347, which had been slowly gaining support as it worked its way through the congressional budget process, apparently drew opposition from the White House when it grew to include–and pay for–security provisions, along with some rather liberal definitions of what constituted a GA business. A letter from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to House Transportation Committee chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) expressed concern over both the price and the scope of the bill.

The move by the Bush Administration outraged the general aviation industry, which has been arguing for months that it has suffered more than the airlines because it was prohibited from operating for weeks, and sometimes longer. The four congressmen noted that three airports in the Washington metropolitan area remained closed until February 14, and GA is still banned from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

“For the federal government to shut down GA and not provide any financial assistance to those businesses affected–yet give billions to the airlines–is the definition of hypocrisy,” said Jeb Burnside, v-p of the National Air Transportation Association.

NATA said the letter by the Bush Administration opposing the legislation seriously jeopardizes the future prospects of the House measure, and its Senate companion bill, to successfully be approved and signed into law. H.R.3347 was already approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Budget Committee.

“I am disappointed in the White House,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “The GA small businesses have at least the same claim to damage as the airlines.” The congressmen agreed, saying that the shutdown of GA was equivalent to a government taking, and like similar takings it calls for government compensation.

Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said the industry is open to changes needed to satisfy the administration’s concerns. “We believe a majority of the House of Representatives understands the situation that GA is in and will be supportive,” he said. “I don’t see how the Administration can justify helping airlines and not the rest of the industry.”

In their letter, the four congressmen emphasized that GA businesses do not qualify for relief under any established federal law or program. Some legislators falsely believe such businesses were eligible for compensation under the airline bailout bill.
The letter to AOPA was signed by Rep. Young; Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee; Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), ranking Democratic member of the Transportation Committee; and Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), the ranking Democrat on the aviation subcommittee.