After Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) announced November 26 that he would leave the Senate at the end 2007, it didn’t take long to fill his post as the ranking Republican member of the Senate aviation subcommittee. With- in days, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) was named to replace him.
The selection of Hutchison could have interesting ramifications for general aviation. A
former vice chairman of the NTSB, she is considered a friend of GA and hails from a state in which 387 airports are open to the public. While Lott was widely seen as a supporter of GA, he also was an early advocate of user fees. Lott said he turned in his resignation to enter the private sector. By leaving before year-end, he will be eligible to lobby the Senate by January 2009. Under new Senate rules, he would be prohibited from directly lobbying his old colleagues for two years if he departs after this session of Congress adjourns next month.
Sen. Hutchison previously held a leadership position on the aviation subcommittee, serving as its chair from 2001-2002, when the GOP controlled Congress. In May, she voted for an amendment to S.1300 that would have stripped the proposed $25-per-flight turbine fee from the bill. That amendment failed by one vote in the Senate Commerce Committee.
“We are pleased to learn that Senator Hutchison will be serving as the ranking member of the aviation subcommittee,” said NBAA president and CEO
Ed Bolen. “The senator is very knowledgeable on aviation issues and has an in-depth understanding of general aviation.”
National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president Jim Coyne agreed. “NATA has maintained a strong working relationship with the senator during her tenure on the Commerce Committee, including her previous tenure as chairman of the subcommittee on aviation,” he said. “Senator Hutchison has taken an active interest in aviation issues throughout her Senate career, and with a large number of NATA members based in Texas, we have always been able to count on her for support.”
Pete Bunce, GAMA president and CEO, added, “She has exceptional experience in aviation policy, understands industry issues and represents a state with a strong general aviation tradition.”
AOPA said that Hutchison’s appointment adds “an interesting new wrinkle” to the FAA funding battle and the question of user fees. “We’ve had an excellent relationship with Sen. Hutchison in the past,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “And she stood firmly with GA on the user-fee issue earlier this year.”
But AOPA also noted that three major airlines–American, Southwest and Continental–are headquartered in Texas, meaning that she at least has to consider their concerns. Interestingly, the Air Transport Association, the airlines’ lobbying group and the chief advocate of user fees, applauded Hutchison’s appointment.
“We heartily congratulate Sen. Hutchison on her appointment to this critically important position,” the ATA said. “She brings with her a wealth of aviation experience; a unique and deep appreciation for industry issues; a strong reputation as a savvy legislator; and the added clout of a continuing role in the Republican leadership of the Senate.”
Further complicating the issue, most observers believe that Hutchison intends to run for governor of Texas in 2010. So her current and future positions on FAA funding are clearly important to the nearly 47,000 certified Texas pilots. The Lone Star state has the third highest number of certified pilots (behind California and Florida).