In the upheaval over the remarks by ex-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who learned to fly as a teenager, was named as his replacement.
Although Lott (R-Miss.) resigned his post as leader, he remains in the Senate and has muscled his way into the chairmanship of the Senate aviation subcommittee, displacing Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who was thought to be in line for the position.
That is not necessarily bad news for aviation interests, in that Lott is known for his interest in small community air service and the economic viability of small airports. He is already a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee–now chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)–and its aviation subcommittee.
Lott won the AOPA Hartranft Award in 2000 for his work on the Aviation Investment Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21) and for helping to craft how money in the aviation trust fund is disbursed.
The National Air Transportation Association (NATA), which noted that Lott is a frequent user of general aviation, “warmly welcomed” him as new chairman of the aviation subcommittee. “The association is quite pleased with the selection of Senator Lott to head the Senate’s subcommittee on aviation,” said Jim Coyne, NATA president. “NATA has a very good relationship with the senator and looks forward to continuing this association.”
NATA is also looking forward to working with Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who was subcommittee chairman before the Republicans resumed the Senate majority. Rockefeller also has championed air service to small communities.
With the ascension of Frist to Majority Leader, the Senate is now being led by two AOPA members–Frist and minority leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Daschle has twice won the Hartranft Award, most recently in 1993 for helping to defeat new aircraft registration fees.
Frist is a renowned heart surgeon who founded the Vanderbilt Transplant Center in Nashville, Tenn., and often used his own airplane to pick up donor organs for transplants. An instrument-rated commercial multi-engine pilot, he was elected Senate Majority Leader in an unusual conference-call vote by GOP senators two days before Christmas.
NBAA vice president of government and public affairs Pete West predicted Frist will do an excellent job. “Frist has proven himself to be as skilled a legislator as he is a heart surgeon,” he said. “Further, he is an able pilot who has exhibited a clear understanding of and appreciation for the association’s views on behalf of the business aviation community.”
Agreeing that Frist will do a good job, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association cited his reputation for intelligence, integrity and hard work. “Senator Frist,” said GAMA president Ed Bolen, “is a great supporter of general aviation and we are delighted he has been elected by his colleagues to be the new Senate Majority Leader.”
In the House, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) will continue to chair the House aviation subcommittee, although Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) was expected to replace Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.) as ranking minority member. Lipinski will become the ranking member on the highways and transit subcommittee.
Ten new Republican congressmen were appointed to the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including three of the four AOPA members who won first-time election in November. Subcommittee assignments for all GOP and Democratic members were to be made at the end of last month, said committee chairman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).
The Transportation Committee is the largest committee in Congress, with 41 Republicans and 34 Democrats. The three freshmen committee members who are AOPA members are Reps. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).