New cast in Washington changes bizav landscape

 - December 1, 2008, 4:48 AM

General aviation groups pled-ged to work with the Obama Administration when it takes the reins of the federal government early next year, but in the days following the election there was much speculation about how things would shake out on Capitol Hill, in the Transportation Department and in the FAA.

Key congressional transportation committee and aviation subcommittee leaders from both sides of the political aisle held onto their seats, but some longtime friends of GA fell by the wayside.

By mid-November one close Senate race was finally called, with Democrat Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage, defeating Republican Ted Stevens. A general aviation pilot and the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Stevens was convicted on federal felony charges in October.

AOPA congratulated Sen. Barack Obama “on this historic victory.” Association president Phil Boyer said, “We’ve already begun putting our top general aviation issues in front of Obama.”

But despite the re-election of many GA supporters, Steve Alterman, president of the Cargo Airline Association, told attendees at the AOPA Expo last month that he believes it will be difficult to get aviation issues before Congress.

“I don’t think anyone [in Washington] gives a damn about general aviation right now,” adding that the federal government’s main focus is the current economic situation.

National Air Transportation Association (NATA) president James Coyne thanked the legislators not returning for the 111th Congress who have steadfastly supported general aviation and NATA. “We will miss the support of Sens. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), John Warner (R-Va.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Reps. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), all of whom have fought for issues important to NATA members,” he said.

Meanwhile, with 91-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) giving up his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, 84-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) would be in line to replace him. But that means Inouye would have to relinquish chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, with Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), a longtime advocate of user fees for business aviation, likely to move into that post. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has fought his own battles with corporate aviation interests over user fees, returns to his minority seat on the committee.

The name game for FAA Administrator began in earnest with the election. Acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell was never able to win confirmation from the Senate, and one person mentioned to replace him for a five-year stint is Robert Herbert, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Possible successors to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters include former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey; Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell; Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Reps. Pete DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer, both Oregon Democrats.