Shortly after congressmen Vernon Ehlers and Allen Boyd spearheaded the formation of a General Aviation Caucus in the House of Representatives in April, the group mobilized to rein in the Transportation Security Administration’s policymaking-by-decree practices. The issue came to a head following an outcry from the general aviation community in reaction to the TSA’s Security Directives 08F and 08G, which require background checks and badges for general aviation pilots and aircraft owners operating at airports with any form of commercial service.
Lawmakers agreed with assertions by the general aviation community that the TSA has been using security directives (SDs) to bypass a rulemaking process that should, among other requirements, solicit and consider comments from affected parties. By a 219 to 211 vote, an amendment was added to the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act that clarified the conditions under which the TSA would be authorized to issue security directives, limiting the practice only to situations involving an imminent threat and finite duration.
The General Aviation Caucus worked collaboratively with NBAA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the National Air Transportation Asso- ciation (NATA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Airports Council International.
“We have seen the TSA repeatedly use SDs to vastly expand existing requirements without consideration of the implementation challenges, operational impacts and economic burdens such mandates impose on the aviation industry,” GA Caucus members wrote to Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the amendment’s sponsor. “Our most recent experience involves the expansion of security credentialing requirements to tens of thousands of pilots and employees at airports and aviation manufacturers without due consideration and process.”
The amendment’s sponsors, cosponsors and major supporters on the GA Caucus included Mica, Boyd (D-Fla.), Ehlers (R-Mich.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Thomas Petri (R-Wis.). The Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act (H.R.2200), which was passed on June 4, authorizes TSA programs and funding levels through 2012. Among the provisions is formation of a general aviation security working group to ensure industry stakeholders have input on new security initiatives. Also in the legislation is a grant program for $10 million in security improvements at GA airports.
Despite the House vote, H.R.2200 must either be introduced and voted on as a companion bill in the Senate or be reconciled with a different Senate bill in conference later this year.
Ehlers, who is taking flying lessons, and Boyd, who is a pilot, joined as co-chairs to promote to the Congress and the Obama Administration the value of general aviation to the nation’s economy and transportation system. More than 50 members have signed on to the GA Caucus.
Critical to Jobs and Economy
Boyd and Ehlers said their efforts to help their fellow members of Congress to understand all of the benefits that general aviation provides will be strengthened by AOPA’s “GA Serves America” campaign as they strive to protect the industry in the face of challenges.
“As a pilot, I have seen firsthand the critical role that general aviation plays in creating jobs and bolstering the local economy in rural communities across America,” said Boyd. “This campaign is an important tool for raising public awareness of general aviation, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to keep general aviation strong.”
Ehlers added, “This new caucus will highlight general aviation issues on the Hill, and I hope it will help my colleagues to recognize the great value of general aviation in each of their districts.”
In a letter inviting members of Congress to join the caucus, Boyd and Ehlers pointed out that general aviation contributes more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy each year and employs nearly 1.3 million workers. Manufacturing exports make general aviation one of the few remaining U.S. industries with a positive foreign trade balance, they stated.
“There are more than 230,000 GA aircraft in the United States, which service nearly 19,000 small and regional airports, many more than the 500 commercial airports in the United States,” they wrote. “These airports help connect people and industries that do not always have easy access to our commercial airports. In fact, more than 100 communities have lost airline service this year, leaving GA as their only alternative.”
After formation of the caucus was announced, general aviation organizations lauded the effort. Meanwhile, NBAA and GAMA continued to advocate for the business aviation community through the No Plane No Gain initiative, which underscores the essential role of business aviation in America.
“NBAA and the business aviation community thank representatives Ehlers and Boyd for spearheading the caucus and promoting the value of all general aviation, including business aviation,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “The formation of the caucus demonstrates recognition in Congress that general aviation plays a critical role in serving citizens and communities in every state.”
Jim Coyne, NATA president, called the caucus an important milestone for the GA industry. “With the recession crippling our industry financially and public perception issues abounding, having the support of these House members as Congress looks to approve an FAA reauthorization bill, in addition to a TSA authorization measure and new clean-energy legislation, is absolutely necessary,” he said. NATA has provided its membership with a means by which they can encourage their U.S. House members to become members of the GA Caucus.
In July, the caucus strongly supported resolution H.Res. 508. Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), it specifically points to job creation, economic activity, humanitarian support and business productivity generated by the general aviation industry. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) of the House aviation subcommittee also took to the floor to speak about general aviation’s benefits and value to the country.