Lawmakers Stress Support for Investing in General Aviation

 - March 10, 2023, 11:04 AM
(Photo: Pixabay)

House aviation subcommittee chair Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) yesterday stressed the importance of addressing the many challenges the general aviation community is facing in the next reauthorization bill to ensure it is on sound footing.

Graves and his counterpart on the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chair Sam Graves (R-Missouri), have committed to including a title in the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill dedicated to general aviation, which would be a first. In fact, general aviation is taking such a key role in the deliberations of drafting the bill that the subcommittee’s second hearing on FAA reauthorization this year is focusing on the sector. The first covered aviation safety.

Speaking during a hearing yesterday on general aviation needs, Rep. Garret Graves noted issues such as difficulty in obtaining airport funding and preparation for the emergence of advanced air mobility and said, “The time is now to make smart investments in general aviation, and we also have to ensure that all areas of the federal government support our GA community.”

Graves noted that state and local communities have provided airport support through Covid relief funding but the Treasury Department has been a “complete pain and given us the ‘Heisman’ for months as we try and get confirmation on the eligible use of funds.”

Rep. Sam Graves, meanwhile, stressed the need to “break down barriers to get young people involved and excited about aviation again.” He believes the reauthorization bill could serve as a forum to help incentivize that.

He also reiterated his belief about the need for the FAA to remain an advocate of aviation. “One of the worst things that happened with the FAA is when advocacy was removed from the mission statement. Safety will always be fundamental to FAA, but we need more advocates within the agency and throughout aviation, whether that’s inspectors, enforcement, or whatever the case may be.”

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Mark Baker, who testified during yesterday’s hearing, expressed concern about a lack of designated pilot examiners (DPEs), saying it is harming the ability to certify new pilots. While the FAA has taken steps to provide limited relief, “designee availability remains a challenge,” he said, adding additional DPE reforms are necessary.

He also expressed concerns about a lack of hangar space, citing a 2021 survey of 800 airports that found 71 percent have a shortage of individual general aviation hangar space. Noting difficulties in obtaining Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding for such programs, he reported that 55 percent of airports surveyed said they have the land to develop the hangars but not the resources.

Baker also made another push for legislative support to enable transient aircraft to park on airport ramps for free. Operators should not be forced to pay for services they do not receive, he said, stressing, “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear about this” from pilots.

Also testifying was National Air Transportation Association president and CEO Curt Castagna, who said aviation is facing FAA inefficiency and inconsistency at a time when the industry is experiencing unprecedented growth and innovation.

“NATA finds FAA leaders at all levels within the organization to be competent, committed, and collaborative, yet the agency’s understaffed workforce is shackled by antiquated methods and lack of permanent leadership in key positions,” Castagna said.

He pointed to backlogs in certification, rulemaking, and oversight, and noted the FAA has a certification queue of more than 680 applications—a number that has tripled over the past year. He urged the committee to look at modernizing the Part 135 certification process. 

Other requests included support for the expansion of sustainable aviation fuel and, like other panelists, continued support for the FAA/industry Eagle project to remove lead from avgas. Like others testifying on Thursday, Castagna expressed the need to improve general aviation airport funding.

“Much in our industry has changed since Congress set the $150,000 general aviation AIP entitlement more than twenty years ago. It is time for this Congress to take action to not only account for inflation but also for the changing needs of general aviation airports by adjusting the entitlement for all general aviation airports and by introducing a formula to further increase grants for larger GA airports based on flight activity,” he said.