Pleased with the success of a House of Representatives campaign to garner support opposing a federal $100-per-flight user fee for general aviation, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) encouraged Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo attendees to assure that their representative and senators are members of the respective GA caucuses. “Call your member of Congress and ask if they are a member of the GA Caucus. If not, have them call my office for details,” Graves said at a Sun ’n Fun Town Hall meeting.
Rep. Sam Graves
Some 170 members of the two chambers are members of the caucuses. House support of general aviation led 223 representatives to sign a letter to President Barack Obama in early April telling him they would not support any budget that included the fees. Nonetheless, the president’s budget last week included the fees, leading numerous congressional and industry leaders to declare the budget “dead on arrival.” The budget says all turbine aircraft except those on public benefit flights will be charged the fee. While it seems to exclude piston-powered aircraft, it says that other aircraft flying in “controlled airspace” may be subject to the fees, leaving the door open for virtually any aircraft to be slapped with the fee.
Graves hosted numerous GA leaders at the town hall meeting, including Stephan Brown of the Commemorative Air Force, John Cudahy of the International Council of Air Shows, Paul Schaaf of Helicopter Association International, Tim Clifford of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, and AOPA President Craig Fuller.
Fuller praised Graves for his leadership on the user fee issue. “If it was a fair fight, we would win it based on our support in Congress,” Fuller said. But the executive branch through the sequester legislation has been given unprecedented powers to decide what gets funded and what gets cut, he continued.
Cudahy of ICAS said the sequester’s cutting of military budgets and the resulting grounding of military precision exhibition teams means that fewer people will come to airshows. “Airshows are the public face of general aviation,” he said. “With the cuts, fewer people will be exposed to local airports and our airplanes.”
CAF’s Brown said his 10,000 members, who own and fly some 156 warbirds from 70 locations in 28 states, are being pressed into service more and more to support local airshows.
AOPA President Craig Fuller
Graves noted that the military has been hit with a double whammy in this fiscal year. In the appropriations bill passed at the start of the fiscal year in October, the Department of Defense took a budget cut. Then when sequester hit last month, the services took an additional cut.
The meeting was not all doom and gloom. RAF’s Clifford declared: “We’re the fun guys!” referring to his 5,000 members who frequently fly in and out of back country strips around the country. Despite the fun, Clifford expressed concern with the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to prohibit the use of 121.5 MHz ELTs. A crash in mountainous terrain may mean his aircraft will not be visible to the satellites receiving the alternative 406 MHz frequency, but airliners passing overhead might hear his 121.5 MHz transmissions, he said. In comments opposing the FCC move, AOPA estimates equipping all GA airplanes with the newer style ELTs will cost some $500 million while bringing little to no improvement in safety, Fuller said.
Looking for a job in aviation? Schaaf said the helicopter industry is desperate for helicopter pilots and mechanics. “There’s a lot of opportunity here,” he said, while reminding attendees that the helicopter community has more issues in common with fixed-wing pilots than not, including dealing with ADS-B and airspace access.
Graves encouraged pilots to join the aviation associations, noting that members of Congress take note of the organizations and their strong memberships. “We listen when we hear from these groups,” he said.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) leads a Sun ’n Fun Town Hall.