Cautious optimism abounds on Capitol Hill over the chances of a Highway bill being passed before the expiration of current programs in nine days. U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) is expected to brief GOP transportation bill conferees the morning of June 21 on progress made over the past 48 hours following meetings with Chairman Mica's Senate counterparts. However, it remains to be seen whether the House GOP will accept whatever compromise positions may have been agreed to.
HAI has learned that the Keystone issue and how to pay for the highway bill have yet to be resolved. HAI is extremely concerned over Senator Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) amendment attached to the Senate Highway Bill, and HAI President Matt Zuccaro urges all HAI members to telephone the offices of House and Senate highway bill conferees.
Sen. Lamar Alexander's amendment to dismantle the National Airspace System not only threatens the air tour industry, but sets a very dangerous precedent. The Alexander amendment breaks the cohesive NAS into pieces and gives regulatory authority for some of those pieces to the National Park Service — an agency whose only previous experience with airspace management was a contributing factor in a fatal midair collision between a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft.
“Congress gave sole authority for managing aviation and aviation safety in America to the FAA,” says HAI President Matt Zuccaro. “If enacted, the Alexander amendment would give a third party with no expertise in aviation — the National Park Service — the responsibility to manage portions of U.S. airspace, and would give them the authority to deny pilots access to airspace and to give preferential treatment to some operators over others — something the FAA is specifically prohibited from doing.”
While the agreement to “do a bill” does not mean the final language has been agreed to, it does make the danger of the Alexander amendment being included more imminent. Therefore it is imperative that HAI members call — not fax, not email, but call — the offices of members on the conference committee.
Points you may wish to consider for your conversation with the conferees’ offices:
- The Alexander amendment threatens access to the National Airspace System.
- Agencies other than the FAA would be given sole authority to determine who may and may not use certain airspace.
- The Alexander amendment is anti-safety.
- The FAA exists to maintain safe, efficient use of the National Airspace System. The Alexander amendment gives control of sections of airspace to agencies whose primary interests are other than air safety.
- The Alexander amendment flies in the face of the will of Congress.
- Congress deemed a cohesive National Airspace System vital to national interests. The Alexander amendment breaks that system into separate pieces with different overseers.
- The Alexander amendment sets a dangerous precedent that opens the door to any government or government agency – federal, state or local – demanding control of “its” airspace.
- For example, what would prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from demanding airspace over nuclear power plants be prohibited? Or a mayor of a major metropolitan area – Los Angeles or New York, for instance – from demanding the airspace over downtown be closed?
- The Alexander amendment has received no congressional review.
- The current aviation-related amendment was added to the Senate version of a surface transportation bill at the eleventh hour, without review by any committee or subcommittee with oversight of aviation matters.
- An attempt to attach an earlier incarnation of the amendment to the FAA authorization bill was reviewed – and rejected!
- The House General Aviation Caucus has sent a letter to the conferees urging them to reject the Alexander amendment.
- The Alexander amendment language was developed without any input from the air tour industry it seeks to legislate out of existence.
The Alexander amendment is a foot in the door, the camel’s nose under the tent. It is a threat to the entire aviation industry – not just helicopters. Whether you fly air tours or not, call the conferees and let them know that the amendment is bad legislation that will do real economic harm.