Financial relief could be on the way for GA businesses hardest hit by security-related measures resulting from 9/11 and the war in Iraq. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed H.R. 2115, which includes a subsection (scroll for Sec. 428) allocating $100 million for specific airports and related businesses that have become GA icons in the ongoing rhetoric over security measures and their economic impact on GA. In general, the bill, which must still be passed by the House, approved by the Senate and signed by the president, applies only to those businesses and airports that have been closed or continuously affected by security-related restrictions and closures since 9/11. Topping the list are GA entities at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which has been virtually closed to GA since 9/11. Next are the so-called DC-3 airports, College Park, Potomac Airfield and Washington Executive/Hyde Field, which have been closed to transient traffic since the attacks. Also up for funds are banner towers and others affected by the ban on stadium overflights and flight schools hurt by the restriction on foreign students taking training on aircraft larger than 12,500 pounds. To qualify for a grant, a business has to meet the qualifications and provide sworn financial statements or other data proving the lost revenue and additional costs incurred by the restrictions. The alphabet groups are restrained in their enthusiasm for the bill, possibly because of previous false starts and the knowledge that the White House appears from its record thus far to be against GA business relief. We'll keep an eye on this one as it moves through the process.
The bill also became the new home of certain security-related measures previously introduced in another piece of legislation. Jurisdictional snafus led to a request to reopen DCA for GA, a third-party appeal process for security-related airman certificate suspension and the creation of a small business ombudsman within the FAA to be included in this bill. It also contains a measure that would require the FAA to report to Congress within 30 days as to why the Washington ADIZ is in place and every 60 days thereafter should it continue. The TSA, which is an integral part of such decision making, isn't presently included in that reporting requirement. National Air Transportation Association President James Coyne said the wide-ranging bill is good news for GA in general. "It is important that our government not run roughshod over the rights of those who exist in the general aviation industry," Coyne said. AOPA's Phil Boyer chimed in that the bill sums up the needs and wants of a struggling industry. "The House Leadership on Aviation has proved again that they understand and support the needs of the general aviation community -- I'm pleased by the comprehensive approach to some of the most difficult issues aviation is currently facing," he said.
Perhaps the biggest structural change envisioned by the new bill is a measure that would dramatically improve the flexibility of charter operations between smaller airports. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) would allow on-demand charter operators, using turbine-powered or multi-engine piston-powered aircraft with 10 or fewer seats, to sell individual seats, rather than book the entire airplane. The cost of the seats would be negotiated individually between the charter operator and the passengers. Presumably, that means a charter company could find a planeload of pax headed in the same general direction and drop them off, one by one, at the airports of their choice. Industry spokesmen were pleased the idea might become law. "This is the type of creative thinking needed to lead us into the second century of flight," said National Business Aircraft Association President Jack Olcott. He said the measure would give more communities direct access to air travel, boost business for charters and save business travelers money. NATA's Coyne said the amendment would provide a cost-effective alternative to the Essential Air Service program that now subsidizes scheduled airlines to fly routes that are not economically viable. "In the current economic environment, neither the scheduled carriers nor the federal government can continue to justify this expense," he said.