Election Aftermath: A More Or Less Supportive Congress?
When the new Congress convenes in January, will general and business aviation be better or worse off? Will members of that Congress, the 110th, be more inclined to support creating user fees and more security-related restrictions, or less? And who will be the major players? It's still a bit early to answer all of those questions, but observers are starting to see pieces of these various puzzles fall into place. How the finished picture will look might be critical in 2007, as government and industry gear up for what many believe could be a major battle over legislation reauthorizing the FAA and its programs. That's because the current law authorizing the agency is set to expire on Sept. 30, and many of the players may interpret that deadline as an opportunity to push their pet aviation issue. And some of those "pet" issues may include stronger, more intrusive aviation security measures, especially when considering general aviation. Generally, observers tend to agree that Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress bodes ill for the FAA's user-fee concept while creating greater uncertainty about any future aviation security policy changes, especially as they might impact general aviation.
For her part, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey seems to understand her agency's suddenly weaker position on user fees in the new Congress. Earlier this month at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) annual convention, Blakey said, "We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA." It was one of the first times she publicly acknowledged not only the likelihood of a multi-tiered user fee system but also the inherent damage any such scheme could wreak on non-commercial aviation. Still, the perception in Congress and among the general public that business aviation operators both create greater demand for FAA services, especially air traffic control, and are more able to afford higher operating costs than the lighter end of general aviation mean there is little light at the end of the tunnel. "This shift in power in Congress changes the picture for us on the user fee fight," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but it doesn't mean we've won the battle. However, now we can be assured of a fair hearing from people who understand aviation and aren't beholden to the White House." Somewhat less directly, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen said, "It is difficult to say what the recent changes will mean for specific aviation policies, because a number of key committee chairmanships and assignments still need to be made. Even with all of the changes that are taking place, we will still have a big battle ahead on user fees, and we'll need everyone in business aviation to make their voices heard with their members of Congress. We look forward to working with all returning and new members of Congress on policies that advance the interests of our industry."