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Wed, Aug 01, 2007

The Fight Against User Fees Is Not Over, Congressmen Say

Urge Supporters To Contact President, Representatives In Congress

Seven members of the House of Representatives attended a public meeting on Saturday, July 28 during AirVenture 2007 at Oshkosh to answer questions and discuss the next steps for the Aviation Reauthorization Bill. Six of the seven Representatives in attendance were members of the House Aviation Subcommittee.

Their message was clear -- every member of the general aviation community needs to be proactive in supporting the efforts of industry associations and take personal responsibility for sending the message to their representatives in Congress and the President of the United States -- "No User Fees."
 
The Representatives each gave praise to industry associations such as Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) on their efforts. There also appeared to be consensus amongst the participants that the General Aviation industry is not well understood by the public and is therefore not very high on the radar screen in Congress. While the existing legislation expires September 30, 2007, Representatives offered candid observations that the plethora a bills which are on the Congressional agenda, combined with the lack of awareness suggests that pressure from the GA community needs to be relentless over the next two months.

Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Illinois (above), relayed there was unanimous rejection of the general aviation user fee issue at the House Aviation Subcommittee level, and that he is optimistic the House will pass its version of the bill (H.R.2881) -- which does not include user fees or major tax breaks for the airlines. The Senate bill, S.1300, currently contains a $25-per-leg fee for many turbine-powered aircraft flying IFR, and gives a major break in the fuel tax to the airlines.

The Representative from the District that includes Oshkosh, Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin (below), referred to general aviation as "an aspect of freedom we have that others in the world don't." Petri is the Senior Republican on the House Aviation Subcommittee and will be sitting with Rep. Costello when the House and Senate versions of Aviation Bill are being negotiated into a compromise bill that will go to President Bush.

When asked about the timing, Costello gave it a 50/50 chance that H.R. 2881 would make it through Ways and Means before the August recess of Congress.

Rep. Candace Miller, R-Michigan (below) offered her observation, "the GA types don't get involved in politics and that the user fee issue may have a silver lining, bringing more attention to GA issues and more involvement by the GA community." While not a member of the aviation subcommittee, Rep. Miller serves on the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and her husband is a former military aviator and AOPA member.

Representative Vernon Ehlers, R-Michigan -- and the only Nuclear Physicist in Congress -- strongly urged attendees to contact their representatives, including President Bush, to express support of H.R. 2881 and to emphasize that they vote. Ehlers suggested individuals express their personal perspective on the potential impacts of user fees, mandatory retirement, and other issues, such as the closure of general aviation airports. 

Ehlers (above) also suggested that individuals contact Congressional staffers based in the local offices, talk to them about concerns and invite them to participate in discussions or events where they can be educated about General Aviation.  Local media could also be invited to participate in similar events.

A number of attendees expressed concern about the age 60 mandatory retirement issue, and were real live examples of what is estimated to be driving a loss of 200 pilots, per month. Rep. Costello indicated H.R. 2881 includes a proposed increase the cap to age 65, matching provisions of international standards (ICAO) and that given the workload of Congress -- and the apathy of Congressional Leaders -- the retirement issue was unlikely to be proposed as a separate bill. 

One attendee who expressed his concern was both a GA and an airline pilot who had a 60th birthday coming up in less than two months. He relayed his concern about the increasing number of non-U.S. carriers who were recruiting U.S. pilots that are being forced to retire.

A number of industry associations have on their websites, examples of letters which individuals can send to their Congressional representatives along with links to their email and postal addresses.

FMI: www.congress.gov, www.eaa.org/govt/index.html, http://web.nbaa.org/public/govt/action/?ISSUE=nbaa0020, www.visi.com/juan/congress/index.html

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