April 8, 2011

The two leaders of the House General Aviation Caucus are on a mission: Reps. Sam Graves (R-6-MO) and John Barrow (D-12-GA) are dedicated to growing the ranks of the Caucus and spreading the word about the value of all general aviation, including business aviation, to citizens, companies and communities across the U.S.

In a recent video conversation with NBAA Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Lisa Piccione, both lawmakers noted that, in an era that is often characterized by partisan politics, general aviation enjoys support from leaders across the political spectrum, as demonstrated by the makeup of the GA Caucus.

View the Video Interview

As Graves and Barrow explained, the reason lawmakers support general aviation is because of their first-hand experience in witnessing its benefits in their own congressional districts.

“My district is a very rural district…and general aviation is a huge part of it,” Graves said. “We have doctors that come into the local hospital and use the airport, because it’s much easier for them to get in, do their rounds, get back out and go to the next community. We have businesses that surround the airport, and economic development plays a huge part in trying to attract those business at the airport.”

Barrow agreed. “My story’s very much like Sam’s,” he said. “More than 60 percent of the people in my district live in the rural areas…and it [general aviation] is very important for developing economic opportunities…We also have a big manufacturer in my district – I have Gulfstream, a great corporate citizen, and as general aviation is one of the great success stories in the American economy, I have a keen interest in that side of things as well.”

“Not only is [the General Aviation Caucus] non-partisan, I think it’s all the more important and useful to us because it’s non-partisan,” Barrow stated.

Graves agreed enthusiastically. “It’s an opportunity to promote general aviation and that’s what we’d like to do as much as anything else.”

Graves added that the GA Caucuses in both the House and Senate get tremendous support from aviation groups like NBAA, “which does a fantastic job of working the halls of Congress and working side by side with the GA Caucus to keep members informed of the issues that are out there.”

Sitting shoulder to shoulder in their video interview with Piccione, Graves and Barrow added that one of the highest priorities for the Caucus is supporting final passage of an FAA reauthorization bill.

The House passed its version of the measure April 1st. The legislation included provisions continuing the use of the aviation fuel tax rather than user fees as a mechanism for generating revenue. It also includes language bolstering the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, which ensures the privacy of operators as they travel by air.

The Senate passed its version of the FAA Reauthorization bill earlier in the year. The two versions differ greatly and will likely be the subject of reconciliation talks between House and Senate negotiators.

“Reauthorization affects everything we do in general aviation,” said Graves. “We’ve got to be very mindful of attacks on general aviation like user fees, which we’ve been able to keep out of the current bill.”

“Building on that,” added Barrow, “NextGen – getting us off of reliance on ears on the ground and getting us to take advantage of eyes in the sky… that’s something we’ve got to be able to do. But we’ll never be able to do that as long as the business plan for the FAA hasn’t changed. It’s been some four years since they’ve had a business plan they could run on. They’ve been running on a bunch of extensions – something like 17 temporary, stop- gap extensions.”

Barrow said working with short-term extensions instead of a long-term funding mandate has hampered long-range planning at FAA. “No business could run without a business plan for four years,” he noted.

Working as a coordinated unit, the members of the GA Caucus can keep FAA reauthorization on the priority list for Congress, Graves noted.

View a current roster of the GA caucuses in the House and Senate