Leaders of the two largest GA groups, Mark Baker of AOPA and Jack Pelton of EAA, are speaking out strongly against what is being perceived as a betrayal of GA by longtime supporter Rep. Sam Graves, (R, Mo.). Graves, who is chair of the GA Caucus in the House, has long championed GA causes, like the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, both I and II. He has flipped, however, on his stance on ATC privatization, a bill that would hand ATC control to a not-for-profit board that critics contend would be too heavily weighted in favor of commercial aviation and give too little voice to GA.
The bill, H.R. 2997, has been unanimously condemned by GA member and industry organizations as being bad for the segment for what it contains and potentially bad for all the unknowns it introduces into it. Politico reported yesterday that Graves attended an aviation town hall over the weekend and according to Politico, “…struggled to explain [the] GA benefits” of the bill.
Former Iowa representative, pilot and GA advocate Leonard Boswell, who was on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee with Graves, called the Missouri representative out on the flip-flop. “He’s in line to become the next chair of the transportation committee,” said Boswell, adding that Graves has got to “…walk the fence line because everyone knows he’s a GA guy, but [Bill] Shuster [R, Pa.], the current chair, is plotting some kind of a drive…to pass the bill.”
Politico quoted AOPA’s Baker as saying that Graves, in his comments in public about the bill, “was not representing the general aviation community.” Baker added that he hoped that Graves would see his way to change his stance on the bill and “rejoin our community.”
Graves released a statement to GA Caucus members outlining his support for H.R. 2997, touting benefits he was looking to bring to GA though the legislation, chiefly exempting GA from user fees. Other details of the bill he cited include improvements to the aircraft registration process, changes to block grant rules to allow wider access to infrastructure improvements, liberalization of hangar use for homebuilders and more testing of alternate fuels for GA.
In an email to Plane & Pilot, Graves defended his stance in support of the bill, pointing out that he is working to make the current bill better by giving GA protections and benefits it otherwise would not have had. “Last year’s bill did nothing to protect GA,” Graves wrote in the email,“—it raised fees on GA pilots, underrepresented the industry in the governing board, and failed to protect the airspace for us going forward. I worked with Chairman Shuster to correct those things and shore up the AIP program, and all four policies protecting general aviation are now included in this year’s bill.”
In a call with Plane & Pilot, EAA’s Pelton said that the details that Graves added to the bill were beside the point, as EAA, along with every other known GA organization opposes the overall bill. In an email Pelton sent to the GA Caucus on Wednesday night, he explained just how far afield from GA’s views Graves’ stance on the matter is. Pelton wrote that EAA, which has more than 200,000 members in 900 chapters across the country, “along with 117 other General Aviation organizations, stand completely united in opposition to any effort to remove air traffic control from the FAA and Congressional oversight.” He emphasized that the coalition of organizations opposed to privatization “represent every voice in General Aviation” and asked the caucus members to communicate this truth among other members of the House.
Plane & Pilot supports the AOPA and EAA-led initiative asking pilots to phone their representatives as soon as possible to share their support for keeping ATC within the FAA.