By Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
August 2, 2013 - "I know a lot of people in the FAA; they're really good people. But the ones who are making the decisions, the entrenched ones, who want to grow their power," won't do anything to help pilots. And that's one of the reasons U.S. Senator James M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) wrote and managed last year's enactment of the Pilot's Bill of Rights (PBOR).
Inhofe, perhaps the Senate's only active pilot, introduced the PBOR after running afoul of the FAA's enforcement apparatus in the aftermath of a well-publicized landing on a closed runway at a non-towered Texas airport. In a wide-ranging conversation with AirVenture Today Friday he reviewed how the FAA is implementing the PBOR and discussed the need for a follow-up bill. He also excoriated the agency for its recent actions to levy fees on EAA for air traffic control services during AirVenture, and discussed potential legislation directing the FAA to act on rewriting small airplane certification rules.
ATC fees at AirVenture
"They have the money; it was already authorized; it's sitting there right now," Inhofe said of the FAA's budget for the current fiscal year. As in past years, the budget includes funds for ATC services at AirVenture, despite the FAA's demand for $447,000 in exchange for allowing the fly-in to occur. So, what can be done about the FAA's demand for payment for ATC services at AirVenture?
"I've already started," Inhofe said. "We have a new Secretary of Transportation, [Anthony] Foxx, and I'm his strongest, strongest supporter. After I explained the situation, he told me, 'We've got to reconsider that.' If anyone would do it, he would do it."
What if the Secretary's reconsideration doesn't overturn the FAA's demands for payment? What can Congress do?
"Well, we can do what we've already done: Congress overrode the FAA's plans to close 189 contract towers" earlier this year, Inhofe noted.
"We're gonna win," he said.
Small Airplane Revitalization Act
Also before Congress this year is a measure to place a December 31, 2015, deadline on the FAA's ongoing effort to rewrite Part 23 of its regulations of small-airplane certification. The legislation, H.R. 1848, was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and passed the House of Representatives July 16. A companion bill, S. 1072, introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) was approved by a Senate committee on July 30, 2013. Inhofe is one of 15 Senate co-sponsors.
"It's too early to say what's going to happen" with the legislation, Inhofe told us. "But the reason I want to be kind of careful...there's always this effort by people who don't know aircraft and don't know anything about aviation that if something's old, you've got to get rid of it."
"I've owned over 100 airplanes and I've got some that are still flying as well as when they were new," Inhofe said. He added that Sen. Klobuchar has assured him, "We'll go over all these things before it's finalized to make sure we're not inadvertently doing something we don't want to do."
Inhofe also discussed the need for a second Pilot's Bill of Rights. Is a second bill necessary?
"Yeah it is. Everywhere I go, people say, 'Why didn't you cover this?'" he told us. "So, we're going to have an event tomorrow and we're going to ask people what other areas we should include" in a proposed follow-up to his original Pilot's Bill of Rights.
Inhofe on Saturday afternoon will participate in an event held by Sikorsky and including another congressional general aviation supporter, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), as well as Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh's grandson. Inhofe hopes to use the event to obtain suggestions from pilots on what provisions he should consider in a second Pilot's Bill of Rights.
This is Inhofe's 34th consecutive AirVenture. This year, he's attending with his two sons and three grandchildren.