Now that Election Day is over, the bill introduced by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill that would allow closure of the St. Clair Municipal Airport soon should be considered by the full U.S. Senate.
Earlier this fall, the bill was approved by committee and now is in the full Senate.
The bill, numbered S2759, was “ordered to be reported without amendment favorably” by the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, according to a bill tracking website. That means the committee sent it to the Senate as a whole for consideration.
The bill was cosponsored by Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Roy Blunt.
For it to become law, the bill must be passed by both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives in identical form and then be signed by President Barack Obama.
The bill was filed on July 31. The committee sent it to the full Senate in September.
The bill’s opening paragraph states: “To release the city of St. Clair, Mo., from all restrictions, conditions and limitations on the use, encumbrance, conveyance and closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport.”
It goes on to give some details regarding the closure process and the transfer of assets, revenues and equipment as well as the monetary value of the property and the worth of the unamortized federal grants turned over to MoDOT and the FAA.
There is no timetable as to when the bill will be considered by the full Senate, but now that Election Day is over and members of Congress are returning to Washington, D.C., it could be any day.
City officials did not want to comment on the bill or its status at this time.
St. Clair has been trying to close the airport located on about 80 acres on the north side of the city for several years. It needs permission from the Federal Aviation Administration, or the bill’s passage, because federal grants were obtained for improvements to the facility as late as 2006.
The city wants to use the land located between Interstate 44 and Highway 47 for much-needed retail development and give St. Clair’s tax base a jumpstart.
City officials have been going back and forth with FAA and the Missouri Department of Transportation officials on the closure process. MoDOT has stated it does not oppose closure.
In May, after two years and several decision deadline extensions, the FAA ruled the city of St. Clair was not in violation of its federal obligations in regards to its regional airport as alleged in a complaint filed by one of the tenants.
The complaint, filed by airport tenant Jim DeVries of Pacific on behalf of himself and other current and former tenants, was dismissed.
In theory, the dismissal means the FAA can work toward making a decision on St. Clair’s request to close the airport. However, the Senate bill could supersede any FAA decision if it makes its way to Obama and he signs it.
The complaint alleged “noncompliance by the city of St. Clair Regional Airport, the sponsor of the airport, of its obligations under federal law applicable to the operation of an airport.”
And in a letter dated Oct. 28 sent to the city from Amy Ludwig, MoDOT’s administrator of aviation, a second complaint, also filed by DeVries, has been dismissed.
“MoDOT and the FAA have … determined that the city has addressed the remaining outstanding corrective action plan items,” Ludwig wrote. “Therefore, this letter serves as notification that the two open compliance matters, one tied to the Office of Inspector General hotline complaint and the other related to hangar rates at the airport, are now closed.”
Shortly after the bill was moved through to the full Senate, a post appeared on DeVries’ airport blog that had a Frederick, Md., dateline on it. It stated that, “The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and three other general aviation groups have urged key members of the U.S. Senate to forgo legislation that could close St. Clair Municipal Airport and instead follow established FAA procedures for the potential closure of airports that have accepted federal grants.”
The post quoted a Sept. 16 letter from AOPA President Mark Baker and said the organization and the aviation groups told U.S. Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, that a bill in their committee could improperly close the airport.
A copy of the same letter also was posted on the AOPA website.
“As you know, this legislation would close the St. Clair Regional Airport, in St. Clair, Missouri,” the letter read. “As representatives of the general aviation community, we have serious concerns about closing and further limiting access to general aviation airports across the country, especially through legislation.”
The AOPA website stated that in addition to Baker, the presidents of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association and National Air Transportation Association signed the letter.
“There is already a process established by statute under the Airport Improvement Program Grant Assurances requirements for the closure of airports like St. Clair that have received federal funding,” the letter goes on to say. “The review of the St. Clair airport closure is already underway, and we would respectfully request that the established FAA process move forward with a decision in a timely manner. It is our belief that this course will better balance the legitimate interests of the local community, aviation users, and the federal government.”
Despite the protests, however, the Senate committee unanimously approved sending the bill to the full Senate.
According to its website, since 1939 the AOPA has “protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts”
AOPA is the world’s largest aviation member association, with representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., and seven regions across the United States. AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media.
In the summer of 2012, AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn visited the St. Clair Regional Airport. He said at that time that the organization he represents serves as a gatekeeper to general aviation as well as to the pilots who use the national aviation system.
He also wanted to make sure the AOPA’s stance is clear in regards to St. Clair’s attempt to close its regional airport.
Dunn, who has been in his position with the AOPA for more than two decades years, told The Missourian at the time that the AOPA “represents the general aviation industry at all levels.
“The aviation infrastructure is important to us and to our members,” he said. “As far as the bigger picture, we firmly believe that a mile of road takes you one mile, but a mile of runway takes you anywhere in the world.”
At least in part because of that belief, Dunn said the AOPA wants the St. Clair Regional Airport to stay open.