An expected congressional proposal to overhaul and privatize the Federal Aviation Administration is drawing the concern of local pilots and airport management. They worry that the plan would result in increased fees that would make general aviation flying less accessible.
Congress is required to periodically reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. It did so in October, but that will only last until March 31.
When the next re-authorization bill is introduced — likely in February — it’s expected that the House of Representatives version will include provisions to privatize the FAA and make changes to how it is funded.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said he expects to see a privatization effort brought up by in the House of Representatives next month.
“I’m not in favor of it, and the general aviation people — the ones I listen to — are skeptical of it as well,” Peterson said.
Peterson, a pilot himself, often uses his plane when traveling in 7th Congressional District in Minnesota.
“The concern is if they privatize they will charge us any time we fly,” Peterson said, speaking about the potential user fees that could come along with privatization.
The current system already ensures that both commercial and general aviation pays its fair share, according to the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a nonprofit coalition of organizations that support general aviation.
“We have always been against user fees,” said Devin Osting, deputy director of Alliance for Aviation across America.
The FAA is currently funded through a fuel tax, which Osting said is a fair way to distribute the cost.
Administering user fees would be a time-consuming process comparatively, he said.
“If you buy gas at an airport, you are complying with the law,” Osting said.
Those fees would be a problem for local pilots, according one airport manager.
“Having some user fees in there, like they do in Europe, would make it more cumbersome or expensive for people,” said Joe LaRue, manager of the Elbow Lake Pride of the Prairie Airport.
The airport, which hosts about 100 flights per month, focuses on general aviation with mostly hobbyists and weekend pilots, he said.
Privatizing the FAA would make it harder for rural communities, which rely more heavily on general aviation, to have a say on regulations, Osting said.
“The key mechanism that guarantees access for rural communities and smaller airports is the congressional component of it,” Osting said.
However, Peterson said it would be a unlikely, in his opinion, for the FAA to become privatized, she believes it isn’t as likely for that to be approved in the senate.
“I’d be surprised if the privatization survives in the process,” he said. “if it is in the bill, depending on how it is structured, I would vote against it,” Peterson said.
Another important aviation change being considered are revisions to medical certificates for pilots, Peterson said.
One problem older pilots are facing is many have lost medical certificates over technicalities, Peterson said.
Fixing this situation is something that has been requested by many of his constituents, Peterson said.
“We’ve been pushing on that for quite a while,” he said.
Local pilot Paul Brutlag described the current medical certification process as laborious and expensive for pilots.
Legislation passed by the U.S. Senate in December — The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 — includes a provision to change the medical requirements for most general aviation pilots. A similar bill has been introduced, but not voted on, in the House of Representatives.
Under the proposal, pilots would be considered healthy to fly as long as they possess a valid state driver’s license, comply with medical requirements for the driver’s license, are transporting less than six passengers and are operating under visual or instrument flight rules.
These changes would apply to aircraft with a maximum certified takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds or less.