Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe credits general aviation pilots for slowing the momentum of air traffic control privatization in the U.S. House of Representatives—but he said more must be done to prevent a shift that could jeopardize the freedom to fly.
“It’s not over yet,” Inhofe said July 29 during a forum at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “It’s because of you that we’ve had the success we’ve had so far.”
The House is backing an FAA reauthorization bill that includes ATC privatization. The Senate has approved a separate bill that doesn’t.
The Senate version also contains Inhofe-backed measures that better allow pilots to defend themselves from FAA enforcement actions; allow GA airports to upgrade infrastructure; protect funding for contract control towers; and streamline the FAA aircraft certification process to encourage technical innovation.
Inhofe, 82, is a veteran pilot and flight instructor with more than 11,000 flight hours, and he’s flown all over the world.
“Our (air traffic control) system is better than anyone else’s,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
AOPA President Mark Baker and Experimental Aircraft Association President Jack Pelton praised Inhofe at the forum as GA’s most effective advocate in Congress. Inhofe was the author of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights which ushered in third class medical reform, and he’s seeking to clarify and expand those laws in the current FAA reauthorization bill.
“You’ll benefit from [third class medical reform] because it’s now a reality,” Inhofe said.
Inhofe was the subject of an FAA enforcement action in 2011, and he said that experience taught him a lot about how the system treated pilots unfairly.
“If the FAA accuses you of something . . . you don’t have a choice, and the NTSB often acts as a rubber stamp,” he said. “We wanted to open up the process.”
Inhofe is an aerobatic pilot, and when political opponents suggested he was too old to serve another six-year term, Inhofe recorded a TV ad that showed him flying (and rolling) his two-seat Van’s Aircraft RV-8.
“When I’m too old to fly an airplane upside down,” he said, “I’ll be too old for the United States Senate.”