U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, will convene a hearing on Thursday, April 6, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. titled “FAA Reauthorization: Perspectives on Rural Air Service and the General Aviation Community.” The hearing will examine issues related to the safety and robustness of access to the National Airspace System for rural and general aviation users. The discussion will focus on federal efforts to improve access and safety, including the Federal Aviation Administration’s Federal Contract Tower (FCT) program, the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service (EAS) program, and the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASDP) as well as initiatives that could bolster rural air service and the general aviation (GA) community.
- The Honorable Laurie Gill, Mayor, Pierre, S.D.
- Mr. Spencer Dickerson, Executive Director of U.S. Contract Tower Association, an affiliated organization of the American Association of Airport Executives
- Mr. Mark Baker, President & CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
- Dr. Guy M. Smith, Professor Emeritus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
The hearing will be held in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available here.
Chairman Roy Blunt
Thank you to the witnesses for appearing before this Subcommittee today to discuss their perspectives on rural air service and the general aviation community.
We have before us:
The Honorable Laurie Gill, Mayor, Pierre, South Dakota; Mr. Spencer Dickerson, Executive Director, U.S. Contract Tower Association, an affiliated organization of the American Association of Airport Executives; Mr. Mark Baker, President and CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; and Dr. Guy Smith, Professor Emeritus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
I would also like to recognize the family members of the victims of Colgan Air Flight 3407. Your presence is a steadfast reminder that aviation safety must be the primary goal of this subcommittee.
This hearing is one of a series on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
As we’ve previously noted, civil aviation is a critically important sector for the economy in general, and in rural and small communities in particular. It is estimated that the overall economic impact of reliable air service in small communities is roughly $121 billion, and it supports over 1.1 million jobs.
Quality air service links smaller communities to the broader economy and global transportation networks. Small, and non-hub airports provide lifelines for local businesses, transportation for service members and their families, and bolster local tourism. A perfect example of this is the Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport at Forney Field, Fort Leonard Wood.
Located in central Missouri, this joint-use facility provides reliable, accessible air service for members of the military serving on-post and thousands of their family members who attend annually for training graduations. It also links the local businesses in Ft. Leonard Wood’s surrounding communities to Lambert International in St. Louis, and supports tourism for the Mahaffey Museum Complex.
In addition to commercial air service at regional airports, we also want to highlight the important role of General Aviation (GA). GA encompasses a range of non-commercial operations, including private pilots that fly small planes, gliders, hot air balloons, homebuilt aircraft, as well as sophisticated jet aircraft. GA plays an important role connecting rural areas to the rest of the nation’s air transportation system, and it’s estimated that GA supports 1.1 million jobs and accounts for $219 billion in total economic output.
There’s no question about the importance of regional air service and general aviation, but we must also recognize and address the challenges they face.
From 2007 to 2016, small and non-hub airports experienced significant declines in departures, seats, and connectivity. Additionally, in 2014, the Government Accountability Office testified that regional airlines were having difficulties finding sufficient numbers of qualified pilots.
Reduced service to rural airports is alarming.
In addition to reduced service, and insufficient availability of pilots, we must also examine federal programs that support air service at smaller airports to determine if they are working as Congress intended.
These programs include:
The Federal Contract Tower program, which allows FAA to contract with private air traffic control providers at 253 airports nationwide, including five in Missouri; Essential Air Service, which provides a safety net to ensure rural areas have air service, including four in Missouri; and The Small Community Air Service Development Program, which provides grants to communities for strategies to improve availability and price of air service, including multiple airports in Missouri.
This Subcommittee is mindful of the anxiety in rural communities that hear talk about funding cuts in Washington to these programs.
Proposed cuts to rural aviation programs are a perennial request of both Republican and Democratic administrations.
While a president has the right to propose cuts in spending, the Constitution gives Congress the power to actually set spending.
The purpose of this hearing is to examine what’s working for rural aviation, and what can be improved. To that end, we need to think of rural aviation and general aviation issues holistically.
I was pleased with provisions included in the short-term FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act that require the Department of Transportation to convene a working group and issue a report to Congress by July 15, 2017.
The focus of the Working Group is to consider whether funding for existing rural aviation programs is sufficient, and to identify initiatives to support pilot training and aviation safety for small communities. The Subcommittee eagerly awaits the working group’s report, and we look forward to hearing from our witnesses today.
I want to thank my Subcommittee counterpart, Maria Cantwell, for being here today as we continue to work in a bipartisan manner to advance rural aviation and safety as part of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization.
I turn now to Ranking Member Cantwell for any remarks she would like to make.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Spencer DickersonExecutive DirectorU.S. Contract Tower Association
Mr. Mark BakerPresident & CEOAircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Dr. Guy M. SmithProfessor EmeritusEmbry-Riddle Aeronautical University
The Honorable Laurie GillMayorPierre, S.D.