Senate Introduces Flight Act of 2017

Sen. Jim Inhofe (pictured in 2016) spearheaded the Flight Act of 2017 in support of general aviation airports and other aviation factors. James Inhofe/Facebook

Infrastructure investments at U.S. general aviation airports may become a lot more flexible thanks to a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

S.1320, the Forward Looking Investment in General Aviation, Hangars, and Tarmacs (Flight) Act of 2017, among other things, moves to reform Non-Primary Entitlement (NPE) funding, cut red tape for environmental reviews for GA airport projects, and designates certain airports across the country as “Disaster Relief Airports.”

Inhofe, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a certified pilot with over 11,000 hours, boasted many positive reasons for the legislation.

"Our general aviation airports are vital to aviation safety and positively impact the efficiency of large commercial airports, emergency medical operations, law enforcement activities and agriculture and small businesses activities throughout the United States," Inhofe said in an announcement on his website. "These airports also manage military-related air operations, which directly supports the readiness of our armed services. To enjoy these benefits, it is vital that our GA airports are equipped to handle their day-to-day demands.

“Oklahoma is home to 96 GA airports, which will need $303 million in critical infrastructure updates over the next five years. As a pilot myself, I know first-hand the needs of the GA community and the Flight Act makes a number of needed reforms to facilitate GA airport infrastructure investment. The Flight Act allows GA airports more FAA funding flexibility, expedites the environmental review process and incentivizes public private partnerships. This legislation builds upon past Congressional efforts to support GA airports and will ultimately grow the positive impact GA airports have on the larger airport ecosystem.”

Duckworth, who is also a pilot, said she understands why small airports are a benefit.

“As a general aviation pilot, I know how important small and rural airports are to communities across the state of Illinois,” said Duckworth. “That’s why I’m proud to help introduce this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Inhofe to ensure these airports have the resources they need to support local job growth and economic development.”

Most see it as a step in the right direction because of how crucial infrastructure improvement is at GA airports.

"With U.S. airports in need of $100 billion in infrastructure improvements in the next five years, the Flight Act is a positive step forward in helping general aviation airports better serve their communities,” said Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA).

The bill also received positive feedback from AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker and others.

“The Flight Act addresses the growing needs of our nation’s system of airports by providing the FAA with long overdue flexibility it needs to fund important projects,” said Baker. “Maintaining and upgrading runways, taxiways, and aprons and meeting the need for new hangars, helps keep airports and communities vibrant and competitive. This bill also takes a critically important step in recognizing the vital role that reliever airports play in natural disaster relief efforts.”

“We commend Sen. Inhofe’s unwavering commitment to general aviation as the Flight Act — among other things — will reinvest much-needed funding into non-primary airports across the country,” said Mark Kimberling, president and CEO of National Association of State Aviation Officials. “We look forward to continuing our work with the Senator and his colleagues throughout the legislative process and beyond to ensure that our national network of general aviation airports remains the envy of the world.”

Details of S. 1320, the Flight Act:

  • Reforms Non-Primary Entitlement (NPE) funding by giving GA airports more time to accumulate FAA funding for projects and ensures available discretionary funding originally set aside for GA airports remains available for projects at GA airports through a nationally competitive process.
  • Improves Project Delivery by extending to GA airport projects the same expedited and coordinated environmental review process used for projects at large congested airports. These reforms would empower GA airports with flexibility to devote needed resources to improving their infrastructure.
  • Establishes a pilot program for Public Private Partnerships at GA Airports to attract private sector investment for the construction of private hangars, business hangars or investments in other facilities so general aviation airports can grow as hubs of economic activity and job growth.
  • Designates certain airports across the country as "Disaster Relief Airports" and provides access to funding set aside for airports to use for required emergency planning activities, equipment, or facilities. This provision would help designated airports that lack the resources and personnel to adequately prepare for responding to disasters.
  • Clarifies Aeronautical Activity at Airports by ensuring that the construction of recreational aircraft is an aeronautical activity at airports.
Jake LambWriter

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