Congress voids an AIP requirement for an airport; did it set a precedent?

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Seniority and membership matter in the US Senate. There are no written rules, but within the penumbra of power much can be done. As the Congress rushes to pass a bill keeping the federal government open and to get home for the holidays, S.2759, which was introduced by Sen. McCaskill, was passed by both houses. The legislation authorized the closure of the St. Clair Airport. That’s an unfortunate precedent.

AOPA, GAMA, NATA and NBAA, all objected to the closure of this rural airport, but most importantly, they vociferously complained that the legislation basically short-circuited the agreed to process for closure. All airports must sign Grant Assurances as a predicate to receiving funds to develop the airport. The local papers stated that the airport has been operated in the red for several years.

Evidentially, St. Clair did not want to meet its contractual (and statutory) obligations; so they went to the Senior Senator from Missouri and senior majority Member of the Commerce Committee for help. She drafted and submitted a bill to release the city of St. Clair from all restrictions, conditions and limitations on the use, encumbrance, conveyance and closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport.

The Bill was introduced in July, 2014, was reported out of her Committee on December 1, 2013 (without hearing), passed on the Senate floor by unanimous consent two days later and was enacted by the House by a voice vote on December 9. That track is faster than most legislation and the Congressional understanding of the precedent was disturbed neither by hearing nor debate. It is expected that the President will sign S. 2759 into law, soon.

While most of Congress may not have fully understood the implications of its action, one Representative (the House sponsor of S.2759) ,Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer did. Here’s his quote:

“It may come as a surprise to many Missourians, but a municipality such as St. Clair cannot close an airport which it owns and operates without permission from the federal government.”

The Member summarized a statement of the law voided by his bill and well-articulated an example, which other airports will likely follow. Airports, like Santa Monica, may well ask for the McCaskill precedent. On the other hand, there are many communities seeking AIP funds to build their node to the national economy through an airport. St. Clair has rejected that option.

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