The Highway Transportation Bill conference report cleared both chambers of Congress by wide margins late Friday went to President Obama’s desk for signature. Congress hoped to have the bill to the White House before the current funding authorization expired at midnight on Saturday, but given the complexity of the bill, passed a seven-day extension. The bill authorizes funding for federal highway projects through the end of September 2014.
But what was not included in the final version of the highway bill was the so-called "Alexander Amendment", which had been offered by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), which would have allowed the National Parks Service to exercise control of some airspace over the Grand Canyon. The amendment was offered at the urging of environmental groups who said helicopters make too much noise in sensitive areas.
“We could not have asked for a better outcome,” said HAI President Matt Zuccaro. “Our members across the nation, large and small, played a huge role in getting the word out. In the end, common sense prevailed and lawmakers listened.” To read the pertinent legislative language affecting air tour operators as well as language addressing public aircraft operations, click here.
The conference deal was a long and hard fought battle on Capitol Hill, and HAI deeply appreciates the strong support its members lent in the effort to address a detrimental amendment offered by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee).
The package passed on Friday, June 29, contains the transportation bill conference report as well as measures to extend floor insurance and lower the federal student loan rates and runs through the end of September 2014.
Of note for many helicopter operators, the Transportation Bill conference report requires all commercial trucks involved in interstate commerce to be equipped with an electronic on-board recorder within a year of enactment. The bill also asks DOT to create standards for training hazardous material inspectors.
The measure keeps transportation spending largely at current levels, extending the authority to collect gasoline taxes through September 2016, an additional two years.
USA Today reports that the NPS was ready with regulations for the Grand Canyon which would have required "no audible aircraft" in 67 percent of the park anywhere from 75 to 100 percent of the day.
The bill does require ongoing monitoring of noise from air tours in the park, and will also require helicopters flying tours in the park to be converted to quiet technology within 15 years. Tour operators will be offered incentives to make the conversion, which will include the opportunity to make more flights.