General aviation groups lauded the selection of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to succeed Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as the ranking Republican on the Senate aviation subcommittee, citing her background in aviation issues and good working relationships with the general aviation industry. The Commerce Committee announced the appointment Wednesday, a little over a week after Lott announced plans to resign from the Senate by the end of the year (BA, Dec. 3/256).
Hutchison returns to the Republican leadership of the aviation subcommittee, where she served as chair from 2001 to 2002. A former vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Hutchison has served on the Senate Commerce Committee for 14 years. She will step down as ranking member of the space, aeronautics and related sciences subcommittee, when she moves to the top Republican seat on the avition subcommittee after Lott resigns. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) will replace Hutchison as the top Republican on the space subcommittee.
News of Hutchison´s plans generated a flurry of laudatory press releases about her from both airline and general aviation organizations, all of whom covet her vote on the contentious FAA reauthorization bill. General Aviation Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pete Bunce said the selection of Hutchison is a "well-deserved appointment...She has exceptional experience in aviation policy, understands industry issues and represents a state with a strong general aviation tradition."
National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen agreed. "We are pleased to learn that Sen. Hutchison will be serving as the ranking member of the aviation subcommittee," he said. "The Senator is very knowledgeable on aviation issues and has an in-depth understanding of general aviation."
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association also praised the selection and said the move "adds an interesting new wrinkle to the FAA funding battle and the question of user fees." Hutchison this spring was one of 11 senators who voted for an amendment that would have shelved a $ 25 air traffic control user fee that Lott and aviation subcommittee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have strongly backed. The amendment to kill the fee was defeated by one vote (BA, May 21/227). But AOPA cautioned that Hutchison also has three major airlines as constituents in Texas - American, Southwest and Continental - and she "has to at least consider their concerns."
National Air Transportation Association President James Coyne also praised Hutchison for her active interest in aviation issues and encouraged her to work with Rockefeller to get the FAA reauthorization bill moving.