The AAMS and the MedEvac Foundation Boards met a few days before HAI’s HeliExpo to have our “Spring” In-Person Board Meetings. The AAMS Board had a lengthy discussion on government relations activities and some of the highlights are below. They have also have been updated to reflect activity that has occurred since the Board meetings.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee passed, out of committee, its version of FAA Reauthorization legislation. It now heads to the House floor where it faces an uncertain future. There are several key points in relation to the House bill:
The House bill sought to privatize the air traffic control system by creating a non-profit corporation to assume control of air traffic control functions. That was by far the most controversial aspect of the bill and is opposed both by the air traffic controllers union and much of the helicopter sector, as the make-up of the non-profit corporation and its governance is heavily tilted toward the fixed-wing and airline communities, which raised concerns over issues of priority use of the ATC system among other concerns. That approach also appears to be opposed by Senate leaders. At last report, the House has scrapped plans to take up the committee bill given the increasing opposition to the ATC privatization piece. It is expected they will turn toward a short-term extension of the FAA’s authorization, which expires at the end of March. We expect the House at some point will modify the committee bill so that it does not include the current ATC privatization proposal. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee is also expected to begin work on its version of the FAA reauthorization bill, which reportedly does not include ATC privatization.
Of greater concern, in order to fund the original House bill, the bill gave the new ATC corporation the power to levy fees and charge users of the ATC system. There did not appear to be a broad exemption for air ambulances for any new charges or user fees levied by the proposed ATC corporation. There was, however, a provision exempting certain air taxis operating in remote locations. The definition of air taxis specifically includes helicopter air ambulances but appears to leave out fixed-wing air ambulances. In addition, the definition of remote locations is very vague and open to interpretation which offers little to no protection for air medical transport programs. We raised those issues with the Committee and were preparing to seek ways to remedy them with a blanket exemption for air ambulance transports, similar to the exemption we enjoy with the Federal Excise Tax. However, as the ATC privatization provision is being stripped out of the bill, so is the connected user fee language, nullifying the need for relief. We will, however, continue to monitor the development of the new House, and Senate bills, should the issue of user fees arise again.
On a positive note, the House bill contained language, requested by Rep. Sam Graves and others, to require the marking of all towers 50 feet tall or higher and 6 feet or less in diameter. The language also requires the establishment of a publicly-available database noting the location of all such towers. Similar language on the federal level has been heavily opposed by the Wind Energy community. As the Senate bill is released, and the House bill is reconstituted, we will continue to advocate for the inclusion of tower marking language.
On the Medicare front, AAMS continues to have numerous discussions on HR822/S1149 with our champions and committee staff, as well as other members to increase support for the bill. At this point, it is unclear when the House or Senate committees might take up healthcare related legislation, but we are working to put ourselves in the best possible position to be included in such an effort whenever the House or Senate committees act. In the meantime, we will continue to pursue all opportunities to advance our Medicare reform legislation.
As the Board does every February, we discussed the AAMS budget for 2016-2017. The staff works for nearly 3 months on the preparation and details of the next year’s budget and then presents it to the Board for their review and approval. We had excellent conversations around the current and future position of AAMS. Over the past year our membership has had a net growth of over 35 members across all of our membership categories. That is an indication of the success of AAMS and proves it continues to be the leading organization for our industry. I am excited to report that the Board approved the budget and I’d like to thank the staff for their hard work on the budget and their support for our review process.
The Board discussed our industry’s ongoing concerns about drones. Several of our members have had excellent conversations at their programs and we’re looking to learn from their approaches. AAMS is hoping to work with them to create a template for a path forward between programs and drone operators. Look for some information to come out around AMTC.
Several Board members and staff members stayed through Heli-Expo. As a first time attendee at the conference, I appreciated the ability to listen about the many challenges facing our community. Thank you HAI and to the city of Louisville for the incredible hospitality that you showed all of the participants.
Dave Evans, Chairman
AAMS Board of Directors