A pilot with a commercial rating and more than 3,000 hours of flight time, Sam Graves co-chairs the General Aviation Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. He helped found the annual Wing Nuts Flying Circus, an annual airshow in his hometown of Tarkio, Missouri, and is restoring a 1943 Beech AT-10. He talked to Air & Space Editor Linda Shiner in October.
Air & Space: Why did you see a need for a congressional General Aviation Caucus?
Graves: When I got to Washington [in 2000], I noticed that there are so many people who are regulating aviation who don’t understand it. And in Congress, there were very few people advocating for aviation. And you have people out there who have medical issues related to pilots’ licenses and are trying to sift their way through. Or they have certification issues, or problems with their local [Flight Standards District Office]. When they would go to their member of Congress, there was very little understanding of what the problems was, or what the regulations are. That's how I got started doing this stuff, and trying to help people nationwide.
Are the caucus members educating other members and acting as advocates for general aviation?
Yes, and we’re at 236 members now, so we’re over the halfway point [of the total House membership]—one of the largest, most bi-partisan caucuses in the House of Representatives. So we're pretty excited about that. This is the first time it’s ever gone over. The magic number is 218, which is half of the House.
Can you represent all aviation interests? There are sometimes competing interests within the community. Airlines, for example, are sometimes at odds with individual airplane owners.
We do jump into some of the issues that affect everybody. Pilot shortage is a big problem for everybody. A shortage of mechanics—that’s another big problem. And, you know, this movement toward outsourcing—moving jobs outside of the country. That’s a little bit of a problem for everybody. So we do have some common issues, but we have a lot of issues that don’t match. And it is the General Aviation Caucus.
What are the more contentious issues that the caucus addresses?
Groups are divided when it comes to how we pay for items. The Aviation Trust Fund is where all of our gas taxes go, and the airlines are paying a lot of dollars into that, because they use a lot of fuel. Big chunks of money will get spent on the big airports, but a lot of money gets spent on the little airports. We forget why the Trust Fund was created in the first place. We created it to build reliever and regional airports because the airlines wanted the little airplanes off the big airports.
I can’t remember exactly what the headline was; it was something like “400 Passengers Wait On a Piper Cub.” The airplane was actually a twin-engine Apache, and it was sitting in front of a 747, and the 747 had to wait for the Apache to take off.