HAI’s work across the United States ensures members’ voices are heard on critical issues such as AAM, community relations, and more.

HAI’s Government Affairs Department manages the relationship between the vertical aviation industry and various levels of government, including local, state, federal, and international. Our team’s key role is to advocate for our members’ interests and navigate the complexities of the political and regulatory landscape, not only in the United States but also in Europe and South America.

This year, our department has increased its efforts to help shape state and local policies that may affect our industry. This work involves building relationships with government officials, monitoring legislative activities, and influencing policy outcomes in favor of HAI’s goals.

All 50 US states have their own legislatures, which operate independently from the federal government. Any state legislator can propose a bill addressing a wide range of issues affecting aviation, including infrastructure, taxation, and workforce development. And because state legislation tends to move more quickly and become law at higher frequency than at the federal level, it’s important for HAI to track such legislation thoroughly and regularly.

In the past five months, HAI has tracked more than 180 state bills, including multiple bills concerning advanced air mobility (AAM), infrastructure, sales taxes, and both sound and aviation fuel regulations.

AAM in Texas and California

In the past two months, Texas introduced H.B.2678 and companion bill S.B.2144, concerning AAM technology. S.B.2144 was recently enacted, which means that the Texas Transportation Commission will appoint an advisory committee to assess current state law, identify potential changes needed to facilitate the implementation of AAM technology in the state, and develop a statewide plan for its implementation. The advisory committee will comprise members from diverse geographic regions of the state, local law enforcement, the AAM industry, local governments, and the public, as well as transportation experts, commercial airport representatives, and vertiport operators.

In addition, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will be required to review existing state aviation standards and guidelines, airport facility planning, and compatibility guidance to ensure their applicability to AAM. TxDOT will also be required to support the development of federal and industry standards for AAM technology that prioritize safety and to develop a statewide plan specifying potential locations for and classifications of vertiports and other associated infrastructure to guide the future operational environment of AAM.

HAI submitted written testimony supporting H.B.2678 and S.B.2144. In addition, we submitted a coalition letter with some of our AAM industry peers expressing our united support and engaged with state legislators to ensure the secure passage of these two bills.

California has introduced a similar AAM bill. If enacted, S.B.800 would require the California Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Office of Planning and Research and the California Air Resources Board, to establish an advisory committee to assess, among other things, pathways for feasible implementation of electrification goals for the aviation industry and require the committee to report its findings and recommendations to the department and the legislature no later than Jan. 1, 2025. Currently, the bill has passed the California Senate Transportation Committee with no opposition and is under further review by the California Senate Appropriations Committee.

HAI, with other AAM industry leaders, submitted written testimony stating our dedicated support for the enactment and implementation of S.B.800. We are encouraged to see states such as Texas and California help facilitate the safe, efficient transition of AAM into the state market.

Indianapolis Downtown Heliport

On Feb. 7, 2023, the FAA released a notice of intent regarding a proposal to permanently close the Indianapolis (Indiana) Downtown Heliport and change 5.36 acres of land from aeronautical use to nonaeronautical use and to authorize the sale of all heliport property located at the heliport. The Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) has submitted a request to release the Authority from federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) obligations associated with the heliport.

This is not the first time the IAA has submitted a request to close the heliport. In November 2021, the authority deemed the continued operation of the heliport a financial burden that outweighed the facility’s public value. When IAA filed its first request, HAI led a coalition letter to oppose the closure. By uniting 16 associations, airports, and companies, we were able to keep the heliport open for business.

Almost two years later, HAI remains engaged on the issue and is determined to work with multiple stakeholders to keep the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport open for business. The facility provides the city with tremendous public value through intermodal transportation connectivity, economic growth, jobs, future air mobility access, and crucial public services such as law enforcement and air medical access. Just as we did in 2021, HAI is striving to keep the heliport open, through either continued city operations or a change of sponsorship.

Hawaii and Federal Preemption

The United States currently enjoys the safest, most robust aviation system in the world. Central to this preeminence has been the existence of a single federal system of aviation policy and regulation that the aviation industry, its employees, its customers, and the public rely on and entrust with protecting their well-being.

The doctrine of federal preemption helps maintain consistency and avoid conflicts between federal and state laws. It ensures that federal laws have the ultimate authority in areas where the federal government has exercised its authority.

Protection of this single, federal, standardized framework is integral to continued FAA and US leadership in safety, innovation, and transportation options for all communities.

At the start of 2023, Hawaii’s House and Senate introduced companion bills H.B.1201 and S.B.969, respectively. If they had been enacted, the legislation would have conflicted with federal law. Both bills proposed that noise of more than a certain decibel level generated by helicopters should be declared a public nuisance and considered a source of noise pollution in violation of the state’s noise pollution law.

Furthermore, H.B.1201 and S.B.969 would have established fines and a private right of action for individuals to sue helicopter owners and operators for creating a public nuisance. Yet, the responsibility of regulating air traffic, and the noise related to that air traffic, belongs exclusively to the federal government. Any state or municipal effort to regulate in this area is subject to constitutional challenge and will be preempted by federal law.

After submitting multiple joint written testimonies with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and contacting multiple members of the Hawaii Senate Transportation and Judiciary Committees to express our strong opposition and provide information about federal preemption, both bills were deferred by the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Judiciary Committee stated that Hawaii has no jurisdiction over this matter and deferred the bill due to federal preemption of aviation regulations, meaning that the state cannot itself interfere with aircraft operations and cannot authorize private litigation that interferes with aircraft operations.

As always, the helicopter community strives to be a good steward of the environment and a good neighbor to residents who live and work in the Aloha State. While we appreciate the issues that S.B.969 and H.B.1201 intended to address, the proposed bills presented many impractical, unlawful, and logistical problems.

HAI remains committed to working with other operators, legislators, leaders, and community members in every state to proactively address concerns and answer questions regarding vertical aviation and its role in the community.

Environmental Issues

In February, the California Senate introduced S.B.720, which, if enacted, would require each public or private airport in the state to report to both the California Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board the regulations, incentives, and measures the airport is deploying to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from its operations.

The bill also includes a requirement for each public or private airport that has a high volume of private flights with low passenger capacity in a disadvantaged community to report to the department and to the relevant air quality management district its efforts to mitigate environmental injustice, poor air quality, and other effects on neighboring communities.

The bill stipulates that both reports would be integrated into the airport’s sustainability plan, and if the airport does not have a plan, it must file its reports on or before Jun. 1, 2024.

HAI and AOPA, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) submitted a coalition letter opposing S.B.720.

Of significant concern to our industry is the fact that the legislation’s requirements are impossible to fulfill. Airports lack the practical and legal ability to ascertain the passenger occupancy or cargo loads of an aircraft and to determine the trigger for “low occupancy.”

This bill would affect 242 public-use airports and a few hundred private-use airports in California, many of which don’t have towers and aren’t attended 24 hours a day, making reporting requirements infeasible and highly burdensome. Many airports are already understaffed and underfunded as well; additional burdens could impede their efforts to operate safely and efficiently.

Sales and Use Tax Exemptions

Recently, Texas State Rep. Ernest Bailes IV (R-18) introduced H.B.3003, which, if passed, would eliminate taxes on aircraft repair, remodeling, and maintenance services. The relief would also apply to machinery, tools, supplies, and equipment used exclusively for the repair, remodeling, and maintenance of aircraft. Additionally, any tangible personal property that is permanently affixed or attached to an aircraft as a component part would be exempt from taxes.

It’s important to note that the general aviation industry has a massive economic impact in Texas, with a sizable portion coming from aircraft maintenance. However, the current taxes on aircraft parts put the maintenance business at a competitive disadvantage. Aircraft parts are exempt from sales taxes in almost all adjacent states and 35 states nationwide. H.B.3003 aims to create more jobs in aircraft maintenance, which is a labor-intensive industry that provides highly skilled, high-wage employment. Therefore, HAI fully supports and looks forward to the passage of this legislation.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, has introduced a budget amendment (Amendment 4) to H.B.3770 that would repeal that state’s aircraft sales tax exemption. A major factor in Massachusetts’s economic success is a regulatory framework that provides a distinct competitive advantage compared with neighboring states. The aircraft sales tax exemption, which Amendment 4 aims to repeal, has been a major motivator in deciding where to base aircraft. The 2002 sales tax exemption gave way to a booming aviation maintenance sector and an increase in Massachusetts-based aircraft that now generates in-state revenues of approximately $1 billion annually.

Notably, states that experience the broadest range of industry growth employ a comprehensive aviation incentive plan extending to both aircraft and maintenance. The sales tax exemption on aircraft storage, sales, and maintenance has attracted major corporations to increase their fleet size and carry out all facets of maintenance and modification within the state, supporting aviation jobs and the airports that rely on them. Eliminating the aircraft sales tax exemption would harm aviation jobs and airports in Massachusetts. Therefore, HAI opposes Amendment 4 of H.B.3770 and has urged the state House Ways & Means Committee to oppose it.

Authors

  • Cade Clark

    VAI’s chief government affairs officer, Cade Clark has directed association advocacy programs for over 20 years. Growing up, he worked at an FBO where Cade learned to fly, washed planes, got in the mechanics’ way, idolized the old-timers and their stories, and deepened his love for all things general aviation.

  • John Shea

    John Shea is VAI’s senior director of government affairs. He came to the association in 2019 from the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), where he was interim president in 2018 and lead government affairs representative since 2017. Previously, as a legislative staffer, John advised multiple members of Congress on transportation policy.

  • Katia Veraza

    Katia Veraza is VAI’s manager of government affairs and regional relations. Prior to joining the association, Katia was a managing consultant for government affairs. She earned her master’s degree in political science from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

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Cade Clark

Cade Clark

VAI’s chief government affairs officer, Cade Clark has directed association advocacy programs for over 20 years. Growing up, he worked at an FBO where Cade learned to fly, washed planes, got in the mechanics’ way, idolized the old-timers and their stories, and deepened his love for all things general aviation.