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Florida Senator a Champion for General Aviation

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), a fifth-generation Floridian, was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2000. He currently serves as a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Of particular importance to the business aviation community, Sen. Nelson is a member of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, which has jurisdiction over matters related to aviation. Business Aviation Insider recently asked the senator about his work on aviation policy in the Senate.

It could be said that you have a personal relationship to aviation and aerospace. Can you explain?

Yes, in January 1986, I spent six days as a citizen-astronaut, orbiting Earth as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia. I’ve always been an advocate for the space program and the technological innovations it’s brought about, but that experience also gave me a renewed perspective on the importance of our nation’s investments in aviation and aerospace.

Aviation and aerospace play a particularly important role in your state, correct?

Absolutely. The Kennedy Space Center is the most famous example, but Florida is also home to all kinds of aviation companies – from small plane and business jet manufacturers, to airlines, to flight training and engineering schools.

Aviation also helps facilitate business in the state, right?

Florida is a big state, and it can take a whole day to get from one end to the other. Aviation really puts a dent in that travel time. With an airplane, a business based in Pensacola can do a meeting in Key West and be back for lunch without the connecting flights, security lines and rigidity of airline schedules. They can serve more clients in less time, be more productive and more flexible. Business aircraft aren’t always just a luxury for big-shot executives. They’re also a productivity and job creation tool.

During the congressional debate over reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration, you have opposed user fees. Why?

User fees would make it prohibitively expensive for all but the biggest companies to operate aircraft. They would hurt small and medium-sized businesses by taking away their ability to fly on their own schedules and get to out-ofthe- way areas not served by the airlines. Not to mention that user fees would hurt the businesses in the aviation field itself. I was glad to see that President Obama’s FY11 budget did not include user fees. After years of fighting user fees in Congress, against administrations from both parties, it seems the Obama Administration has finally decided to put this issue behind us. Now I’m excited to start the truly important work of modernizing our National Airspace System, and helping the aviation industry bounce back from this recession.