U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita visited Smith Field Tuesday to look at what could become the National Airmail Museum that he voted for.
“I thought I should come out and see it ... to see what I designated,” Rokita, R-4th, told museum advocates.
The House voted in April in favor of designating a Smith Field hangar as the National Airmail Museum as part of a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, offered the museum amendment, which was the same as a stand-alone bill he sponsored.
Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., recently introduced an identical museum bill. But the Senate has not considered it or the FAA reauthorization legislation.
With time running short in the 115th Congress, lawmakers might decide to pass a short-term extension of expiring FAA legislation “and then punt it into the next Congress,” Rokita warned.
“My hope and my pressure has been to get a long-term (FAA reauthorization) done before I leave Congress,” said Rokita, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Rokita’s term expires in January. He did not seek re-election this year, instead running for the GOP Senate nomination won by Mike Braun. Rokita said he flew his own plane to Smith Field last spring when he was campaigning for the Senate and when he was Indiana secretary of state.
During a separate visit to town, Young said Tuesday that the last “sticking point” for the FAA reauthorization bill in the Senate concerns airport user fees.
“But I do think we are going to find a path to victory on that legislation. ... I’m optimistic,” Young said over lunch at Coney Island in downtown Fort Wayne.
The Smith Field hangar that Rokita saw is used to store equipment for mowing grass and plowing snow. Museum supporters told him they want to upgrade parts of the building and develop interactive displays and exhibits that tell the story of airmail and Smith Field’s role in delivering it.
The museum, expected to cost $2.5 million, would be privately funded. Both the House and Senate bills prohibit the use of federal funds for the project.
Rokita heard from Bob Wearley, a leader of the museum development effort; Scott Hinderman, executive director of airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority; and other museum advocates. They talked about community support for Smith Field and its programs, including a flight school, Ivy Tech Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program and free plane rides for children sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles.
Rokita said at the end of his visit he will make a donation to the museum fundraising drive.