Senate OKs museum at Smith Field
By Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette
The U.S. Senate approved a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday, endorsing Fort Wayne's Smith Field as the site of the National Airmail Museum in the process.
The Senate voted 93-6 in favor of reauthorizing the FAA, with Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., supporting the measure. The House approved the legislation on Sept. 26; the bill goes next to President Donald Trump for his signature.
“That's a huge step,” museum advocate Bob Wearley said about the Senate vote. “After that, let's hope we get the public support that we definitely need.”
The FAA reauthorization bill would prohibit the use of federal funds for the proposed museum, which would be financed privately. Advocates have said they hope to raise about $2.5 million to turn Smith Field's Hangar 2 into the National Airmail Museum.
The FAA legislation also imposes new airline safety regulations, requires the FAA to establish minimum legroom requirements for passengers on commercial airliners, prevents passengers from being removed from overbooked flights, lets pregnant passengers board planes ahead of other people and bans cellphone calls, knives and smoking e-cigarettes on airliners, according to media reports.
The bill includes nearly $1.7 billion for Hurricane Florence relief.
Stand-alone legislation introduced by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, to designate the National Airmail Museum became an amendment to the original House FAA bill, and the final House-Senate version retained Banks' provision.
“This designation will be a huge asset to Fort Wayne,” Banks said Wednesday in a statement after the Senate vote.
“I look forward to seeing this project move forward,” Young said in a statement. He and Donnelly had introduced a Senate version of Banks' bill.
The organization Friends of Smith Field wants to furnish Hangar 2 with aircraft displays, interactive exhibits and photographs that trace the history of airmail and Smith Field's role in it.
Commercial airmail service began at the north-side airport in 1930, when it was called Paul Baer Municipal Airport. Baer and Art Smith were celebrated pilots from Fort Wayne who died in plane crashes while delivering mail.
Wearley said Wednesday afternoon that he met earlier in the day with a man who wants to donate to the museum photographs that had belonged to his grandfather, who was an early airmail pilot.
The museum also would house the headquarters of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 2, a gift shop and a themed café.