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H.R. 8042: AIR Act

No word on whether Aladdin’s and Princess Jasmine’s magic carpet would still be allowed in.

Context: Disney in 2022

In March, Florida’s Republican legislature and governor enacted a law restricting instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity topics in schools. Officially titled the Parental Rights in Education Act, the bill was nicknamed ‘Don’t Say Gay’ by critics. Those critics included The Walt Disney Company, which publicly opposed the bill, albeit after the legislature had already passed it.

Disney has two main theme parks in the U.S.: Florida’s Disney World and California’s Disneyland. After the company’s public opposition to the Florida law, the state stripped it of a longstanding special tax status, which had been in effect dating back to 1967. (California, a blue state, hasn’t taken any legal measures against Disney in the same way.)

Republicans in Congress subsequently got in on the act, attempting to similarly punish Disney on the federal level. GovTrack recently covered the Copyright Clause Restoration Act, a Republican congressional bill which would rescind copyrights on many of Disney’s most famous films and characters.

Context: the no-fly zones

In 2003, as a small provision within a 3,000-page spending bill, Congress established permanent 24/7 no-fly zones over both Disneyland and Disney World. Ostensibly enacted for national security purposes in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, several aspects of the additions raised eyebrows:

  • There had been no credible, specific threats against either park at the time.
  • Disney’s lobbying was considered to have played a large part in the no-fly zones’ creations, as other large Florida theme parks including Universal Orlando and SeaWorld didn’t receive comparable protection.
  • Disney’s no-fly zones were granted without either a request or review by a national security agency such as the TSA, Secret Service.
  • While other 24/7 no-fly zones exist for sensitive political and military locations, from the White House to Kennedy Space Center to Area 51, only one other private company’s location in the entire country was given comparable protection: a terminal of the Alaska oil pipeline which handled approximately 20% of domestic oil production.

Both the no-fly zones in Florida and in California remain in effect today.

What the bill does

The AIR (Airlines Independent of Restrictions Act) Act would rescind the no-fly zones over Disneyland and Disney World.

It was introduced on June 13 as H.R. 8042, by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX22).

Why a Texas congressman, even though the two locations at issue are in Florida and California? In part, because Disney World and Disneyland are both represented by Democrats: Reps. Val Demings (D-FL10) and Lou Correa (D-CA46), respectively.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the no-fly zones are examples of crony capitalism.

“The federal government should not grant special privileges and pick favorites for powerful well-connected companies like Disney,” Rep. Nehls said in a press release. “Measures designed to protect our national security and public safety should not be co-opted by corporations looking to gain.”

“Because aircraft can be noisy or disruptive, interest groups may lobby Congress to enact restrictions for their benefit,” Rep. Nehls wrote in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA12). “The principle of fairness requires that the federal government does not favor one organization over another, or thereover, enact flight restrictions to benefit one favored organization.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the Disney parks are globally-recognized icons of Americana, with their Florida location welcoming an average 57,000 guests per day, so both its qualitative aspects and its large number of visitors make it a potential terrorist target.

Plus there are advantages aside from security. “The sole and exclusive motivation for seeking these restrictions is for the safety and enjoyment of our guests,” a Disney spokesperson told the Orlando Sentinel in 2003, clarifying that “enjoyment” included aspects such as preventing planes from flying “banner ads from trial lawyers.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted six cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Last updated Jun 29, 2022. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 13, 2022.

Airlines Independent of Restrictions Act or the AIR Act

This bill directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to rescind no fly zone restrictions over Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, imposed under Federal Aviation Administration Notices to Airmen and stop maintaining the restrictions imposed under such notices.

DOT may not issue a regulation or Notice to Air Missions to impose a no fly zone over Disneyworld and Disneyland for a period longer than 30 days, with specified exceptions for national security concerns.