President's Position

The uphill battle

December 1, 2001

Phil Boyer, AOPA's president since 1991, has been a member of the association since 1967.

The aviation year is coming to a close far differently than any of us expected and considerably altered from the way it started.

At this writing, more airports are closed than last month. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) surround more than 80 nuclear sites, with deadly force allowed as the ultimate enforcement action for violating this airspace that isn't formally plotted on any government document.

Just this morning I learned that the flight service station specialists who are the official source of telephone and in-person briefings are concerned over the cumbersome procedures and technological shortcomings of the FAA in determining the locations of nuclear sites. The specialists have been "granted immunity for all operational errors or operational deviations related to failure to provide information to pilots concerning the status of these TFRs in the en route phase of the pilot's flight." But, what about us as pilots? We can be shot down while the government agency assigned the task of properly briefing us is off the hook?

Over the weekend, I flew to Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts, one of the best general aviation airports in the country. VFR activity was robust at the airport; planes in the pattern were shooting touch and goes and others were arriving and departing the airport area. But they were all students in flight training, either with a flight instructor or flying solo. Yet the VFR certificated pilots, many of whom own the more than 400 based aircraft at Hanscom Field, were grounded! The Boston "enhanced" Class B rules in effect at that time did not permit VFR flight. On that same trip I was given an ATC instrument clearance to fly an airway to Pottstown VOR and then direct to my stop at Wings Field, north of Philadelphia. Knowing N4GA would be at around 4,000 feet at Pottstown, and with full knowledge that the 10-nm TFR ring for the nuclear site was almost centered around Pottstown, I informed the New York controller of my situation and asked for direct to Wings Field to clear all airspace restrictions. He refused, stating that he was sorry but he couldn't comply with my request. He added that an approach control facility would solve "my" problem after I got closer. I told rim it wasn't "my" problem but someone at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must have a problem with small planes. Well, Allentown approach finally gave me a turn when I was 11.2 nm from the VOR and about to turn away on my own, even though I was under positive air traffic control.

Something is drastically wrong with this picture, but by the time you read this, I have every expectation that your organization, AOPA, will have been part of resolving these and other government actions that will continue to be imposed during this period of national "insecurity."

Why small airplanes, however? Part 135 charter operations using aircraft as large as Boeing 737s were allowed to use the airports within the 10-nm radius of nuclear power sites. And in the case of Part 135 operations the pilots and passengers are usually strangers, unlike the passengers on my flight, all known to me.

In the weeks since the September 11 tragedy, it has become obvious that rules like these are being made by high government officials who have no idea of what general aviation is, does, or contributes to our nation's air transportation system. At a hearing two weeks after the terrorist attacks, I turned to all the general aviation representatives at the witness table and in front of the House members stated, "Shame on us! Perhaps if we had been more vocal about the value of this important segment of aviation, we wouldn't be here now, arguing the case for fewer airspace restrictions."

It was then that we decided it was time to do something about the image problem that has so often followed GA. This usually occurs after high profile accidents, but now in a national emergency, when we should be part of the solution, we are being considered the problem. Every AOPA member has been contacted by mail with an opportunity to participate in our newly formed GA Restoration Fund. Included in the mailing were patri@tic AOPA decals with the words, "General Aviation Serving America." Early in 2002, we plan to launch a sweeping public education program that will help calm Americans' fears about GA.

The dollars raised will be used to reach out to the American public and government officials by producing and airing educational messages on television and over the radio; producing newspaper ads in the major markets, especially areas such as Washington, D.C., and New York City; and organizing a grassroots campaign among pilots. AOPA will tell the general public about the true face of aviation. We will tell them about the businesses that rely upon GA and the $65 billion impact we have on the American economy each year. We will tell them about the charitable work of our pilots and assure them about the safety of our airplanes and airports.

But to achieve this momentous task, we must have your support. We cannot expect any other group to do this job for us. Your organization knows that it is up to dedicated AOPA members to do what we have done in the past — preserve our freedom to fly. It is time we dedicate the resources and go beyond talking to ourselves. Through the GA Restoration Fund we will reach those who have made some of the aviation decisions we have questioned since September 11. With your help, this effort will succeed.