President's Position

Protecting GA is in our roots

November 1, 2001

Phil Boyer has served as president of AOPA since 1991.

As I collect my thoughts and reflect on the tragic events of September 11, I remain horrified at the loss of life and outraged at the cowardly acts that have altered the landscape of our nation in two of our finest cities and in a Pennsylvania field. Through this national tragedy, Americans have quickly rebounded as Americans do — with determination and resolve.

Your association has been working with its own determination, realizing the unprecedented calamity for general aviation. But from tragedy, remarkable things often happen. Founded in May 1939, AOPA faced an emerging global war and mounting national security restrictions to personal and business flying. Today's AOPA has evolved far beyond what the founders envisioned and exists in sharp contrast to any other aviation organization. In this time of crisis, we bring to the table resources that no other organization can muster.

Aircraft owners, pilots, and businesses that support flight activity have been brought to their knees by being denied access to the public's airspace. Your association has acted swiftly to restore as many flying privileges as feasible, as soon as possible, and in a responsible way. None of us will rest until we lift the remaining airspace and operational restrictions.

The single most important element of AOPA's response to this crisis has been our use of AOPA Online. You have grown to depend on the Web site for up-to-date information. Usage statistics for the first week following the attacks showed a sixfold increase. Demand reached nearly half a million pages of information each day, and in the first week alone, pilots and the general public referred to AOPA's constantly updated home page more than 2 million times, an unprecedented volume.

Members who have registered to receive AOPA ePilot had updated information about changing restrictions delivered to their e-mail accounts in a series of special edition newsletters.

We pointed out to government officials that some 41,800 GA aircraft were grounded at 282 airports inside 30 "enhanced Class B" airspace areas — aircraft accounting for some 21 million operations a year. Our headline read: "Free the GA 41,000!" One of the most onerous and least comprehensible bans was on flight training. I testified to this fact before Congress on September 25, and we worked hard to get flight training restored.

As some VFR flying resumed, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation realized that pilots might not fully understand the many quickly changing restrictions. Working with graphic artists, FAA textual information, and current charts, ASF staffers quickly plotted the new (and numerous) temporary flight restrictions on sectional charts, and posted them online so pilots could easily identify areas to avoid. In addition, ASF helped translate complex notams into plain English.

Members also inundated the toll-free AOPA Pilot Information Center in the days following GA's grounding. Our aviation technical specialists answered some 1,600 calls each day, nearly four times the normal amount. Staff members volunteered to keep the phones open on weekends to answer pilot questions in a rapidly changing environment.

AOPA stationed our VP of Air Traffic Services at FAA headquarters to ensure that officials understood the needs of GA pilots and that notams issued were clear and considered all circumstances. Quotes from member e-mails and calls helped us bring the real-world impact of restrictions from the people and businesses that were directly affected to high-level decision makers. Your voice was heard.

When we asked for you to flood your government representatives with e-mails and phone calls, you did. These provided the advance work to our congressional visits, and often I heard, "I know why you are here." The AOPA Legislative Affairs staff spent several days on Capitol Hill enlisting support from Congress for lifting the prohibitions on VFR in enhanced Class B airspace and working with members to craft a GA Relief Bill (H.R.3007) to provide economic relief to affected small businesses.

I spent more days and nights on the phone with both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey than they wish I had, arming them with up-to-the-minute facts and suggestions to help National Security Council officials understand the need for restoration of GA. Other AOPA staffers worked directly with top FAA air traffic control officials.

AOPA's more than 1,000 Airport Support Network volunteers across the country, normally the focal point for local airport support and protection, became a source of accurate on-the-spot reporting of the economic effects at their airports.

After the first week, the AOPA Communications staff influenced public opinion by pointing television, radio, and newspaper reporters to the wrenching tales of "collateral damage" done to GA by the restrictions. Television news stories showed forlorn GA aircraft tied down, while reporters interviewed business owners torn between patriotism and looming bankruptcy.

The events of September 11 have reshaped general aviation. There will be changes in the way we must do business to ensure our national welfare. There may even be misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. But rest assured, your association will continue to stand up for your right to fly and to work with government and industry to make sure only restrictions necessary for national security are imposed. My sincere thanks for the e-mails many of you have sent indicating pride in your association's work in this crisis. There is much more to do.