July 1, 2002
By AOPA Communications staff
An unprecedented AOPA-led effort to help mom-and-pop aviation businesses recover from the extended grounding of all general aviation after the September 11 terrorist attacks last year has stalled in Congress.
The original relief bill, drafted with AOPA's help and introduced by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) in early October, carried a relatively modest price tag of about $250 million. It would have provided relief for fixed base operators, flight schools, and other small aviation businesses devastated by the extended GA shutdown. (Airlines, which were allowed to resume flying almost immediately, received a $15 billion bailout package from Congress on September 21.)
However, a different GA relief bill was eventually written and passed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It provides benefits for more and larger aviation businesses not directly injured by the shutdown, and increases the price tag to an estimated $5.5 billion. In May, the Bush administration urged leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives not to allow a vote on the bill, known as the General Aviation Industry Reparations Act of 2001 (H.R.3347).
AOPA has worked closely with committee leaders for passage of the new bill, but it appears the opportunity for adoption of any GA relief legislation is becoming remote.
"Political wrangling has stopped this bill in its tracks," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "If congressional leaders don't decide to move this bill soon, hundreds of 'mom and pop' GA businesses will remain closed and an important segment of GA will be lost."
At press time, the bill's authors still hoped to get the legislation passed in its current form. AOPA Legislative Affairs staff is working closely with White House and Department of Transportation officials, as well as Capitol Hill staff, in an effort to get the bill moving again.
AOPA has long been a potent political force in Washington (see "Legislative Affairs" below), but has traditionally fought for the interests of individual pilots, making the current legislative effort to bail out small aviation businesses unusual. "We took this unprecedented action because our 380,000-plus members depend heavily on their local FBOs and flight schools for the infrastructure that keeps them flying," Boyer said. "We remain committed to helping our members — individual pilots and aircraft owners — keep their flying fun, safe, and affordable."
One day in mid-April, AOPA staff members were spread out across Capitol Hill. Two were at a Senate committee meeting, where the bill to keep Meigs Field open for another 25 years was debated. Another was huddling with a congressional staff member on pending legislation, while yet another was monitoring a House subcommittee meeting involving the NTSB, airport funding, new control towers, and streamlining airport projects. A fifth staff member was coordinating AOPA's Political Action Committee.
And that was just one day.
"We localize the issues for the members of Congress," says Julia Krauss, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs, "and help them understand how their decisions on aviation issues will affect their constituents who are AOPA members."
AOPA has the largest and most experienced lobbying staff of any general aviation organization in Washington. Krauss, Legislative Affairs PAC Director John Williams, Legislative Affairs Manager John Glaser, and Legislative Representative Corrie Cripps are all veterans of Capitol Hill.
Their experience, personal contacts, and relationships mean that AOPA's telephone calls get answered and meeting requests are granted. It also means much of the legwork necessary to protect GA pilots' interests can be done informally, during conversations with congressional staffers before or after hearings, or during chance meetings in the hallways.
Keeping a favorable view of GA on Capitol Hill has been even more challenging since the September 11 terrorist attacks, with AOPA staff working quickly to counter negative comments such as Sen. Herb Kohl's (D-Wis.) declaration that GA is a "ticking time bomb," or Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's (R-Colo.) complaint that lack of FBO security is aviation's biggest weakness.
"We use our contacts to benefit our membership," says Krauss. "We're not as visible as AOPA Pilot magazine or the toll-free Pilot Information Center, but we're every bit as vital. We're here to make sure that the freedom of AOPA members to fly does not get eaten away."
A record-setting 8,000 people and 895 aircraft arrived at Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland on Saturday, June 1 for the twelfth annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House. The event featured 17 hours of AOPA and ASF aviation safety and education seminars and showcased nearly four dozen new aircraft. "An event like this shows that GA remains a vibrant and exciting part of the aviation community," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
AOPA told the FAA in May that it should fast-track the new "sport pilot" certificate and allow recreational pilots to share privileges of the new certificate, including use of a current U.S. driver's license as a medical. AOPA also reiterated its longstanding position that private pilots should be allowed to use a driver's license as a third class medical.
"Every day, too many pilots are forced out of flying by high costs and regulatory hassle," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This long-awaited reform will provide relief for those pilots, as well as allowing more people the opportunity to become pilots."
The FAA's long-awaited Sport Pilot Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), issued for public comment in February, outlines entirely new pilot, mechanic, and aircraft categories with simplified requirements. A new sport pilot certificate, requiring a minimum of just 20 hours of flight time, would allow holders to fly light sport aircraft weighing no more than 1,232 pounds maximum gross weight.
In commenting on the NPRM, AOPA pointed out that at least seven certificated aircraft already fit the light sport aircraft definition, including Piper models J-2 or J-3 (Cub), the Aeronca Champ, and several early model Taylorcrafts. Under the proposal, holders of private pilot or higher FAA certificates also would be able to fly these aircraft under sport pilot rules with just a checkout, using their current U.S. driver's license as a medical.
If enacted, the new FAA sport pilot certificate would be the first new pilot certificate in more than a decade. The recreational pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 30 hours of flight experience, was introduced in 1989. Full details of the FAA sport pilot proposal are available online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/regulatory/regsport.html).
The FAA has adopted AOPA-recommended guidelines for quicker reissuance of "special issuance" third class medicals. (Commonly called waivers, special issuance medicals allow pilots with certain medical conditions to continue flying.)
The new policy allows local aviation medical examiners (AMEs) to reissue Class III Special Issuance medical certificates directly upon seeing acceptable medical records showing a stable medical condition. Previously, all waiver renewals had to be deferred to the FAA, frequently resulting in long delays.
The change is the second AOPA medical initiative adopted by the FAA. In the fall of 2000, the FAA granted an AOPA request allowing AMEs to issue first-time waivers in their own office for many conditions, rather than requiring delay-plagued deferrals.
More information is available on the AOPA Web site ( www.aopa.org/members/resources/medical.html).
A draft version of guidance on the FAA's Changed Products Rule includes an AOPA-requested exception for GA aircraft under 6,000 pounds.
The new rule will require any aircraft, engine, propeller, or radio upgrade requiring a supplemental type certificate (STC) on an aircraft over 6,000 pounds gross weight to meet certification standards in effect when the particular aircraft was built, rather than when it was certificated. Since most GA aircraft were certificated more than 30 years ago, meeting newer standards could add 30 percent or more to the cost of the upgrade. AOPA successfully argued that there was no measurable safety benefit in applying the rule to lighter GA aircraft.
The exemption applies except in those instances where the FAA finds that the change is significant — and even then, the burden of proof is on the FAA, not the aircraft owner, to determine that a later standard applies.
AOPA has learned that the Department of Defense funding request for fiscal year 2003 will not contain any language requiring destruction of vintage military aircraft now flying in civilian hands.
AOPA worked closely with Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) to keep out of the funding request language requiring demilitarization of "significant military equipment," including aircraft formerly owned by the Pentagon.
Last year, AOPA worked with House-Senate conferees on the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1438), in particular Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.), Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), and AOPA member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), to remove a similar provision that would have been harmful to vintage military aircraft.
Paul C. Heintz was elected chairman of the AOPA board of trustees during the association's annual meeting May 4 at historic Wings Field outside Philadelphia. He succeeds R. Anderson (Andy) Pew, who will remain an AOPA trustee.
The board paid tribute to Pew, who has led the board since assuming the chairmanship from J.B. "Doc" Hartranft in 1985.
New Chairman Heintz noted the transition to younger trustees on the AOPA board, providing continuity for the 63-year-old association. In the past six years, five new trustees have been named, the majority less than 40 years of age.
AOPA trustees serve without compensation.
Heintz is a partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell and Hippel LLP, and has served as chairman of the Aviation Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He holds ATP and CFII pilot certificates, and owns a Cessna 210. He is also rated in gliders.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in April issued an important endorsement of AOPA's request for a rule requiring pilots to carry a valid photo identification, such as a state-issued driver's license, when flying.
In a report accompanying the General Aviation Reparations Act of 2002, the committee said, "[AOPA's petition] can be implemented quickly and would result in pilots having a picture identification in addition to their pilot and medical certificates on their person when flying. The committee recommends prompt action by the FAA."
AOPA filed a petition for the rule in February, and received an FAA reply on April 1 stating that it had begun drafting a regulatory document that considers the specifics of the proposal.
Pilots calling the Anderson, South Carolina, Flight Service Station for the latest weather will speak to a briefer who is using a modern computer, instead of 1970s-era equipment.
The Operational and Supportability Implementation System (OASIS) went online at the South Carolina facility in April (see " Wx Watch: OASIS — And Other Visions," February 2001 Pilot). It is the first FSS to receive the equipment since testing was completed at the Seattle FSS.
"OASIS is the first step to solving the biggest problem that briefers deal with — outdated equipment," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA continues to be a vocal advocate for modernizing flight services."
Unlike the current system, OASIS is based on an off-the-shelf computer operating system, allowing upgrades. It incorporates better weather graphics and can superimpose airspace boundaries, flight restrictions, and other special-use airspace on the briefer's screen. As more flight service stations get the new equipment, it should help with notam distribution and search-and-rescue operations.
Upgrading avionics will be easier for aircraft owners, thanks to a new financial program involving AOPA, AOPA Certified financing partner MBNA America Bank, and the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA).
The new partnership makes MBNA's Aircraft Improvement Loans available directly through participating AEA-member avionics shops. The long-term simple interest loans also may be used for upgrading aircraft paint or interiors, or for engine overhauls.
AOPA President Phil Boyer and AEA President Paula Derks made the announcement in April at AEA's annual convention in Palm Springs, California. "At this convention, I always feel like a kid in a candy store," said Boyer. "Unfortunately, when you start adding up the pennies in your pocket, like we used to do at the candy store, there are never enough to afford what you want. Therefore, we are establishing this win-win partnership." For more information, call 800/672-5057.
AOPA vowed a full-court press to reverse an unexpected decision by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to close its popular Horace Williams Airport.
The decision by the state-owned school came without official public discussion. Even members of the university's own "MedAir" unit, which uses the airport to transport doctors and medical faculty to outlying areas, were surprised by the announcement.
"Horace Williams provides vital aviation transportation to local community members, tourists, alumni, and university guests," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Our more than 380,000 members nation.wide, including many Tar Heels, ask the university to reconsider."
AOPA has called on the mayor of Cleveland to step in after two public forums turned into calls to close that city's Burke Lakefront Airport. After the second hearing, the head of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association said, "The early returns are in, and Burke is toast."
In a letter to longtime airport supporter Mayor Jane Campbell, AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Bill Dunn urged the city to maintain Burke. He also reminded her of the city's obligation to keep the airport open in return for millions of dollars in federal airport improvement funds, and that Burke Lakefront generates some $61 million in economic impact annually and draws thousands of visitors each year for the Cleveland Grand Prix and the Labor Day airshow.
Closure would affect 13,000 AOPA members in Ohio and another 60,000 members who live in adjacent states.
A pilot working on her instrument rating won the AOPA Air Safety Foundation first-quarter drawing for a SP-200 portable aviation nav/com from Sporty's Pilot Shop.
Mary Ann Davis of Boulder, Colorado, qualified for the drawing by attending the ASF "Spatial Disorientation" seminar in Denver on February 5. That seminar, introduced just last year, has been setting new records for attendance nationwide and was just released as a pre-packaged ASF Seminar-in-a Box. More than 500 other pilots attended the Denver session with Davis.
Davis described the seminar as "very good" and "very helpful." The nine-year AOPA member has attended more than a half-dozen other ASF safety seminars, and says she plans to attend more in the future. In her spare time, she also volunteers as an aviation safety counselor for the FAA as part of the Wings Program.
ASF safety seminars are held throughout the year all around the country. To find the location nearest you, visit the Web site ( www.aopa.org/asf/seminars/).
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation is the world's largest nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving general aviation safety and is supported largely through donations from individuals and companies interested in promoting aviation safety. Since its founding in 1950, the GA accident rate has dropped by more than 90 percent.
Of the 895 gleaming aircraft admired by thousands at this year's AOPA Fly-In and Open House, easily the most eye-catching was the Socata Trinidad GT The Spirit of Liberty, currently the top item on ASF's Silent Auction Web site.
The sleek Trinidad, with its one-of-a-kind paint scheme, was donated by EADS Socata aircraft in April for the Silent Auction. Bidding on the aircraft will continue through August, with the winning bidder announced at AOPA Expo in Palm Springs, California, in October. Proceeds from the sale, less a reserve, will be used to help ASF's ongoing mission to promote GA safety.
In addition to the striking paint scheme, the 150-plus-knot retractable-gear aircraft features a Bendix/King KAP 150 three-axis autopilot, KMD 850 multifunction display, KLN 94 color GPS, KDR 510 weather information datalink receiver, and a Goodrich WX-500 Stormscope and Skywatch traffic advisory system.
At press time, the highest bid for the Trinidad was more than $100,000 below list value.
AOPA's ASN Volunteer of the Month Jack Tunstill ascribes his success at saving his embattled home airport to "keeping pressure on public officials."
Tunstill started his fight to save Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida, in July 2001. At that time, pressure was building to close the airport and redevelop the property.
"The airport sits on prime waterfront property," explained Tunstill. "And city officials thought they could simply buy their way out of grant assurances they'd given when they accepted FAA money for the airport."
As part of his efforts, Tunstill asked FAA Acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger for help. That led to an April 17 letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker from FAA Southern Region Administrator Carolyn Blum. "Albert Whitted Airport is very important to the regional, state, and national system of airports," Blum wrote. She also referred the mayor to an earlier letter from FAA Associate Administrator for Airports Woodie Woodward that said, "The city is obligated to operate the airport through the useful life of the improvements 20 years from the date of the most recent grant." St. Petersburg received more than $500,000 in FAA grants in 2001.
The letters, the direct result of Tunstill's efforts, set a new tone in the FAA's relationship with airport sponsors. "AOPA intends to make sure that the FAA continues with this position regarding the enforcement of FAA contracts with airports that have received AIP funding," said Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager.
By Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager
Several AOPA ASN volunteers have reported recently that their communities are considering closing their airports, repaying FAA grants accepted for airport improvements.
Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a good example (see "Volunteer of the Month," above). When ASN volunteer Jack Tunstill learned of city fathers' plans to do that, he asked the FAA, "Can they?" The answer, fortunately, was an unequivocal, "No!"
In not just one, but two letters, the FAA reminded city and airport officials that acceptance of federal funds requires continued operation for "the useful life of the improvements, not to exceed 20 years from the date of the most recent grant." They also wrote, "Because of the important role Albert Whitted plays in the national airport system, the city may find it difficult to show any aviation benefit from the closure."
These letters support the longstanding AOPA position that airport sponsors cannot repay a federal grant, reclaim the airport property, and press on with redevelopment. The acceptance of federal funds is a powerful lever for keeping airports open and thriving.
Contact your ASN volunteer or visit the ASN home page to download information on FAA grants and how to save your airport. Visit AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/asn/) and click on "Find Your Airport Volunteer." (If your airport has no ASN volunteer, you may nominate yourself at the same site.)
Public-use airports in the United States are closing at the rate of about one every two weeks. The AOPA Airport Support Network designates one volunteer per airport to watch for threats and encourage favorable public perception of general aviation. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA online ( www.aopa.org/asn/).
Arkansas. Rogers: Airport commissioners for Rogers Municipal-Carter Field have a better understanding of how ASN can help build community support for the facility, thanks to an April presentation by AOPA ASN volunteer Warren Wilkey.
Connecticut. Stratford: AOPA ASN volunteer David Faile Jr. testified in April against a state House of Representatives bill that would have required background checks on all flight students.
Indiana. Fort Wayne: Pilot and community opposition delayed a scheduled April 15 Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority decision on the future of threatened Smith Field. AOPA ASN volunteer Kenneth Russell told AOPA that even nonpilot airport neighbors spoke in favor of keeping the airport, calling it a "good neighbor" with a "parklike environment."
Minnesota. Buffalo: AOPA ASN volunteer Jeff Anderson spoke at a late March meeting of the Wright County Planning and Land Use Committee, educating officials on the incompatibility of a proposed go-kart raceway immediately adjacent to Buffalo Municipal Airport. One month later commissioners voted unanimously to deny the land use.
New Jersey. Hillsborough: Mayor Joseph Tricarico of Hillsborough Township has asked the New Jersey Aviation Division to research available state and federal funds to help the township buy privately owned Central Jersey Regional Airport. AOPA ASN volunteer Martin Christie and the Friends of Central Jersey Regional Airport have been working for the township action. Readington: State officials have agreed to purchase Solberg-Hunterdon Airport for $22 million. The move forestalls condemnation of the airport property by Readington Township officials, who have been involved in a long feud with airport owners. AOPA ASN volunteer Simeon Hitzel played a vital role in bringing the state into negotiations and keeping pilots involved in the process. Some state officials called Hitzel's involvement "key" in making the deal happen.
Pennsylvania. Tunkhannock: AOPA ASN volunteer Richard Harding and other pilots are working to establish an airport authority for Skyhaven Airport.
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