AOPA Action

What AOPA is doing to keep you flying

May 1, 2002

AOPA Continues Fight Against State Background Checks
INS Visa Fiasco Shows Absurdity of Proposals

AOPA's battle against mandatory state background checks for student pilots received a boost in March when the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) mistakenly sent student visa approval forms for terrorists Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi to the Florida flight school where they had trained. The approvals came six months to the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Atta and Al-Shehhi were two of the terrorists who hijacked airliners that day, killing nearly 3,000 people by intentionally crashing the airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

"This unbelievable government failure illustrates the absurdity of the student pilot background checks now being written into law in some states," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "If the federal government's own background checks lead to the issuing of visas to dead terrorists, then how in the world can individual flight schools be expected to ferret out the bad guys?

"The INS fiasco graphically shows that identifying terrorists is a federal government responsibility. And the feds need to fix their system now."

AOPA pointed out that while the proposed checks wouldn't stop terrorists, they would create unnecessary barriers and expense for law-abiding people who want to learn how to fly.

Both Atta and Al-Shehhi had entered the United States legally on business and tourist visas. At that time neither was on a terrorist watch list, and both easily passed the background check conducted by U.S. embassies overseas. In August 2000, both applied to change their visa status to student so they could begin flight training. The INS conducted a background check and approved the status change one year later. The two terrorists had already completed flight training by then. (It is legal for foreign nationals to begin educational programs once they've applied for a student visa.)

As of mid-March, legislation requiring background checks or other flight school regulation was pending in the legislatures of Connecticut, Idaho, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. Other states are reported to be considering similar measures. Check AOPA Online ( for the most current status of state background check legislation. In contacts with state lawmakers and governors, AOPA is reiterating that:

  • Regulation of aviation, including flight training, is a federal responsibility. Federal law, supported by numerous Supreme Court decisions, prohibits state and local governments from imposing laws at variance with federal regulations.
  • Background checks would not have prevented the terrorist attacks. The ringleaders had entered the United States legally and were not listed in any terrorist or criminal database.
  • If flight schools have to conduct background checks, they will ultimately have to access the same government databases that failed to list the September 11 attackers. Currently flight schools are not authorized to access the NCIC, the national criminal database.
  • State-mandated background checks on student pilots will impose needless expense on flight schools and students, creating additional barriers to law-abiding citizens who want to learn how to fly.

AOPA is also reminding state lawmakers that federal law now requires that the U.S. attorney general approve flight training for non-U.S. citizens in aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.

AOPA, Other Organizations Offer Plans for GA Security

On February 21, AOPA petitioned the FAA for a requirement that pilots carry government-issued photo identification (such as a driver's license or passport) when piloting an aircraft.

"This may be too simple for the government, but it sure makes good sense," AOPA President Phil Boyer said. "And make no mistake. Sooner rather than later, the government is going to require photo IDs for pilots. We're giving them a solution pilots can live with."

Earlier, on December 12, 2001, a group of GA organizations including AOPA recommended other security measures, including:

  • A U.S. government review of all existing and new pilot certificates to ensure that holders are not on any terrorist "watch list."
  • Aircraft owner steps to prevent the theft of their aircraft.
  • Verification via a government-issued photo ID of the identity of any individual renting or purchasing an aircraft.
  • Immediate pilot reports of any suspicious activity on or near an airport, with airport signs warning against tampering with aircraft or unauthorized use of aircraft.
  • Development of a Transportation Security Administration profile of individuals who should receive additional scrutiny before being permitted to buy or rent aircraft, receive pilot training, or work in areas that provide access to GA aircraft.

AOPA also has advised against unnecessary or impractical proposals, such as a requirement for a cockpit divider in small aircraft.

AOPA Working with Michigan Representative for Shoot-Down Protections

AOPA is working with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) to prevent future shoot-downs of GA aircraft, such as the one in April last year that killed an American missionary and her infant daughter while they were riding in an unarmed Cessna 185 in Peru, South America.

A provision in a foreign aid bill, added by Hoekstra in February, would withhold funds for the U.S./Peruvian air drug-interdiction program until new procedures are put into place.

"It's vital that innocent civilian pilots not be subjected to the use of deadly force and that all means to prevent another such occurrence are employed," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

In addition to the Hoekstra measure, AOPA member and pilot Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) introduced a bill in May 2001 that would eliminate authority for employees and agents of the U.S. government to assist foreign countries in interdiction of aircraft suspected of drug-related operations.

House Committee Approves GA Relief Bill

A bill providing relief for general aviation businesses hurt by the nationwide grounding of GA in September 2001 passed the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on February 27. The General Aviation Reparations Act of 2001 (H.R.3347) would provide $2.5 billion in direct grants and $3 billion in loan guarantees for those businesses.

In addition, the measure would compensate laid-off workers for lost wages and health care costs, and make compensation available to GA businesses adversely affected by the airspace closures surrounding the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

In asking for passage of the bill, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) called GA businesses "the forgotten victims of the tragedies of September 11." Echoing Mica's concern, ranking minority Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) noted that "general aviation is still hostage to the national security agencies who continue to limit the use of the nation's airspace."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a companion bill (S.2007) in the Senate on March 12.


FAA Develops Easy-To-Understand TFR Charts, But Only for Briefers

Pilots who have longed for easier-to-understand versions of the hundreds of security-related temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) that have popped up all over the country since September 11 got some good news and bad news earlier this year.

The good news was that the FAA recognized the success of AOPA's TFR graphical depictions on the association's Web site in February and started a test program to develop similar graphics for flight service station briefers. The 60-day test sent graphical TFRs to six FSS facilities.

The bad news was that the FAA plans to make the easy-to-understand notices available only to flight service briefers, not directly to pilots.

"While it's important for briefers to have the graphics," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "pilots are the ones who have the responsibility to avoid the security areas."

Since September 11, it's been next to impossible for FSS specialists and other air traffic controllers to keep up with the blizzard of new and revised TFRs well enough to be certain that pilots are properly informed. In addition, distribution of information has been hampered by antiquated text-only notam formats on a now-overloaded distribution system.

"We are pleased that the FAA is tackling the problem, and we've asked to participate in the process to ensure the final product is available to users outside the FAA as soon as possible," said Boyer.

Last Three DC-Area Airports Partially Open

In a unique Valentine's Day gift to pilots, the FAA announced that three close-in Washington, D.C.-area GA airports would be allowed to reopen, albeit on a limited basis. The three, College Park Airport, Potomac Airfield, and Washington Executive/Hyde Field, had been shuttered since September 11.

The permission to re-open allows operations only for aircraft based at the three airports on September 11. In addition, pilots are required to complete a security background check and comply with special ATC procedures.

The FAA promised to consider allowing transient aircraft to use the three airports after a "procedural validation period" for the new rules.

Since late September, AOPA had worked with the FAA to reopen the airports, effectively shelving early restrictive and cost-prohibitive security measures. For example, the FAA had considered requiring arriving aircraft to first land at "gateway airports" for law enforcement inspections before proceeding to the destination airport. Another proposal would have required law enforcement inspection of all aircraft departing the three airports.

Austin GA Insurance Requirements Called "Draconian"

Insurance requirements for tenants of new GA hangars at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas are "Draconian" and might threaten federal funding, AOPA is telling city officials.

In addition to high minimums on other mandatory insurance, individual tenants are being required to secure fire, legal liability, and contractual liability coverages. "But those are business coverages," pointed out AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Bill Dunn. "An individual owner in most cases can't even get those."

Other Austin requirements force tenants to include the city as an additional insured party, agree to a 30-day notice of cancellation in favor of the city, and waive transfer of rights of recovery against others in favor of the city.

In a letter to officials Dunn said, "We insist that you immediately modify and restructure the insurance requirements to be consistent with what is found at comparable airports."

AOPA Fly-In and Open House Set for June 1

Food, fun, and at least 15 fast-paced aviation safety and education seminars are scheduled for the twelfth annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House, Saturday, June 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at AOPA headquarters at the Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland.

Included in the seminar lineup will be the mid-Atlantic debut of the popular new AOPA Air Safety Foundation "Spatial Disorientation" workshop, as well as "Operation Airspace 2002," which offers practical advice on operating safely and legally in post-September 11 U.S. airspace. Other new seminars at this year's Fly-In include "Rent or Buy?" and "Upgrading Your Aircraft."

A temporary FAA control tower will be operating on the day of the Fly-In to help separate the anticipated 700-plus arriving aircraft. More information, including official arrival and departure procedures, is available on the AOPA Web site (

New AOPA Subject Report on Windy Operations Now Available

A new AOPA subject report on best pilot techniques in high winds is now available free to members on the AOPA Web site (

"Spring is when many recreational pilots dust off their pilot certificates," said AOPA Vice President of Aviation Services Woody Cahall. "And every year in the spring, we get hundreds of calls and e-mails from members asking for more information on handling spring winds. This new subject report answers those needs." (See " Answers for Pilots: Breezy Days," p. 32.)

The new AOPA subject report is a compilation of AOPA Air Safety Foundation research and 18 pertinent AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazine articles on coping with windy conditions. It includes advice on crosswind landings, minimizing wind-induced turbulence in cruise, calculating wind correction angles, and even guidance for deciding how much wind is too much.

AOPA-Sponsored CD, Money Market Account Information now on AOPA Web Site

AOPA-sponsored certificate of deposit or money market deposit account information is now available online (

Both deposit accounts, offered by AOPA Certified Partner MBNA America Bank, feature higher rates of interest than most competitors nationally and are insured up to $100,000 per depositor by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

"Pilots are busy people, and having these stable investments available instantly makes it easier for AOPA members to cope with fluctuating interest rates," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Products and Services Karen Gebhart.

AOPA members now have more than $450 million in MBNA's Consumer Deposit accounts.

AOPA CFI Liability Insurance Upgraded, Premium Reduced

AOPA flight instructor liability insurance now protects CFIs against claims of poor instruction regardless of whether the policy was in effect at the time of instruction. At the same time, premiums for bodily injury and property damage liability have been reduced by as much as 25 percent.

"Other CFI liability policies limit protection to instruction given during the policy period," said Greg Sterling, executive vice president of the AOPA Insurance Agency. " The AOPA Insurance Agency's new policy protects instructors on a 'claims made' basis, which means that as long as they maintain an active policy, they're protected regardless of when the instruction was given."

Sterling pointed out that the liability protection is now included in all AOPA Insurance Agency CFI policies at no additional charge, making comprehensive CFI coverage more affordable. In addition, better-constructed policy language improves clarity of the coverage.

For more information on the new CFI liability policy, visit AOPA Online ( or call the AOPA Insurance Agency at 800/622-2672.


Volunteer of the Month: Dan Radtke

Proposed user fees of as much as $850 a year per aircraft based at Manassas Regional/Harry P. Davis Field in Virginia were avoided in February after AOPA ASN volunteer Dan Radtke, a member of the Airport Commission, worked with officials and local pilots to find alternate funding options.

Like many GA airports throughout the country, Manassas Regional was faced with a budget shortfall in late 2001 and early 2002, exacerbated by the grounding of the entire GA fleet after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One proposal seriously considered to balance the airport budget was a yearly user fee ranging from $150 for a light single-engine aircraft to $850 for a larger turbine-powered GA aircraft. Projected annual revenue from the fees was $68,000.

Radtke and his fellow airport commissioners listened carefully to local pilots and aircraft owners who explained how they would be hurt by the user fees, and devised a more broadly based system that included an increase in tiedown fees, a fuel charge for security, and a reduction in expenses.

"This was a good example of pilots and airport management working together, listening and respecting each other's views and needs," said Radtke.

Radtke has been the AOPA ASN volunteer at Manassas Regional airport since March 2000.


By Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager

Most of us think airplanes sound lovely. And now that spring is here, more of us are again enjoying that sound around the airport.

Some airport neighbors, unfortunately, don't share our love of airplane noise. Surprisingly, it's not all airport neighbors; a study done last year by AOPA ASN volunteer Chris Erkmann at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport near St. Louis showed that only 10 households near the airport accounted for some 59 percent of all noise complaints over the preceding year.

Nonetheless, in the past 25 years, more than 20 percent of public-use airports in the United States have been shut down, many because of pressure from neighbors who don't appreciate aircraft noise. Don't make the mistake of believing your airport is immune from the problem, only to discover too late that it is not. How we operate our aircraft can have a dramatic impact on noise complaints. Several years ago, AOPA produced an excellent video called Flying Friendly, which suggests ways to maintain better relations with communities surrounding airports. All AOPA ASN volunteers have a copy of this video and would be happy to show it at the next meeting of your airport board or pilot group.

Not sure if your airport has an AOPA ASN volunteer? Go to the Web site ( and click on "Find Your Airport Volunteer." (If your airport has no ASN volunteer, you may nominate yourself at the same site.)

It's up to all of us to help keep neighborhood airports alive.

Public-use airports in the United States are closing at the rate of more than one every two weeks. The AOPA Airport Support Network, launched in 1997, 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 ( ).

Action in the States

Alabama. Elmore: Fuel service at Wetumpka Municipal Airport has been restored, reports AOPA ASN volunteer David W. Abbott. An education campaign for city officials on the importance of the airport helped restore the service.

California. Oceanside: AOPA ASN volunteer Arthur Sternberg has been elected to the Board of Directors for the Oceanside Airport Association, a newly formed airport defense group with about 150 members. Sternberg helped form the group, which is fighting threatened airport closure by city councilors.

Hawaii. Honolulu: Pilots attending a meeting on GA security at Honolulu International Airport agreed that standardization of security procedures at various airports around the state would be desirable. AOPA ASN volunteer Henry Bruckner facilitated the meeting.

Kansas. Garden City: AOPA ASN volunteer Jim Douglass has been named to the Garden City Regional Airport advisory board. Douglass is a former mayor of the city.

Missouri. Jefferson City: A proposed softball complex near the Jefferson City Memorial Airport has been shelved, thanks to the efforts of AOPA ASN volunteer John Kennedy and other local pilots. Kennedy worked with the airport manager, city officials, and state officials, pointing out possible hazards posed to airport operations by the field's proposed mast lighting.

North Carolina. Indian Trail: AOPA's videotape Local Airports: Access to America, provided to city councilors by AOPA ASN volunteer Bob Crosby in January, helped convince officials to annex Goose Creek Airport. The move is expected to facilitate rezoning of the land to light industrial to avoid incompatible development close to the airport.

Oregon. Seaside: AOPA ASN volunteer Randall Henderson has been building support for runway and taxiway improvements at Seaside Municipal Airport. A state-sponsored evaluation completed five years ago recommended upgrades.


ASF Online CFI Renewal Opened to Noninstructors

Air Safety Foundation's innovative online Flight Instructor Renewal Course in early March opened to non-CFIs interested in learning about life in the right seat. Tuition for non-CFIs "auditing" the course is $124, nearly 20 percent less than the $149 cost for CFIs.

"We've had incredible demand for this course from noninstructor pilots," said ASF Vice President of Training Dick Hiner. "It's an ideal introduction to the art and science of flight instruction."

The fast-paced 16-hour interactive online course debuted last June and allows CFIs to revalidate their FAA teaching certificates in the comfort of their home or office. It is a joint venture of ASF and Jeppesen-Sanderson, each with more than 40 years of aviation education expertise.

Using Web-based Flash technology, the course includes the latest on aviation regulations, procedures, instructional techniques, navigation information, and FAA policies.

Noninstructors taking the course receive a completion certificate for aviation education.

For more information or to enroll in the ASF Flight Instructor Renewal Course for non-CFIs, visit AOPA Online ( or call 800/638-3101.

Sleek, Patriotic-Theme Socata Trinidad Highlights 2002 ASF Silent Auction

A vivid patriotic paint scheme of entwined U.S. and French flags will adorn the crown jewel in this year's AOPA Air Safety Foundation Silent Auction: a new Socata Trinidad TB20 valued at more than $400,000.

The sleek four- or five-place French-built retractable was donated by manufacturer Socata and will be on the ASF Silent Auction block for four months starting May 1. The identity of the successful bidder will be revealed in a special ceremony at AOPA Expo 2002 in Palm Springs, California, in late October.

Profits from the sale will help provide ASF safety outreach programs for GA pilots.

The powerful 157-knot Socata Trinidad is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, including Honeywell's ground proximity and collision avoidance systems, and a Goodrich Stormscope. Its six-cylinder Lycoming IO-540 engine allows the Trinidad to climb at 1,200 feet per minute and carry a useful load of as much as 1,323 pounds.

The Socata donation for the ASF Silent Auction was announced on Wednesday, April 10, at the Sun 'n Fun EAA Fly-in in Lakeland, Florida.