January 1, 2005
By Phil Boyer
Phil Boyer is the president of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations.
Thanksgiving Day in America is meant to be a time to offer thanks with family and friends, and symbolizes the start of a holiday season for many of us. This year was a very untraditional Thanksgiving for me as I used the holiday week to work in Europe in my capacity as the president of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA). This unusual Thanksgiving my family became the 60 countries worldwide that make up IAOPA, and my friends came from the leadership of the 33 countries in Europe whose AOPAs make up the IAOPA European Region. The location for this year's holiday was in Athens, Greece. I was responding to a request made almost two years ago by the new and very energetic president of AOPA-Greece, Ms. Yiouli Kalafati, to assist her in bringing a newly elected government's attention to the plight of general aviation in the ancient country.
Yiouli was ready for me the moment I stepped off an overnight flight from the States on Olympic Airways. She had a full schedule of meetings with prominent government figures, taking advantage of my international title to reach the higher-level decision makers. The number-one concern she wanted me to address was like rehearing the plight of general aviation pilots in Austin, Texas, or the situation with Meigs Field. Athens, a city of 4.5 million people, had been left without a close-in GA airport. A new international airport was opened in 2002 for the Olympics, and the old air-carrier airport Hellinikon closed, the long runway divided in half by a rapid transit line and half the airport property used for sports venues. Even with the runway cut in half, 5,300 feet remain usable. To make matters worse, the small GA airport of Marathon was closed and turned into a lake for the Olympic rowing competition. But a perfect solution was available by reopening the untouched half of the old airline airport for general aviation. The project needed momentum, and that's what we gave it. Meetings with the ministers of defense and tourism educated them about the benefits of GA. Our arguments were even better understood by the deputy minister of transportation and the governor of the Civil Aviation Administration. Many military airports are available in Greece, but GA must give four days advance notice with exact departure and arrival times, plus the names of all passengers. The flexibility this removes from small-airplane flying is enormous. The minister of defense liked an idea I proposed that AOPA members might be involved in a sort of "trusted pilot" program to allow short-notice use of his airfields. In addition, many of the popular destination airports in Greece are open only when served by the airlines, often for an hour in the morning and an hour later in the day. GA can only use these fields during that hour, rendering them useless 22 hours of every day. We received pledges to work with AOPA-Greece in solving these problems, and pushed for a timeline to reopen Hellinikon.
Yiouli's effort culminated in the first-ever "Single European Sky — GA's Prospects in Greece" conference on Friday where many guests, including yours truly, spoke before an audience of more than 100 GA registrants. At one point I countered a participant who was claiming he couldn't get anything accomplished because AOPA-Greece was only 100 members strong. I cited numerous airport wins in the United States where local groups of similar size worked with AOPA to accomplish more than they have to do in Athens.
On Saturday a majority of the European AOPA leaders met, as they do every six months. The issues are very similar to ours in the United States, but magnified: airports, airspace, fuel prices, and, of course, the cost of flying. In Austria, all engines must be overhauled at the manufacturers' recommended time, regardless of the condition. In Italy all service bulletins are mandatory and treated like airworthiness directives (ADs). Cyprus is a very small island — 50 by 100 miles — and its GA airport closed after our terrorist attacks. Because of the country's location, international flights require 72-hour government notice. Nearby Lebanon, with $10-a-gallon avgas, pre-9/11, used Cyprus for student solo cross-countries, which are now banned, so the only way to comply with the private pilot cross-country requirement is a 400-nautical mile flight. At Denmark's main airport, flight restrictions prevent training (such as touch and goes) on weekends and holidays, affecting safety and proficiency. New fees in Sweden will require owners of aircraft such as Piper Cherokees to pay an annual fee of more than $4,000 to keep the aircraft registered. In Germany, a Cessna 172 costs $200 an hour to rent, with fuel at almost $9 per gallon, and with airport and other charges, a typical 250-nm trip totals $1,000.
Returning home on Sunday I did experience a true feeling of thankfulness. With all the GA problems we continue to face in the United States they pale in comparison with those of Europe. I continue to be impressed with the enthusiasm of those GA pilots I meet abroad despite the conditions in their countries. Israel with so little geography to fly still holds rallies, promotes flying to young people, and flies its own version of Angel Flight missions. This year's Thanksgiving is now a holiday past, but the thankfulness I cherish of being a pilot in the United States was greatly enhanced, and the mission of AOPA to protect our rights and privileges to fly was reinforced.
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