President's budget threatens GA airports, Boyer tells airport conference

March 16, 2005

President's budget threatens GA airports, Boyer tells airport conference

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Airport Support Network volunteer William Wellings and Boyer with the General Aviation Airport of the Year Award for Upshur County (W.V.) Regional Airport.
Boyer surprises Pennsylvania lawmaker with a "new panel"
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Boyer presents a "new panel" to Pennsylvania legislator Gene McGill.

During his Pennsylvania trip, AOPA President Phil Boyer took a few moments to visit influential State Rep. Gene McGill (R-Dist. 151). Two years ago, McGill sponsored a resolution in the Pennsylvania legislature calling on federal security officials to reduce the size of presidential-movement temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). The resolution, passed by a near unanimous vote, also called for authorities to "reconsider the need to issue such restrictions based on nonspecific threats and ways to improve the timely dissemination of flight restriction information to pilots."

McGill is an active pilot and AOPA member and works closely with other pilot-legislators to gain improvements for general aviation in the Keystone State.

Boyer presented McGill with an "improvement" as well, a new Sporty's Pilot Shop poster of the new glass cockpit in a Cessna 182 to replace the old panel poster McGill has hanging over his desk.

The president's budget is bad for general aviation airports and could cause each eligible airport to lose a $150,000 "entitlement" in 2006. AOPA had worked hard to put that aid for small airports into law several years back. That threat to GA airports was one of the key points in AOPA President Phil Boyer's keynote speech last night to the FAA's Eastern Region Twenty-eighth Annual Airport Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Boyer spoke to more than 600 airport managers, consultants, and government officials Tuesday night as the conference banquet keynote speaker, where he also detailed what AOPA has done and is doing to protect airports such as Albert Whitted Airport and Witham Field in Florida; Lee's Summit in Missouri; and Rialto, Santa Paula, and Truckee-Tahoe airports in California.

FAA Regional Administrator Arlene Feldman introduced Boyer, saying, "Phil Boyer and AOPA are the voice of general aviation."

"AOPA's top priorities are protecting airports, fighting TFRs and user fees, and reducing the cost of flying," said Boyer. "And one of the biggest threats to airports right now is the reduced Airport Improvement Program funding in President Bush's proposed FAA budget."

Overall, the president cut the FAA's 2006 budget by 1.27 percent. But the administration took a much bigger chunk out of the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), lopping off some $600 million from the amount Congress had authorized. If the AIP budget is not increased from the $3 billion proposed by the administration, general aviation airports are going to be hurt significantly more than the air carrier airports.

That's because of funding formulas written into law. If the AIP budget drops below $3.2 billion, the set-aside for GA airports would be reduced from 20 to 18.5 percent. That means GA would get an even smaller portion of a smaller pie.

But even more ruinous for small GA airports, the general aviation "entitlement" of up to $150,000 per eligible airport would also be eliminated. For many small airports, that is the only source of federal funding.

"The small airports that can afford it the least will be hurt the most," Boyer told the conference.

To protect those GA airports, AOPA focuses on three key areas, Boyer said. First, the association provides advocacy and support from headquarters. That includes lobbying Congress for laws to protect airports and adequate funding; media and public relations efforts, such as the General Aviation Serving America Web site; and specific campaigns such as community information efforts for threatened airports.

AOPA also provides support for its regional representatives and Airport Support Network volunteers, whose hard work at the community level has frequently been key in saving an airport.

Finally, AOPA works in unison with the FAA. FAA Regional Administrator Feldman spoke of the importance of that partnership as well, joking, "Sometimes I feel like I work for AOPA."

Boyer noted that while AOPA can do a lot to help save airports, the involvement of local pilots and community support is really the deciding factor.

And the FAA recognized that by presenting its first annual General Aviation Airport of the Year to Upshur County Regional (W22) in Buckhannon, West Virginia. The award was accepted by Airport Commission President William Wellings, who is also the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for Upshur County.

The airport was threatened, but "we focused on changing the outlook of the community and campaigned for community support," said Wellings. They showed the benefits of the airport, and the FAA recognized the turn-around and improvements.

Boyer noted that the 600-plus turnout at the conference is the largest he's ever seen. "I think this indicates a growing interest in general aviation," he said.

The FAA's Eastern Region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

March 16, 2005