President's Position

Questions we get

October 1, 2006

Since Phil Boyer became AOPA's president in 1991, membership has grown more than 25 percent, to 408,000 members.

I began using AOPA as a resource many years ago, but it wasn't until I took the helm of the association in 1991 that I discovered the extent of knowledge and experience available to me and any member of the association. In fact, there is an entire department using state-of-the-art technology to answer member questions. The AOPA Pilot Information Center (PIC) has a staff of 21 full-time professionals who respond to more than 200,000 questions every year. Twenty-five percent of you will contact the center in 2006, which causes me to write this month's column to the 75 percent who don't call, or may not know about this valuable service. The member issues handled by our specialists range from casual questions about preflight inspections to very serious problems concerning FAA violations and medical revocations.

The Pilot Information Center specialists are all pilots, and count more than 60,000 hours and 250 years of combined flight experience. Many also are flight instructors, airline transport pilots, and airframe and powerplant mechanics. Staff résumés also include airline and military experience, experimental-aircraft building, airport and FBO ownership, and much more. Three of the staff are dedicated to assisting members with medical certification issues and have extensive medical backgrounds totaling more than 30 years' experience in FAA medical certification alone. And the medical certification department within the PIC is not only one of the busiest, but also one of the best-kept secrets in our center. So often someone will come up to me at a Pilot Town Meeting and start explaining an FAA medical certification issue, often a very serious and personal one, in front of the gathered crowd. Without wanting to get deep into one's personal condition, I politely interrupt and ask if he or she has called AOPA. Often a puzzled look comes to the person's face, and I explain that we have three people dedicated and highly trained in assisting with such problems. My disclaimer always cites that we can't change a disqualifying medical condition, but we sure can make sure that if an airman has the possibility of being certificated that all the procedures and paperwork are done properly, before submission to the FAA, or seeing an aviation medical examiner.

But you, the pilots we assist, say it best: "I just wanted to let you all know that your medical department did a great job of helping me get my medical back. Thanks for the tremendous help."

Another pilot wrote, "I am happy to announce that last week I received notice from the FAA that my medical special issuance was approved! I am extremely grateful for the assistance I received from the AOPA Medical Services. I am an enthusiastic advocate and will actively continue to support AOPA. My hope is that many reluctant pilots will understand that professional support is there if they need it."

Like any hotline designed to provide answers, sometimes the questions that come in make you chuckle or wonder: For instance, members who are dog lovers have asked, "I always wear a headset when I fly and like to fly with my pet dog. Is there a headset for dogs?" Until recently, we said no, but as reported in AOPA Pilot, we can now say yes (see " Pilot Products: Mutt Muffs," June Pilot).

More than 500 members contacted us last year about flying to the Caribbean, and a few wanted to know: "What do I need to do to land at or fly over Cuba?" Landing may not be that easy, but overflying Cuba, often to get from Florida to the Cayman Islands, is a common general aviation flight, and the PIC specialists have the answer.

Immediately after the great airshows held each summer around the country, we have received calls asking, "Is it legal to do a loop in a nonaerobatic airplane?"

One of my favorite questions, and now that I am a new pilot to tailwheel flying, the answer could very well apply to me, is: "How high do I have to bounce to be able to log two landings?"

There is no question that I have emphasized the lighter and more humorous side of this very important member service. These are just a fraction of 1 percent of the many very valid and serious questions you have each day for our Pilot Information Center specialists, and proof positive that there is no such thing as a dumb question, since it's the answer that counts. During my almost 40 years of flying, almost 8,000 hours of flight experience in aircraft ranging from biplanes to jets, one thing has never changed — like all good pilots I still have questions. The Pilot Information Center is my resource, and as an AOPA member it is also yours. The complete and accurate answer to any question about general aviation is never more than a phone call (800/USA-AOPA [800/872-2672]) or an e-mail ( pilotassist@aopa.org) away.