AOPA Action

What AOPA is doing to keep you flying

February 1, 2007

FAA can't run a business, inspector general audit indicates

If the FAA is supposed to be run like a business, it still has a long way to go, according to the most recent audit of the agency's books by the Department of Transportation's inspector general (IG).

The FAA can't properly account for almost $5 billion in assets and property, most of it attributed to the new Air Traffic Organization, which runs the air traffic control (ATC) system.

Nor does the FAA yet have a fully functional cost accounting system, something the agency has been struggling to create since 1997.

"This audit report underscores that the user-fee debate is about more than policy," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

"How in the world can they price their 'product' — ATC services — if they can't track their assets or their costs?"

In fact, the agency's financial controls are so weak that it will cause the entire Department of Transportation to be in violation of the federal version of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act if not fixed before September, an international law firm that reviewed the audit has told AOPA. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 is a federal law passed in response to major corporate and accounting scandals. Named after sponsors Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Michael G. Oxley (R-Oh.), the legislation establishes new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management, and public accounting firms.

Meanwhile, another report from the inspector general says that the FAA and the airlines have yet to prove that the current funding system needs to be changed in favor of a user-fee system.

In this report, "Top Management Challenges — Department of Transportation," the IG notes that there is "intense controversy regarding what type of fees should be charged, who should pay what, and how — if at all — the current oversight of FAA spending should be altered."

To justify a switch to a user-fee system, "the FAA would need to demonstrate clearly and convincingly why the current excise tax financing mechanism is not adequate and how its proposed solution would fix this problem."

It hasn't.

The IG also listed the challenge of determining how much the Next Generation Air Transportation System (ATC modernization) will cost, which will determine what kind of funding the FAA needs. So far, the FAA has just an "estimate" for a system that has yet to be designed.

For that matter, the FAA doesn't even yet know what it will cost to replace retiring air traffic controllers, according to the IG.

"If you don't know your costs, how can you possibly say that you don't have enough revenue?" asked Boyer.

"Everybody would like more money and the freedom to spend it without anybody looking over their shoulder," said Boyer. "The FAA sure can't make a business case for that, as the audits clearly demonstrate."

The FAA audit was actually conducted by one of the leading international accounting firms, KPMG, for the IG. The firm returned a "qualified" audit, which, as anyone who runs a business knows, is bad news.

FAA takes steps to protect airport funding

Does your airport need funds for repairs or expansion? The FAA is working to ensure that the eligible airports that need Airport Improvement Program funding most get it. The agency bases the amount of funding it gives to each airport in part on the number of based aircraft and operations it has. To ensure that number is accurate, the FAA asked GCR and Associates, a company that it has contracted with since 1995, to collect the N number and aircraft type of based aircraft at every airport. Airport managers will be gathering this information. You do not need to supply your name or address. The FAA will not use the N number information to check aircraft registration.

"AOPA contacted the FAA to find out whether this move would compromise the privacy of our members," said AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. "The FAA's chief counselor says the information falls under the Federal Privacy Act, which means the data collected cannot be shared. The FAA has assured us that the information will be used solely to verify the number of aircraft at an airport so that federal funds can be properly appropriated."

AOPA's Political Action Committee gets new Web site

In an effort to increase its clout on Capitol Hill, ward off user fees, and protect general aviation, AOPA is beefing up its political action committee (PAC). A new Web site provides easy access for members to contribute to the PAC.

AOPA's PAC provides members with another collective tool to ensure the needs of GA are recognized in Congress. The PAC bases its support on a number of factors, including a candidate's record, support for GA, committee assignments, leadership positions, and election information.

By contributing through the AOPA PAC, your dollars are pooled with contributions from other pilots and aircraft owners nationwide. This means that each dollar you give carries far greater weight than if you contributed on your own.

The PAC is a nonpartisan entity that focuses solely on getting a pro-GA majority in Congress. During the 2006 elections, almost 90 percent of the candidates supported by AOPA's PAC were elected.

Individuals can give up to $5,000 to the AOPA PAC per calendar year; corporations are not permitted to contribute, and donations to the PAC are not tax deductible. For details on how to donate online, by phone, or by mail, see the Web site.

AOPA Pilot is top association magazine

Folio:, the association and magazine for the magazine industry, awarded AOPA Pilot the 2006 "Eddie" Gold Award for the top association magazine, published six or more times per year, with its October 2005 issue. The "Eddie" and "Ozzie" awards, for editorial and design excellence respectively, presented annually, are among the most prestigious national awards in magazine publishing.

MEMBERSHIP ACTION

Staying safe can save you money

AIG Aviation Inc. and the AOPA Insurance Agency have joined an AOPA Air Safety Foundation initiative aimed at improving pilot safety-consciousness while helping to lower a pilot's out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an accident.

Through this collaboration, AIG Aviation has developed an accident-forgiveness and deductible reward program to support its client pilots' participation in the ASF program. (The accident forgiveness and deductible reward program may not be available in all states.) Best of all, the program is free.

"All it takes is a couple of hours a year," said Karen Gebhart, AOPA executive vice president of non-dues revenue. "Pilots simply take one of many select AOPA Air Safety Foundation online courses, or attend a seminar in person, every six months."

According to AIG Aviation, its client pilots who present a certificate for having completed an ASF course or seminar within six months prior to the date of loss may be eligible for up to a $100 deductible reward, and those qualifying for accident forgiveness won't see an increase in the policy renewal premium as a result of the accident.

The program applies to noncommercial owned and nonowned policies underwritten by AIG Aviation and is applicable only to gliders and piston-powered aircraft.

AOPA AIR SAFETY FOUNDATION

GPS know-how

GPS is the technology of the future. It will drive tomorrow's advanced air traffic control system and allow pilots access, like they've never had before. But tomorrow's technology is here today. Learn how to harness it safely with the AOPA Air Foundation's GPS Technology Safety Advisor .

GPS Technology is an excellent introduction to the GPS system. For those who are familiar with GPS operation, it's a wonderful way to brush up on technology that is constantly changing and becoming more capable.

Included in the Safety Advisor are in-depth discussions on how the GPS system works, how GPS navigation differs from VOR navigation, the different types of GPS approaches and how to fly them, the difference between the WAAS-enabled unit and a standard unit, and tips and tricks that will come in handy when you need them most. There's also a section answering frequently asked questions on a wide range of GPS issues.

'Say it right!' with new free seminar

Communicating on the radio can be a source of frequent frustration for everyone from student pilot to airline captain. This may be because of a lack of emphasis it was given during flight training, the variety of situations pilots encounter, or perhaps even a shy pilot or two. Whatever the hesitation, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation can help.

Say It Right! Radio Communication in Today's Airspace is the foundation's new free live safety seminar. Pilots who attend the session will receive straightforward advice for coping with common pitfalls for VFR and IFR operations, communicating in an emergency, and dealing with challenges at towered and nontowered airports.

The course also offers some inside information on which popular phrase the 2007 Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) says should no longer be used under any condition, reveals the three magic words to use when communicating with air traffic control, and tells which items to check before squawking 7600 for lost communication.

There's also a special feature for this seminar: Through coordination with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a local air traffic controller will be on hand at the end of each seminar to answer questions.

Registration is not required. Check online for the seminar schedule. Say It Right! qualifies as a safety seminar credit toward the FAA Wings program, as well as AOPA's Accident Forgiveness and Deductible Waiver Enhancement.

Weather wise

With all the force that nature can unleash, low ceilings and reduced visibility are relatively tame, in the scheme of things. Yet these two phenomena are aviation's top weather-related killers. With this in mind, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's free online course Weather Wise: Ceiling and Visibility should be on your personal must-do list.

This interactive online course gives pilots the information they need to stay safe in and around clouds and poor visibility. The course covers the theory behind what creates low ceilings and poor visibility, how to check for the warning signs in aviation weather reports and forecasts, and even what to do when the weather starts to go south.

AOPA AIRPORT SUPPORT NETWORK

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.

Action in the states

New York. Saratoga: Airport Support Network volunteer for Saratoga Airport in Ballston Spa, New York, James H. Flynn organized the first general meeting of the newly formed Saratoga County General Aviation Association (SCGAA). The first meeting took place in November 2006. Flynn noted that the group relied heavily on AOPA's model bylaws and committee suggestions found in the online publication Organizing Your Airport Group .

Volunteer of the Month: Rick Beach

San Diego County, California's 12 public-use airports have more than a million operations annually, and the number is increasing. As it is in many growing regions across the country, encroachment is an ongoing issue in San Diego County.

San Diego's Montgomery Field is one of the latest victims of incompatible land use in the area. Pilots and supporters of Montgomery Field, led by Airport Support Network volunteer of the month Rick Beach, are not about to let developer encroachments squeeze them out. When the steel for a new 12-story building was erected less than one mile from the airport, Beach contacted numerous local, state, and federal offices, as well as AOPA, to help stop the construction.

Although the FAA issued several determinations saying the structure would create an obstruction and hazard to air navigation, construction continued. Although the developer continues to claim that the building project should continue, Beach has assembled a coalition of aviation supporters who are keeping tabs on the developer's constantly changing tactics, and nagging the policymakers at the city, state, and federal levels to address the land-use, legal, and liability issues of this hazard to air navigation.

This kind of local action and vigilance is the reason AOPA needs ASN volunteers at every public-use airport in the country. The best defense against airport threats is solid local support.

Maryland. Ocean City: After years of disputes and controversies, Ocean City Municipal Airport is finally in compliance with FAA grant obligations. Several years ago, the airport sponsor constructed a golf course on airport property. However, the sponsor did not reinvest the profits from the golf course in the airport, which violated federal grant obligations. ASN volunteer Andrew Serrell reports that the airport's situation has turned for the better since the November elections. Ocean City's council saw swift changes in key seats, and now the city is purchasing the golf course from the FAA. The money will be reinvested in airport improvements such as extending the crosswind runway, building new hangars, and adding GPS approaches.

Georgia. Moultrie: Arthur L. Richter, ASN volunteer for Moultrie Municipal Airport in Moultrie, Georgia, has taken proactive steps in getting the airport sponsor to work with Colquitt County, which surrounds the airport. The city of Moultrie and the county are working to ensure that the zoning around the airport is appropriate to protect it for years to come. After meeting with members of the zoning committee and the county administrator, Richter reports that the new zoning plan around the airport has been restricted to agricultural. This will give the county and city control to prevent structures or development from encroaching on the field.

Land-use laws

Should land-use decisions currently made by local municipalities be regulated by state law? Although that is an ongoing argument, today we must defer to guidelines published by state departments of transportation and a handful of state statutes that oversee comprehensive plans for multijurisdictional regions.

Unfortunately, even in those states that have land-use planning requirements on the books, some states also provide a mechanism for local municipal governments to override local rulings that protect airports. A number of local municipalities have even refused to implement state statutes. The bottom line is that these laws still do not protect the airport as comprehensively as necessary.

AOPA's legislative affairs team, which includes 12 regional representatives across the country, continues to lobby states to adopt compatible land-use laws. However, lawmakers have told AOPA that the support must come from the local level.

Airport Support Network volunteers and all airport supporters need to actively engage their elected officials on this issue. AOPA offers help on its Web site for talking with elected officials.

To find out if your airport needs an ASN volunteer, visit the ASN Web site. Your help is needed to keep GA airports open and accessible through local political activism and community support.