April 1, 2008
By Kathy Dondzila
The House of Representatives recently passed yet another extension on aviation taxes and the FAA’s budget, then promptly jabbed a finger at the Senate to take action.
The Senate approved the House extension without debate, but the extension does not resolve the FAA funding issue; it just pushes the next day of reckoning to June 30.
“The House has done its job on aviation,” said Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Our colleagues across the way in the other body have not acted. And if we don’t act, the FAA just simply runs out of money.”
The House passed its FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) in September. But the Senate has yet to resolve differences between its two funding bills—S.1300 from the Commerce Committee that includes a $25-per-flight user fee, and S.2345, the Finance Committee’s bill, which has no user fees. The previous FAA authorization legislation, which allowed the government to assess aviation taxes and authorized the FAA to spend money, expired September 30, 2007. Since then, the FAA has continued running on a series of temporary extensions.
Oberstar said that the House was again extending temporary FAA funding to June 30 to keep pressure on the “other body” to take action on a permanent FAA funding bill. He said that the House FAA bill had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, “yet the other body sits over there in splendid isolation as though nothing else in the world matters.”
Airport funding has been frozen since the previous FAA authorization bill expired. The House extension bill (H.R.5270) allows the FAA to spend Airport Improvement Program funds through June 30.
“We cannot take the necessary steps to improve our aviation system while we limp along on temporary extension bills,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “And we thank Chairman Oberstar and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) for their leadership in creating an FAA funding solution.
“We need the Senate to pass a permanent FAA funding bill, without user fees, so that we can move to the future.”
Runway safety recently took center stage as Congress asked industry leaders and government officials to address the increasing number of runway incursions. Incursions often occur when pilots become distracted or complacent in the cockpit. The same could be said from a big-picture, statistical point of view. When the FAA loses focus on its programs, safety issues abound.
AOPA President Phil Boyer testified at the hearing before the House aviation subcommittee and called on the FAA to make runway safety a national priority. Boyer outlined the runway incursion problem, illustrated what has been done in the past, and made recommendations for the future. He also made a pitch to free up airport funding so that infrastructure programs, which could help prevent incursions, can move forward.
Shortly before the hearing, the FAA decided to require all pilots at Part 121 air carriers to complete additional training on runway safety. One option, in addition to viewing an FAA PowerPoint presentation, is to take the online Runway Safety course for air carrier pilots, which was created by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation in conjunction with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). The original Runway Safety course for GA pilots (www.asf.org/ runwaysafety) launched in 2003 was so well received that the FAA and ALPA later asked ASF for a commercial pilot version.
“I can think of no single organization that has spent more time, energy, and dollars on runway safety than the AOPA Air Safety Foundation,” Boyer said.
Visit AOPA in the big yellow tent April 8 to 13 at the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In, in Lakeland, Florida. AOPA will offer forums on medical certification and buying aircraft, plus an “Invitation to Fly” session for prospective pilots. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation will host seminars on “Thunderstorms and ATC” and “Top 5 Mistakes Pilots Make.” Friday, April 10, is AOPA Day. AOPA President Phil Boyer will update pilots on the latest general aviation news at the Pilot Town Meeting on April 10 at 7:45 p.m. Show your membership card and receive a $5 discount on admission. With AOPA’s Pilot Information Center staff on hand to answer questions on every aspect of your flying plus advocacy updates, pilot products and services, education, and the AOPA “Get Your Glass” Sweepstakes airplane, the AOPA tent is your essential source for everything aviation.
Pilots who rely on electronic sources for weather and briefing information can rest easy—DUAT will be around for at least five more years. The FAA has announced plans to initiate a five-year contract for the continuation of DUAT services, with the option to renew for an additional four years. For the past few years the FAA has only renewed the existing DUAT contract for six- to nine-month periods, leaving the long-term future of the system in doubt.
As of February 1, 2009, satellites will stop monitoring 121.5 MHz, one of the emergency frequencies used by ELTs. This has sparked concern in the aviation industry and has caused Transport Canada to propose a rule that would require aircraft flying in Canada to be equipped with a 406-MHz ELT. The FAA has not given AOPA any indication that it will mandate a switch to the 406-MHz ELT. “The FAA has the right approach—let pilots equip their aircraft with the ELT that best meets their flying needs,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. Air traffic control, the military, and pilots will still monitor 121.5 MHz, he said. “AOPA will propose options to Transport Canada to allow U.S.-registered aircraft flying in Canada to be exempt from the rule.”
Remember the days when you could take the family to the airport for a picnic on a sunny afternoon? The kids could play in the grass while you watched airplanes take off and land. The romantic days of aviation that attracted the community to the local airfield are back, at least for one airport. Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida, recently celebrated the grand opening of Albert Whitted Park. Clear skies and balmy temperatures drew families to the event; children jumped at the opportunity to test-fly the new aviation-themed park, unaware that just five years ago, the airport was threatened with closure.
In a disappointing setback in AOPA’s fight to protect out-of-state aircraft owners from Maine’s unfair tax policy, senior state officials in February failed to rescind onerous tax bills.
The association is working with AOPA member Steve Kahn of Boston, who filed a notice of appeal in court regarding a $26,000 bill he received in May. Kahn, who frequently flies his Cirrus SR22 to his summer home in Maine, is being charged because of flights he made in 2002 and 2003. Kahn has exhausted his administrative appeals and was forced to go to court to keep his case alive.
“There is a fundamental fairness issue here. Maine Revenue Services (MRS) is misapplying the law,” said AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro.
“We’re disappointed that the administration didn’t take action to fix the problem before Kahn had to file his notice of appeal. Senior administrative officials seemed to agree action needed to be taken. Sympathy is nice, but we want this problem fixed, and we’ll continue to fight on our members’ behalf.”
During the meeting, AOPA told state officials that they should have MRS temporarily withdraw the decisions it has made demanding payments from pilots. AOPA ultimately wants the assessments to be canceled.
Plans to replace Kansas City’s Paseo Bridge with a new bridge that’s 150 feet taller could force major operational changes at Charles B. Wheeler/Kansas City Downtown Airport.
The bridge would force all VFR traffic pattern operations to move to the west side of the airport, potentially limiting flight training operations, causing peak-time congestion, forcing extended downwind pattern legs, and creating noise problems for surrounding residential communities. In addition, the 249-foot-tall bridge would need to be lighted and marked—provisions not in the current plan. The Missouri Department of Transportation has filed an obstruction evaluation with the FAA, and AOPA plans to file comments opposing the plan.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wants to repeal a sales tax exemption that has spurred aviation growth in the state, but AOPA is urging the governor to reconsider his plan. Since 2002, aircraft and aircraft parts sold in Massachusetts have been exempt from the state’s 5-percent sales tax, a move that made aircraft ownership, maintenance, and flight instruction more affordable. Since the exemption was enacted, the number of based aircraft has increased by 40 percent, while the multiengine fleet and the number of business-owned aircraft have doubled. AOPA is pressing the governor and lawmakers to oppose repealing the tax exemption, pointing out the economic benefits created by supporting aviation growth in the state.
AOPA is asking Utah’s governor to preserve money in the state’s Aeronautics Restricted Fund for airport improvements. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has submitted a budget proposal that would take $1.6 million of the slightly more than $2 million in the fund—money that comes from aviation fuel taxes—to replace one of the state’s aircraft. Utah owns two Beechcraft King Airs and a Cessna 206, and employs four pilots and three mechanics, for the benefit of the governor and other state agencies. But at a time of record budget surpluses, AOPA wants the governor’s office to use other funds to purchase the airplane, leaving the airport money intact. Without it, many airports won’t be able to secure funds for needed safety improvements such as airport lighting, longer runways, and new taxiways.
AOPA recently asked members if they need lower minimum en route altitudes (MEAs) on segments of Victor airways they fly, and they responded, with many saying such routes are needed in the Pacific Northwest and in the Southwest.
AOPA has asked the FAA to honor those requests. In a formal letter of recommendation, AOPA praised the FAA’s efforts to establish GPS MEAs for Victor airways in the Northeast and asked the agency to turn its attention to member-requested routes in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona.
AOPA has long been working with the FAA to publish GPS MEAs for Victor airways. Because GPS isn’t limited by the line-of-sight requirements of ground-based navaids, GPS MEAs can often be significantly lower, opening valuable airspace and, in some cases, allowing pilots to fly below bad weather and potential icing conditions.
Late in 2007, the FAA published lower GPS MEAs for portions of six Victor routes in the Northeast and announced plans for 39 additional route segments along the East Coast.
Many pilots assume that their FBO’s insurance policy fully protects them from liability and loss in the event of an accident. But it may not. The only way to know what insurance coverage you have is to carry your own renter’s policy.
The FBO’s policy is designed to cover the FBO—not you. Under many FBO policies, renters may be flying with zero liability coverage and zero hull coverage. If you negligently cause damage to the aircraft, you can also be held responsible for the FBO’s deductible on damage to the aircraft. The FBO’s insurance carrier may also seek recovery from you for the full amount of the loss, and you may be liable for damages from the loss of rental revenue to the FBO. If you are sued as a result of an accident with a rental aircraft, your legal fees can be substantial.
The AOPA Insurance Agency has negotiated significant renter discounts with major “A”-rated underwriters. These rates apply to both new and renewing policyholders. If you purchase a renter’s policy with the AOPA Insurance Agency and stay claim- and accident-free for the term of the policy, you’ll receive an additional 10-percent discount upon renewal.
Call 800-622-2672 or get a free quote online.
New AOPA Individual Term Life Insurance program enhancements better meet the risk protection needs of active AOPA members, including:
Call 888-879-2672 or visit the Web site. (This program is not available in Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, and Washington.)
OK, airspace experts, think fast: Is it legal to overfly Class C airspace without a transponder? Are you required to contact ATC before entering a TRSA? Will you be intercepted if you inadvertently fly through a National Security Area?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions (or even if you didn’t), we hope you’ll set aside a little time to enhance your airspace knowledge with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s newest interactive course: Know Before You Go: Navigating Today’s Airspace.
If the Know Before You Go title sounds familiar, there’s a reason: It’s carried over from our original airspace course. That’s where the similarities end. Designed from the ground up as a one-stop shop for airspace education, the new course uses animated 3-D graphics to help pilots visualize and understand all the different types of airspace. Interactive flight planning exercises and matching games put your knowledge to the test, while practical tips throughout the program offer real-world advice on operating safely and efficiently in the airspace system. There’s also an area devoted to flight planning resources; an optional section on Washington, D.C., ADIZ procedures; and a lot more.
Whether you’re a newcomer, a CFI in need of a teaching assistant, or a veteran pilot looking for a refresher, be sure to give the fun, free course a try. It takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete, but your progress is automatically saved, so there’s no need to finish in one sitting. Find it online.
As you flip through the magazine this month, you might pick up on the fact that it contains quite a bit of thunderstorm-related content. You’ll certainly notice a handy thunderstorm avoidance “quick reference” card you can tear out and carry in your chart binder (see page 151). The emphasis on thunderstorm avoidance in this month’s AOPA Pilot is part of an AOPA Air Safety Foundation initiative to raise awareness of the hazards that lurk inside these convective cauldrons and educate pilots about how to steer clear of them.
Of course, if you’ve been flying long, you’re well aware that thunderstorms can pack a knockout punch. Everybody knows to stay away from thunderstorms, right? Well, yes—and no. Every year, often as a result of simple misunderstandings or miscommunications, a number of unfortunate pilots learn the hard way just how dangerous these storms can be.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to avoid sharing their fate: Just taking ASF’s Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC interactive course is a big step in the right direction. You’ll learn what ATC can and can’t do to help you avoid storms, find out about the different radar systems used by approach and center controllers (and why you should care), and watch re-creations of real-life thunderstorm encounters. You’ll also learn practical ways to avoid weather-related misunderstandings with controllers, and get tips on surviving inadvertent thunderstorm encounters.
Before your next flight near convective activity, be sure to take the free course and download its companion safety advisor. You can find them both at ASF’s Web site.
In the 1990s, public-use airports were closing at an average rate of two per week. Over the past 10 years, thanks to the efforts of the AOPA Airport Support Network, AOPA member volunteers at almost 2,000 airports across the country have played an integral role in helping AOPA slow that trend. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA Online.
Maine: Airport closures have declined by more than 80 percent since the launch of the Airport Support Network program in 1997, but airport threats still arise each week.
Thanks to ASN volunteers like Alan Lyscars at Biddeford Municipal Airport, local activism and education will continue to be the keys to successful airport preservation. In January, Lyscars notified AOPA that a referendum supported by the town’s mayor to close Biddeford Airport would be appearing on the general election ballot in November.
Prior to the anti-airport mayor’s election last year, Lyscars and his fellow airport supporters wisely began planning for opposition by forming the Friends of Biddeford Airport (FOBA) support group in September 2007. The pro-airport group continues to write opinion editorials that run biweekly in the local paper and has been educating the media, town council, and community on the airport’s economic value through face-to-face meetings.
AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro met with the mayor and city manager to explain the financial ramifications from the FAA if the town closed the airport. Biddeford recently accepted more than $1.3 million in federal funding for the airport, thereby obligating it to keep the airport operating for at least 20 years.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: AOPA offers online resources that provide step-by-step instructions to help you form an airport support group, just as Biddeford Airport’s pilots did before trouble began.
Florida: In 2007, Paul Rooy, the ASN volunteer for New Smyrna Beach Airport, contacted AOPA for help opposing a housing development proposed within 500 feet of the approach end of its crosswind runway.
Rooy and local airport supporters formed the Friends of New Smyrna Beach Airport (FONSBA) and contacted the state’s Department of Community Affairs (FDCA), which filed an objection to the project citing airport encroachment as a concern.
AOPA commended the FDCA for its position and offered support. Since then, the city responded by filing an amended plan, but FONSBA and the FDCA continue to object since approximately two-thirds of the development still would fall in critical airport impact zones.
Rooy and FONSBA have stepped up efforts to lobby local elected officials and educate the public on the airport’s economic value by presenting the economic impact data derived from a statewide study to the airport advisory board and the city commissioners and by selling fundraising T-shirts with a pro-airport message.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Visit AOPA Online to learn more about protecting your local airport. Start by checking to see if your state has an economic study. You can do a rough cost-benefit analysis of your airport using the information in AOPA’s What’s Your Airport Worth.
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AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.