Fuller prepares for a year of challenges, opportunities

December 31, 2008

AOPA President Craig Fuller AOPA President Craig Fuller
Click the image to watch the video

Craig Fuller has taken the controls as president of AOPA—only the fourth president in the association’s nearly 70-year history. Fuller became president following an orderly three-month transition leading up to outgoing president Phil Boyer’s retirement on Dec. 31, 2008.

“I see a year of challenges, but I also see a year of opportunities,” Fuller said in a New Year’s video greeting to members. “Much work has already begun with the new Obama administration. We’ve met with the transition team, and those officials have been concerned about the issues that concern all of us.”

AOPA and its members recognize that the overriding concern for the new administration--and the nation in general--is the economy.

Expressing AOPA’s commitment to play a leadership role, Fuller wrote to President-elect Barack Obama: “Aviation is an integral part of this country’s infrastructure and economy, and I can assure you that AOPA is ready to work with you on the pressing issues facing the aviation industry. Top among these challenges are aviation safety, modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system, long-term financing of aviation infrastructure, aviation security, and responding to environmental issues.”

One of the keys to addressing all of these issues is finding the right person to head the FAA.

FAA Administrator

The FAA needs a strong leader to direct the agency, respond to the challenges facing the aviation industry, improve air safety, and ensure that the air transportation system continues its role in the economic revitalization of the country.

AOPA believes Obama needs to choose an FAA Administrator who has technical and people-management skills--including labor relations--combined with an understanding of the aviation industry and the political acumen necessary to lead the organization.

FAA Reauthorization

Enacting long-term financing that makes federal investments in safety, air traffic control system modernization, FAA operations, airport improvements, and government aviation research efforts is crucial to ensuring the future of aviation in the United States. AOPA strongly supported the approach contained in H.R.2881 during the 110th Congress, which used the time-tested system of passenger ticket taxes and general aviation fuel excise taxes instead of user fees.

AOPA has urged the new Obama administration to follow a similar course. This is a top issue for AOPA members, who have made it clear they remain adamantly opposed to user fees for any segment of the aviation industry.

Air Traffic Control Modernization

For nearly two decades, the FAA has been has been in the process of migrating from a ground-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based system that relies on GPS for navigation, aircraft position, and precision timing. However, this modernization effort (often referred to as the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen) must be better defined to include the plan for specific ground and aircraft equipment, costs to the government and to aircraft operators, and schedules. The benefits of NextGen, which have yet to be clearly articulated, also need to be defined.

The absence of this type of planning has generated important unresolved issues with the FAA’s rulemaking and initial contract for implementing the automatic dependant surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system that ultimately replaces ground-based radar with GPS signals as the primary means of air traffic surveillance.

Investment and Protections for Airports

The United States’ network of airports is an essential component of the nation’s air transportation system that is vital to the economic viability of communities across the country. There are hundreds of “shovel-ready” airport projects in communities across the country that could create well-paying local jobs. AOPA called on the incoming administration to support critical aviation infrastructure with a robust federal airport grant program.

While most political attention is paid to airline airports, the threats to general aviation airports continue to grow as local governments consider restrictions on operations, evaluate potentially incompatible development of the land adjacent to airports, or attempt to sell and redevelop the airport property itself. The Obama administration must be proactive in protecting critical components of our nation’s infrastructure through policies and enforcement of federal airport grant provisions.

General Aviation Security

Recently, general aviation has received a great deal of attention from the Department of Homeland Security. The new administration should view general aviation not as a threat to U.S. security, but as an integral part of the transportation system. Any initiatives, AOPA believes, should be based on threat data from intelligence sources. Anything that is implemented to address reducing vulnerabilities should be as transparent as possible to the pilot community.

No group has been more committed to enhancing general aviation security than AOPA. The association developed the Airport Watch Program, which is now an integral part of the Transportation Security Administration’s guidelines for general aviation airport security. AOPA has worked with security agencies on a number of proposals to find commonsense solutions that enhance security while imposing the least burden possible on pilots.

Environmental Concerns

While data garnered from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale are imperceptible through 2050, there is a need for leadership from the Department of Transportation and the FAA as interest in the environment affects aviation.

It is crucial that the Obama Administration is prepared to address proposed policies, regulations, and standards that target aviation gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft noise.

The Need For More Pilots

Beyond the realm of rules and regulations, one of the greatest challenges facing the entire aviation industry is the declining pilot population.

AOPA is determined to reverse the nearly three-decade-long slide in the number of pilots and has committed millions of dollars to do so, with or without government or industry support.

Let’s Go Flying! is the centerpiece of AOPA’s efforts. The program seeks to entice anyone who has ever had any interest in learning to fly with vibrant descriptions of places to go and things to do once a person has earned a pilot certificate. The Let’s Go Flying! Web site provides information on getting started, including a free DVD, then provides support throughout flight training, as well as information to help new pilots decide what to do once they have their license.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Fuller said. “But we believe we start with an important base of support. More than 60 percent of voters told us in an Election Night survey that they understand that general aviation is a vital part of the country’s air transportation system.

“Most importantly, I see a year spent getting out among the members, talking to them at airports in towns around the country.”