May 1, 2009
By Kathy Dondzila
President Barack Obama’s proposed budget is calling for aviation user charges starting in 2011. The White House Office of Management and Budget released the proposal and although there is not much detail, the document makes it clear that the administration wants to replace some of the aviation excise taxes with “direct user charges.”
“Direct user charges are just another name for user fees,” noted AOPA President Craig Fuller.
User charges would total some $7 billion in 2011, or about half of the FAA’s total budget.
“We don’t know what kind of user charges the Obama administration would propose to implement, but the previous administration wanted to raise about $7 billion through air traffic control system user fees,” Fuller said.
In February, Fuller testified in support of Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar’s (D-Minn.) bill, H.R.915, to finance the FAA through the current system of aviation excise taxes. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recently approved H.R.915, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009, which now moves to the next committee.
“This is an important first step, and we strongly support this bill,” said Fuller. “But with the Obama administration’s call for user fees, we know we have a rough flight ahead of us.”
The Transportation Committee believes that the time-proven system of aviation excise taxes, not user fees, should continue to fund the FAA and modernization of the air traffic control system. However, taxes are the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. Last year, that committee accepted the recommendation of the Transportation Committee and passed a companion bill that would have funded the FAA from fuel taxes and other taxes paid into the aviation trust fund. But those bills stalled in the Senate.
The Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, has indicated it won’t begin to consider this year’s funding measures until after it examines the president’s budget.
Oberstar said he would reluctantly support another temporary funding extension until the end of September to allow airport grant funding (Airport Improvement Program) to continue through the construction season.
Both Oberstar and aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) said they would prefer quick passage of H.R.915. “We need to be maintaining and upgrading facilities to make our economy as efficient as possible,” said Costello.
The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) is not suited to general aviation aircraft and should not go forward without industry input, said the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the TSA.
In a recent letter to the TSA, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) called for the agency to delay implementation of the program and engage with Congress and industry stakeholders. Under LASP, commercial airline security procedures would be applied to aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, regardless of how they are used.
Several critical elements in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the LASP “appear to be problematic, unfeasible, or overly burdensome to industry,” Thompson said. “The committee is also concerned that the formulation of the NPRM was not based on a threat and risk methodology process tailored to the general aviation environment.”
The proposal would require crewmember criminal record checks, watch list matching of passenger manifests, biennial third-party audits of each aircraft operator, and new airport security measures.
TSA has extended the deadline for a controversial security directive (SD) that would require security badges and background checks for all general aviation pilots based at air carrier airports. The TSA will meet with industry representatives to consider alternatives and find solutions better suited to GA.
“Pilots are very concerned about the TSA action,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “The TSA must realize that pilots have a vested interest. Our goal is to work with the TSA to ensure pilots’ need for access at commercial airports is addressed.”
The decision to push the deadline for compliance back to June 1 will allow the TSA to incorporate industry input and come up with guidance for airports that minimize the SD’s impact on GA operators and airports.
The Civil Air Patrol and AOPA are teaming up to remind pilots to properly dispose of their old emergency locator transmitters (ELTs). Because many pilots are upgrading to newer, more capable 406 MHz ELTs—even though 121.5 MHz ELTs still meet the FAA’s regulatory requirement—the possibility exists that the old 121.5 MHz ELTs will be inadvertently set off and prompt searches if not discarded properly.
As part of the program, each CAP squadron is being given access to a poster that reminds pilots, mechanics, and FBOs to disconnect ELT batteries and send both ELTs and batteries to local electronics waste facilities.
Unfortunately, the campaign became necessary after CAP headquarters received multiple reports of its volunteers spending time and money searching for a beacon that turned out to be in the trash.
Twenty aviation organizations, including AOPA, have united to produce a joint industry paper establishing principles and guidelines for addressing environmental issues. The signatories to the paper, titled “Aviation and Climate Change: The Views of Aviation Industry Stakeholders,” represent all aspects of aviation from light aircraft to the airlines and from airports to air traffic controllers.
The joint paper establishes guiding principles to help frame the discussion and form the foundation of any measures used to address aviation’s role in climate change. It notes that all of aviation is responsible for only about 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. General aviation’s contribution is only a small fraction of that figure.
AOPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other organizations testified before the Connecticut legislature recently against the proposed sale of state-owned airports to private owners.
Members of the General Assembly have introduced bills to investigate the feasibility of selling Bradley International Airport and five general aviation airports as a short-term fix to try to alleviate the projected budget deficit. AOPA Northeast Regional Representative Craig Dotlo testified that the privatization of the airports would be unwise and could even lead to the eventual closure of some Connecticut airports.
State-owned airports currently receive substantial funding for airport improvements from the FAA, which is given on the condition that an airport cannot close within 20 years of accepting grant money. Private entities may try to violate such agreements if airports fail to make a profit, or forgo the federal program altogether to avoid these obligations.
The controversy over permitted activity at North Las Vegas Airport moved to the state capitol recently as AOPA met with Nevada lawmakers to prevent a ban on experimental aircraft at the airport. The association acted quickly to delay a hearing on the ban to allow more time to work directly with the bill sponsors and Clark County officials to create a positive plan of action to improve safety at North Las Vegas Airport without an overreaching preemption of FAA regulations.
AOPA pledged to continue working with state and federal legislators, local pilot groups, and the Clark County Department of Aviation.
The city of St. Clair, Missouri, should stop wasting resources looking into closing its airport and take better care of airport property, AOPA said in a recent letter to city officials.
Closing St. Clair Regional Airport would violate the city’s contract with the FAA, wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of local airport advocacy, in a letter to St. Clair Mayor Ron Blum. In addition, the city has neglected airport facilities, and a city-operated pumping station on airport grounds may be illegally diverting airport revenue, Dunn wrote.
City administrators have been considering closing the airport and have issued a memorandum requesting a legal opinion on its closure. However, in accepting federal funds for the airport, the city had agreed to operate it as an airport through 2026. Dunn met with officials from the State of Missouri Aviation Division and the FAA, and both agencies have noted they oppose the closure of the St. Clair Regional Airport.
The AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) has officially appointed its 2,000th volunteer. ASN is a special group of volunteers dedicated to promoting and protecting community airports, which was created 11 years ago to use AOPA members as the eyes and ears for the association.
ASN volunteers work closely with the AOPA Government Affairs team and play a critical role in protecting airports and assisting with a number of other advocacy efforts. The program’s goal is to have an ASN volunteer appointed at every public-use airport in the country to serve as an “early warning system” for local airport issues.
Lucky number 2,000, Troy Hightower, is based at Meadows Field in Bakersfield, California. Hightower was nominated by Rayvon Williams, an ASN volunteer who is based in Watsonville, California.
Discover the newest technology, hear leading authorities on aviation, and connect with pilots and industry leaders in sunny Tampa. AOPA is returning to Tampa to showcase all of general aviation. The exhibit hall will be packed with more than 500 exhibits. And it is all the previous Expo event had offered and more.
Seventy years ago AOPA formed to nurture and protect general aviation, and the industry leaders at this year’s show will reinforce that theme and look to the future.
The aircraft display will be at Peter O. Knight Airport on nearby Davis Island and will showcase a variety of airplanes, exhibits, and special events.
Visit AOPA Online to catch the excitement and register for the show and hotels. Many of the activities will be free and open to the public.
Now that spring is here and summer is on its way, more and more pilots will be taking to the skies. The cost of aircraft renter’s insurance is affordable for AOPA members, thanks to the efforts of AOPA and the AOPA Insurance Agency. AOPA members will receive a 5-percent discount on renter’s insurance policies, allowing members to obtain a comprehensive package for just $175 a year.
“Because many pilots rent an aircraft when they take to the skies, providing affordable insurance products for the renter pilot was a major goal of the AOPA Insurance Agency and one we’re proud to have achieved by offering a 5-percent AOPA member discount. As the largest light aircraft insurance agency in the country representing over 415,000 member pilots, we worked with a major ‘A’-rated underwriter to offer our members more affordable premiums,” said Brenda Jennings, AOPA Insurance Agency manager. “The 5-percent discount applies to both new and renewing policies. Plus, members renewing their AOPA Insurance Agency renter’s policy can take advantage of an additional 10-percent discount if they were claim- and accident-free during the previous policy year.”
Visit the AOPA Insurance Agency online to purchase your renter’s insurance policy today, or call 800-622-2672 for more information.
In 2008, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Accident Case Study: VFR into IMC online course used actual ATC audio and dramatic Microsoft Flight Simulator re-creations to let pilots ride along on an ill-fated flight into deteriorating weather.
Now ASF has taken the same approach to a tragic 2005 accident in California. Accident Case Study: Airframe Icing puts you in the lonely cockpit of a Cirrus SR22 as its pilot struggles to escape ice-filled clouds high above the Sierra Nevada mountain range. It’s a gripping look at the perils that lurk in cold winter clouds, and an object lesson in the importance of decisive action for pilots who venture into them unprepared. The course also highlights the critical, lifesaving role that pilot reports can play when pilots encounter unforecast weather.
As humorist Sam Levenson put it, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” By taking an unblinking look at one pilot’s sad fate, ASF hopes to help others avoid it. Find the course online.
If the hundreds of pilots who crashed their airplanes because of fuel exhaustion or starvation over the past few years had one thing in common, it was probably this simple conviction: “It won’t happen to me.”
Sadly, though, the fact that no one expects or intends to run out of fuel doesn’t keep it from happening almost twice a week, on average. That may not sound like a big number, but when you consider the often enormous costs of an aircraft accident, and factor in the trivial ease of prevention, the absurdity of the situation becomes more apparent.
That’s why ASF is continuing its campaign to raise awareness and encourage pilots to make smart choices about fuel. The latest tool in that effort is an interactive Google-based map that plots the locations of accidents caused by improper fuel management. Pilots can roll over the individual icons to see basic accident details, or click a link to be taken to the full report in the ASF Accident Database. The display is scalable, and can be filtered by variables like date or aircraft type.
Don’t fool yourself: It can happen to you! Check out the map today—so you don’t end up on it tomorrow.
An ATC clearance to “position and hold” on the departure runway should always put you on alert. Controllers rarely make mistakes, but sitting on an active runway with your back to landing traffic puts you in a vulnerable position. Keep track of how much time goes by: If 30 to 45 seconds pass and you haven’t heard from ATC, call and remind them that you’re holding in position. Also keep an ear cocked for radio calls from aircraft inbound to the same runway and—if you have a traffic display—use it to watch for airplanes on the final approach course.
Wonder what it’s like to have an engine failure at night? Emanuel “Manny” Kanal knows from personal experience, and he’ll tell you all about it in the latest edition of ASF’s audio-visual Real Pilot Stories series. See “ Engine Failure at Night.”
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 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.
New York: When ASN volunteer Howard Kave learned a replacement radio tower was proposed for construction within two nautical miles of Orange County Airport, he acted immediately to oppose it. The new tower (constructed by the Montgomery Fire Department) was slated to be 100 feet agl, 40 feet taller than the tower it was meant to replace.
In support of Kave’s efforts, AOPA wrote a letter to the FAA urging the agency to issue a determination that the tower was a “hazard to air navigation” based on the impact to VFR operations at the airport. Whether or not the obstruction was determined to be a hazard, AOPA requested that the proponent mark and light the tower in accordance with Advisory Circular 70/7460-1K (even though it isn’t at an elevation that typically requires lighting).
After airport supporters submitted comments objecting the height increase, the fire department worked to address concerns and lowered the proposed height of the structure to 61 feet—only one foot taller than the existing structure that is being replaced. As a result, the FAA issued a final determination of “no hazard to air navigation.”
“At first, I was disappointed with the FAA’s decision. But after realizing that the new tower would essentially be the same height, I like to think that our concerted opposition to the original proposal has been met with success,” said Kave.
Kave learned about the proposed tower during a lunch meeting with the (now former) airport manager fairly late in the review process. Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airports, worked closely with Kave during that critical time. “Howard’s quick action to rally the local pilots and alert AOPA was definitely a factor in the positive outcome,” said Williams. Today, Kave is signed up for proposed obstruction e-mail notifications from the FAA in order to have more advanced warning of proposed obstructions.
Although not all proposed structures require review, those that do go through the FAA’s obstruction evaluation process to determine its impact on the safe and efficient use of airspace.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Learn more about the FAA obstruction evaluation process from AOPA’s education brief and create an account to receive FAA e-mail alerts when an obstruction is proposed in your area.
Colorado: Once a runway is closed and removed from an airport master plan, the odds of it ever being reopened are slim, regardless of any future increase in airport operations. That’s why ASN volunteer R. Scott deLuise has been encouraging officials in the town of Erie to seriously reconsider their plan to permanently remove Runway 9/27 at Erie Municipal from the airport master plan.
The town of Erie is interested in removing the crosswind runway, which has been closed for several years, from the airport master plan to make way for a trail system adjacent to the airport.
As an ASN volunteer and a member of the Erie Airport Economic Development Council, deLuise is committed to finding a compromise solution. “We have proposed an alternative for the trail alignment that is a more compatible land use,” said deLuise, a pilot in the Denver area since 1970.
At the very least, local pilots are requesting that the FAA conduct a new wind study for the airport before the town considers removing Runway 9/27 from the master plan. Pilots want to ensure that the decision is being considered carefully before they officially lose a piece of airport infrastructure.
To support the local pilots’ efforts, AOPA wrote a letter to the FAA asking it to consider conducting a new wind study because of concerns that the previous wind study was based on incomplete (and potentially inaccurate) data. For example, the previous study was conducted over a nine-month period in 1999. To get more complete and accurate data, AOPA is requesting a new study be conducted for a 12-month period.
If the FAA does a wind study and determines that the airport can handle 95 percent of its operations on a particular runway, additional runways may not be necessary.
Until there’s a decision on whether or not a wind study will be completed, deLuise will continue to promote the airport as an economic engine for the entire community.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Prepare to communicate effectively with local officials by reading AOPA’s Guide for Airport Advocates: Participating in the Planning Process and AOPA’s Guide to Airport Noise and Compatible Land Use.
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AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.