Sheehan: World AOPAs ‘coming of age’

April 10, 2012

SheehanLooking back on 15 years as secretary general of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations, John Sheehan stands in admiration at how much ground its 69 countries’ pilot organizations have covered over time.

“They are coming of age around the world,” he said.

Consider Europe. Its 27 aircraft owner and pilot associations “used to be bystanders in the regulatory process. They had no credibility, no representation. They just took what they got.”

Not anymore.

“They have become a real powerhouse in determining their own destinies,” Sheehan said. Working with regulatory agencies, the European Commission, and other policymakers, European aviation advocates are getting results, beginning “to get out from under some really nasty regulation.”

There’s a long way to go, but some of the most onerous provisions—think of rules that add layers of bureaucracy to straightforward aircraft ownership routines like maintenance—may be headed for reform.

On May 1, Sheehan, for 40 years a prominent aviation figure and advocate as an association executive, consultant, pilot, flight instructor, and ambassador, will retire from the IAOPA position that he has held since 1997. He shared his thoughts on the changes that he has observed and helped bring about on the international general aviation scene, in a phone interview from Stellenbosch, South Africa, site of the twenty-sixth IAOPA World Assembly April 10 through 15.

On issues from crew licensing to pilot currency rules, leaders are emerging from the national organizations within IAOPA’s regions. They are moving forward on the core issues, “and my hat’s off to them,” Sheehan said.

That’s important because times are changing: Light sport aviation, until now “kind of an orphan in Europe,” has not yet been addressed in rulemaking by the European Aviation Safety Agency, but IAOPA two years ago petitioned the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to recognize light sport aircraft as “a real, honest-to-goodness airplane.”

“That should have a large effect,” said Sheehan, noting that many LSAs are manufactured in eastern Europe.

Pilot training reforms are bound for the spotlight at a time when it costs €10,000 to €20,000 (recently the equivalent of $13,000 to $26,000) to become a private pilot. Stringent ground school requirements that prescribe hours to satisfy training requirements and remove the option of self study add to those costs, he said.

Moving into the future, IAOPA—soon to be under the leadership of Acting Secretary General Craig Spence, the current vice president of operations and international affairs for AOPA-US—will have to stay nimble at accommodating a wide range of organizations and activities.

“One size does not fit all for the AOPAs,” Sheehan said. “We have some small AOPAs with as few, in Ghana, as five or six people—but nonetheless it is an AOPA.”

Heading into his final IAOPA World Assembly, which has been held every two years since 16 members first gathered in London in 1966, Sheehan was preparing for an agenda of issues familiar to any member of AOPA-US attuned to the process of preserving the right to fly.

“It’s the big issues, the core issues: Access to airspace and airports, over-regulation, fees and charges,” Sheehan said. 

Broadly, the world assembly serves to link the AOPAs of the world more closely, with much interaction focused on how IAOPA and its larger members can help the smaller entrants gain strength and serve their members.

AOPA President Craig Fuller thanked Sheehan for his 15 years of service to IAOPA, and recognized his work “on proposals and regulations to ensure that countries don’t further restrict access to GA flying.”

As Sheehan prepared to turn over the reins at IAOPA, the early plan for his retirement was his home base of Wilmington, N.C., where time with family awaited. But Sheehan, long an aviation consultant, and a participant in 25 ICAO panels and conferences, sounded both reflective and like a man with new destinations in mind—perhaps in pursuit of characteristically large and lofty goals.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.