A year of progress on international freedom to fly

December 21, 2012

The core issues remain much the same as they were 50 years ago, when AOPA joined forces with a handful of counterparts to create an international organization representing general aviation. Onerous fees, taxes, and other costs remain a barrier to many; there remain many threats to airspace access, and unnecessary burdens imposed by regulations that benefit no one.

Times have changed, and progress is being made. The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations grew to 71 member organizations with the addition of the Island Aircraft Owners Association representing pilots in Trinidad and Tobago. The IAOPA World Assembly convened in April in Stellenbosch, South Africa, with members passing a series of resolutions including initiatives to develop universal airport policies, optimize flight training, create standards to minimize the risk of sharing airspace with remotely piloted aircraft, expand international pilot certificate reciprocity, ensure GA access to airspace, and reduce the cost of flying imposed by equipment mandates.

Collective action produces results, and there were several examples during the year. European regulators rescinded a costly transponder mandate that dated to 2006 and was appropriately applied to transport aircraft, but unnecessary for GA operations. The tendency of regulators to apply the same rules to commercial and GA operations has been a theme throughout the 50-year existence of IAOPA, a trend that the organization has made progress reversing.

IAOPA continued to groom leaders within the member organizations who can draw on the long experience of the collective organization to develop relationships with the decision-making bodies, and raise awareness about the value of GA to communities and nations around the world. This year, IAOPA helped shape the agenda of the International Civil Aviation Organization with the addition of major initiatives with potential to benefit pilots worldwide.

IAOPA participated in the ICAO 12th Air Navigation Conference in November, and succeeded in including language in the conference report that urges national-level regulators to ensure “principles of access and equity” are included in all airspace modernization efforts. The report also calls on ICAO member states to detail how they will monitor service providers to ensure those principles are followed, and include GA interests and organizations in a collaborative and coordinated effort to implement modern navigation systems and procedures.

In addition, the ICAO Air Navigation Commission is studying a “risk-based approach” to airport firefighting that could reduce costs, and ICAO, at IAOPA’s urging, also moved to create a standing forum for GA issues. Individual national-level organizations marked progress in various efforts to enhance the understanding of GA and its value.

IAOPA also marked 2012 with a leadership transition, with the retirement of John Sheehan after 15 years of service as secretary general. In an interview shortly before the World Assembly, Sheehan noted that the organization is “coming of age,” with its member groups no longer bystanders subject to the whims of their governments. They have become a real powerhouse in determining their own destinies,” he said.

Sheehan was succeeded by Craig Spence, named to the permanent post in October after taking over for Sheehan on an interim basis in May.

“With his extensive experience on advocacy issues affecting general aviation in the United States, Spence is the ideal candidate to continue the work of IAOPA to represent general aviation interests around the globe before international organizations like ICAO, the European Aviation Safety Agency, Eurocontrol and Joint Aviation Authorities,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller.