March 1, 2013
By Bruce Landsberg
There’s been a lot of discussion about the plight of general aviation, but talk is cheap unless attorneys are involved. So what is actually being done? Perhaps more than you realize. The AOPA Foundation is at work every day to educate and inform, routinely collaborating with AOPA to preserve our freedom to fly. Here are a few of the action areas.
Santa Monica Airport: The battle over the future of this airport has generated both local and national attention, in part because it represents the struggles happening at urban and suburban airports nationwide. AOPA’s Government Affairs team is busy advocating to keep the airport open and operating at a reasonable level. These AOPA experts can provide direct input regarding legislation, but that kind of work can’t be funded by the AOPA Foundation—the IRS frowns on using charitable money that way. Even so, the foundation has an important role to play. We can and do fund educational efforts to show the benefits of the airport to the broader community. We also work with the FAA and local pilots to find operational solutions, such as noise abatement procedures, then provide educational opportunities to help pilots understand those procedures and the importance of following them. We support participation in the city’s visioning process to discuss the airport’s future. And we’ve hosted a seminar designed to show pilots at Santa Monica how they can promote safety, be good neighbors, and showcase their airport’s benefits.
Airport Watch: AOPA’s Airport Watch program is operated in partnership with TSA, and its message is to “Lock up. Look out.” But there’s far more to this program than just putting pilots on alert for suspicious activity at their airports. Another aspect of the program, and one that the AOPA Foundation helps fund, is educating local law enforcement officials about the extent—and limitations—of their jurisdiction over aviation. In a recent issue of AOPA Pilot, you saw the story of Robin Fleming, a glider pilot who found himself in police custody facing a slew of charges from local authorities operating outside their jurisdiction (see “Breach of Peace,” February 2013). Fleming was accused of disturbing the peace, flying too close to a nuclear power plant, and creating a “homeland security situation.” Fleming and others say he was on a routine flight and operating legally.
Events like this one are all too common, and they tend to arise from ignorance rather than malice. In Fleming’s case, the charges were dropped as local police and power plant security personnel learned they do not have jurisdiction over airspace. But it wasn’t easy. It took AOPA intervention and legal assistance.
We don’t want anyone else to have to experience the anxiety of being arrested for making a legal flight. That’s why the ongoing education of pilots and law enforcement officials is an important part of the Airport Watch program and essential to preventing harassment of pilots and unnecessary regulation of GA. But creating these educational programs is expensive, and that’s where funding from the AOPA Foundation comes in.
Queen City Airport: AOPA advocacy at Queen City Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania, created an opportunity for the AOPA Foundation to step in and provide education that made a difference. The AOPA Foundation funded a special educational project aimed at informing residents about GA airports and the benefits GA brings to the Lehigh Valley. The educational element was the ideal follow-up to a scuffle over the future of the airport that ended when AOPA helped to block efforts to sell the airport to pay off a legal obligation.
Online Programming: In 2012, ASI reached more pilots than ever before with its ever-growing lineup of online courses and information. New online courses include: Benefit Flying: Balancing Safety and Compassion; ADS-B for General Aviation; and Unmanned Aircraft and the National Airspace System. Then there are the Real Pilot Stories, accident case studies, and the annual Joseph T. Nall Report. And let’s not forget the 200 live seminars nationwide and the four new safety videos, including No Greater Burden, the story of a tragic aircraft accident, its consequences, and the lessons we all can learn from it.
A lot is being done but more is needed. Just want to fly and be left alone? I understand that sentiment. But that’s not so easy these days between TSA, FAA, state and local governments; threatened airports; and the cost and complexity of aircraft and avionics. We’re working on some of those really big issues, and you can help. If every pilot chipped in only $2 per week (you can, of course, give more!) and only one hour a month to conduct an intro flight, speak to a civic or school group, or help a new student get through the training process, the future would be brighter. There is strength in numbers—are you ready to help?
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