President's Position: We have it good
This column is being written as I return from a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland—not to play golf, but to attend the Twentieth World Assembly of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA). Every two years, the 54 affiliates of this organization are invited to participate in a conference that is designed to share ideas, look ahead to international policies and regulations that could affect general aviation around the world, and network with the officers and delegates of AOPA affiliates in other countries. The organization was formed in 1962 by the AOPAs in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and the Philippines to foster the international recognition of GA. One of the most important functions of IAOPA is that the organization holds an official seat at ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets principles and policies for most of the world's aviation activities.
Each time I attend one of these meetings, I come away realizing how good we have it here in the United States. First, the 54 AOPA affiliates total some 400,000 members. Considering that your AOPA in the United States has almost 365,000 members, the remaining advocates in all 53 other countries total about 35,000 pilots. But when it comes to aviation, we all speak a common language.
As your association continues to face threats of privatization and user fees, it isn't encouraging to hear stories from pilots in other countries. One of our special guest speakers was Sir Malcolm Field, who as the chairman of the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the equivalent of our FAA administrator. We discussed the pending government sale of Britain's National Air Traffic System (NATS) to private investors. Eight or nine airlines were among those looking to buy NATS. I questioned him as to where that left general aviation, when the main shareholders would all be those with a vested business interest in commercial air transport.
Later in the week a speaker reported on Nav Canada, the first all-privatized air traffic system, located just north of our border. General aviation aircraft owners now have new fees, in addition to the aviation fuel tax that continues to be charged. Almost coincidental with the establishment of Nav Canada was the sale of much of the airport infrastructure to local municipalities, where landing fees were raised significantly—a double whammy to Canadian pilots.
European pilots are faced with the European Union and the establishment of a "one Europe" concept. As part of the unification process, the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) was established. One of its tasks was the harmonization of aviation regulations throughout the member states. Much of its activity has a spillover effect on the FAA, which looks at international harmonization as a way to streamline aircraft and pilot certification. It's an area in which our country has led for years, but with the size and scope of the JAA, and our own FAA's reluctance to assert itself internationally, we at AOPA find ourselves in many more meetings trying to protect the rules we have in this country. Rather than simplifying the process, however, harmonization often gets more complicated, adopting the toughest regulations from the group.
For several years, JAA has been working on pilot licensing requirements. The new regulation has been in effect for about a year. For the seven countries that were early adopters, the results have been devastating to flight schools and pilot training activity. Medical certification standards were reviewed by our FAA in the mid-1990s, and AOPA successfully made the argument that with lifestyles accenting healthy living, medical certification should be less stringent. Well, quite the opposite has occurred in Europe. Blood tests, stricter vision standards, EKGs for those older than 40 holding class two (comparable to our third class) medical certificates, and a stress test for those older than 60 are just a few of the items that will drastically raise the cost of aviation medicals.
Even worse are the changes to the written and practical tests for a private pilot certificate. Now 300 hours of ground instruction are required. Questions for the written were submitted from exams in member countries, in their own languages—translated into English, and then translated back again into the individual languages. Some people say that the final questions and answers hardly resemble what was originally submitted. There is now a separate radio examination, versus our system of assessing the use of avionics in the checkride. No pilot examiner can test a student they have trained, really placing a hardship on those in out-of-the-way locations. Training in recovery from unusual attitudes has been replaced with instruction in radio navigation (but not GPS). In the United Kingdom, the AOPA chief there cites, costs for a private certificate have risen from $5,400 (U.S.) to more than $9,000. The frightening thing is that our FAA has been looking at harmonizing with these same rules.
If training costs aren't high enough to shock you, consider aircraft rental rates. A two-place, basically equipped Cessna 152 goes for $155 an hour, wet. A Piper Arrow is $210 an hour, wet. Almost all of the countries charge for preflight weather and flight-plan filing, but the Internet is fast becoming available at no charge. If you want to talk to a briefer, however, expect a fee of $1.50 to $15 for a full route briefing, if you can get through on the telephone.
The IAOPA meeting is an eyeopener each time and makes one appreciate what we have here in the United States. Yet, those delegates from around the world are full of the same enthusiasm and excitement about general aviation that we have. Rest assured that those of us who were at this meeting returned to headquarters with a renewed commitment to never let this happen here.