AOPA's Boyer gets warm reception amid Alaska's Big Chill
Largest state shows its unique character and issues
Feb. 20, 2004 Alaska pilots face challenges that pilots in the lower 48 states often could not imagine, which is why AOPA President Phil Boyer just completed his ninth trip there to hear pilots' concerns for himself.
"The unique weather, geography, and other aspects of the 49th state convinced me on my very first trip that Alaska requires additional and unique thinking when dealing with general aviation regulations and legislation," said Boyer. "One size does not fit all when it comes to Alaskan aviation issues.
"But while there are huge differences in the flying environment, Alaskan pilots share the universal passion I have found worldwide for lightplane flying."
This was Boyer's first wintertime trip to Alaska. While the cold and the limited daylight made the trip more challenging, AOPA Alaska Regional Representative Tom George convinced Boyer that winter is the best time to hold Pilot Town Meetings (PTMs), because so many of the pilots and AOPA members are busy flying for hire during the summer.
Charity/sightseeing rule, field approvals cause statewide concern
At all three PTMs, in Juneau, Fairbanks, and Anchorage, pilots expressed grave concern about the FAA's proposed charity/sightseeing rule. In the lower 48, the proposal's requirement that Part 91 sightseeing operations convert to Part 135, and that pilots flying in support of charity fundraisers have 500 instead of 200 hours, has been the cause for greatest concern. And while those are also an issue in Alaska, the proposed changes for existing Part 135 air tour operations could have a devastating effect on those businesses.
In Alaska, air tour operators' livelihoods often depend on their ability to carry tourists and passengers in low ceiling and visibility conditions. The charity/sightseeing proposed rule contains a 1,500-foot limitation that would literally drive many Alaskan air tour operators out of business. Such business implications have the federal government's Small Business Administration taking a hard look at the proposal.
The other major concern remains field approvals for aircraft modifications. A policy change in September 2002 that was intended to improve field approvals instead made them more difficult to obtain. In Alaska, where modifications are both common and necessary, pilots found common modifications like installing "tundra" tires, or replacing a generator with an alternator, or converting from drum to disk brakes were no longer allowed.
At all three PTMs, Boyer asked for specific instances of field approval problems that AOPA could take back to the FAA in Washington and make the case for less, rather than more, regulation on these important and vital aircraft modifications.
Promoting general aviation
While in Fairbanks, Boyer did an interview with the statewide public radio network, which is often the only outlet that remote Alaskan villages can receive. He explained the invaluable role Alaska's U.S. Representative-at-large Don Young (R-Alaska) served in securing the right of a third-party review if a pilot's certificate is revoked for national security reasons. The original "pilot insecurity" rule only permitted a pilot whose certificate was revoked to appeal to the Transportation Security Administration, the agency that had ordered the revocation in the first place. AOPA worked closely with Rep. Young to guarantee that an entity other than the TSA would review such a case, and the third-party review became law when President Bush signed the FAA Reauthorization Bill.
Boyer also discussed the proactive steps general aviation has taken on its own to improve security at GA airports. He explained that AOPA sought out TSA, and working in conjunction with the agency, developed AOPA's Airport Watch, a program that calls on pilots and airport and FBO personnel to act as eyes and ears for law enforcement and security agencies. TSA created a nationwide toll-free phone number (866-GA-SECURE or 866-427-3287) for pilots to report their suspicions.
While in Fairbanks, Boyer also met with Richard Wien, the chairman of the new Governor's Aviation Advisory Board. The board was recently established by Gov. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) to advise the state Department of Transportation on aviation matters and addresses a need identified by AOPA for aviation input at a high level in state government. During the meeting, Boyer expressed concern about a proposal to create an airport authority for the two largest air carrier and GA airports in the state, Fairbanks and Anchorage. The authority would diminish the voice of GA regarding airport fees and operations, Boyer told Wien. He said AOPA members currently provide a significant GA voice to the elected officials who currently govern those airports. Why lose that asset?
In Anchorage, Boyer had a full day before hosting the Pilot Town Meeting.
He first met with Kip Knudson, the state DOT deputy commissioner of aviation, to discuss GA airport security. Knudson expressed concern about TSA's possible requirement for passenger and baggage screening at airports with heavy GA operations but only one or two small commuter flights a day.
He also spent time with FAA Regional Administrator Pat Poe and his deputy. Poe has been instrumental in making sure FAA headquarters thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. knows about concerns in Alaska and in delivering important products to Alaskan pilots, such as online weather cameras, and advancing aviation safety in Alaska.
AOPA has for decades supported the work of the Alaska Air Safety Foundation (AASF). While in Anchorage, Boyer met with that group's chairman, Tom Wardleigh.
Wardleigh moved to Alaska in the early 1950s and worked for the Anchorage Aviation Division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before joining the Alaska Civil Aviation Agency, and later chairing the Alaska Air Safety Foundation. The state recently honored Wardleigh by renaming an access street to the GA ramp at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
That evening at the PTM, Boyer presented a check to AASF Executive Committee Secretary Ginny Hiatt. For more than 20 years, Hiatt and Wardleigh produced safety interviews for a statewide public TV weather program. The money Boyer presented will fund a project to transfer more than 1,000 episodes of this timeless safety information from deteriorating VHS tapes to DVDs that will be permanently housed at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.
Before leaving Anchorage, Boyer also met with Dee Hanson, executive director of the Alaska Airmen's Association. The two discussed the many mutual interests of AOPA and the Alaska Airmen. Work by the Alaska Airmen's Association means that general aviation can now fly across the Bering Strait into Russia. Working with both the FAA and the Russian government, the Alaska Airmen have established a VFR Route from Nome, Alaska, that extends 230 nm into Russia. Boyer also discussed two major Alaska Airmen projects with board members during the PTM the annual aircraft raffle, which raises money for the association by selling $50 tickets (five for $225) to win a Supercub (tickets are available online); and an annual Alaska state Aviation Conference and Trade Show.
The Alaska Airmen's Association is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote general aviation in that state. Programs include hosting public meetings and forums, safety programs, membership services, events, scholarships, and children's education.
AOPA's Airport Support Network a 3,000-mile-long critical link
In each of the three cities, Boyer met with volunteers in AOPA's Airport Support Network. This important program helps AOPA know what's going on at individual airports and, at the same time, gives the volunteers access to the resources of a powerful national organization.
"Alaska is a state with more than 1,100 airports, heliports, and seaplane bases," said Boyer. "And that doesn't even begin to take into account the countless landing strips, lakes, and sand bars that pilots use. In a state with few roads and very little maritime access during the long winter, general aviation there is more than a hobby, or even a business. It's a lifeline."