President's Position: Paranoia?

General aviation is under an unprecedented assault

May 1, 2013

Craig Fuller

During the past few weeks, I have found myself thinking more than once of the adage: “You’re not paranoid if people really are out to get you.”

For months, the administration in Washington, D.C., said sequestration simply would not happen. But, then it did. Explaining that there were no good choices, the FAA made a distinctly poor choice, unilaterally electing to shutter 149 air traffic control towers. Towers are opened only when there’s a strong case for an added margin of safety. So what were the principal criteria used to decide which towers to close? Well, it was that the airport primarily serves general aviation.

If the initial judgment was questionable, what happened next is even more disturbing. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas offered a straightforward amendment to a critical spending bill moving through the Senate. The amendment, which would have given the FAA the flexibility to find other areas for savings and keep many of the towers open, had 26 bipartisan cosponsors. Even so, it was pulled from consideration—a move dictated by the White House, according to many accounts.

If closing towers is not enough, backups to clear U.S. Customs at general aviation entry points are becoming as painful as they are preposterous. Forced to stay with their aircraft for an hour or more, pilots are finding the “welcome home” anything but welcoming. And that says nothing of the pending battles over user fees, aircraft taxation, and longer-term cuts to FAA staffing, NextGen modernization, medical and certification services, and more.

Am I paranoid? No. General aviation is under an unprecedented assault!

In Washington, D.C., it is widely accepted that making sequestration truly painful will make budget negotiations more fruitful. The trouble is, no one is sitting down to work out how to actually end sequestration. That means, as disturbing as today’s reality is, it could get much worse in 2014 when federal agencies must cut their budgets by another 10 percent.

Now, some say that sequestration is the only way to cut spending. And, while we are as anxious as anyone to see wasteful spending stop, unfairly targeting GA for reductions, new fees, and higher taxes is simply not acceptable. So what do we do? We fight!

Advocacy experts from our Frederick and Washington, D.C., offices have been working with members of Congress, FAA officials, and other aviation organizations on everything from raising opposition to user fees to assessing the potential consequences of sequestration. We’re digging into the details, asking tough questions, and making sure decision makers understand the ramifications of their actions. And we’re doing something too many policy makers aren’t—proposing better solutions.

At some towers slated to close, we’ve teamed up with groups organizing town hall meetings and we’ve reached out to get elected leaders involved.

We’ve offered support to crucial allies in the House and Senate GA Caucuses—now at 173 and 35 members, respectively—as they have sent letters to the president opposing user fees, offered legislation to protect GA, and encouraged their peers to take action.

We continue to work closely with passionate and high-profile figures in the GA community to get the message out. Actor and aviator Harrison Ford recently shared his views about the cuts with GA Caucus members, drawing attention to the GA perspective.

Supporting elected officials who support GA has never been more important, and we’ve asked for your help rebuilding the AOPA Political Action Committee. I want to thank so many of you for contributing.

We’ve also been fielding questions from members and the media. In just the past few days, our communications team has talked to CNN, CNBC, Fox News Radio, NBC Nightly News, NPR, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and many more. At the same time, devoted AOPA members across the country have worked with us to get the message out to media in their areas, agreeing to be interviewed and offering to share their own experiences with reporters.

Our whole organization has been engaged in this fight—and we’re not stopping here.

This is much more than a skirmish over sequestration cuts. Without a doubt, we are engaged in a long-term dispute with those who would limit our freedom to fly through regulations and fees. We need every pilot and every GA supporter to join the fight.

At times, we may ask you to take direct action in support of general aviation. We’ll bring you details about when and where help is needed in ePilot and here in AOPA Pilot magazine. By standing together we can prevail—but it will take each and every one of us!

AOPA president Craig Fuller is an active general aviation pilot who has been flying for more than 35 years. Email Craig at craig@aopa.org.