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AOPA urges Bush to prohibit closure of backcountry airstripsAOPA urges Bush to prohibit closure of backcountry airstrips

AOPA is urging the Bush administration to reverse course and protect backcountry airstrips. That in response to the administration's FAA budget proposal that would delete an AOPA-supported provision prohibiting the use of federal funds to close backcountry airstrips.

AOPA sent letters on Monday to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman requesting that the administration review its position.

AOPA is "interested in the preservation of existing backcountry landing strips as a matter of safety," AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote.

Boyer reiterated that through the years federal land management agents have closed airstrips without prior notification or input from the states or pilots. "This type of situation represents a grave danger to pilots who fly over mountainous terrain and depend upon airstrips for emergency landings."

AOPA also asked the secretaries to support the Backcountry Landing Strip Access Act ( S.681/ H.R.1363), reintroduced in Congress by Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Representative Butch Otter (R-Idaho). Both AOPA-backed bills block efforts by federal agencies to restrict or arbitrarily prohibit general aviation's use of backcountry airstrips by requiring approval from state aviation officials before closing landing sites on federal land.

Last year, Senator Crapo, with the help of Senators Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), successfully attached a provision to the Interior Appropriations Conference Report for fiscal year 2001, prohibiting federal funds from being used to close any airstrips on lands administered by the Department of the Interior.

AOPA will continue its efforts to prevent the closure of existing backcountry airstrips.

01-2-023x

April 16, 2001

The Honorable Gale Norton
Secretary, The Department of the Interior
United States Government
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Norton:

As you develop President Bush's agenda for federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior, we respectfully request you consider revising the prior administration's policies regarding backcountry airstrips on federal lands. Specifically, we request the Interior Department consider adoption of a national policy requiring state aviation departments in the affected states first approve any proposed airstrip closure. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, consisting of 371,000 members who fly general aviation aircraft for business and personal use—the largest pilot organization in the world, is interested in the preservation of existing backcountry landing strips as a matter of safety.

Through the years our members and state aviation officials have notified us that federal local land management agents close airstrips without prior notification and/or input from the states or pilots. This type of situation presents a grave danger to pilots who fly over mountainous terrain and depend upon airstrips for emergency landings. In response to this intolerable approach by federal land managers, our supporters in Congress included a provision in last year's Interior Appropriations bill preventing the use of those funds being used to close these backcountry airstrips without the consent of the FAA. We were very disappointed to see this provision struck in the President's budget. The members of AOPA and I request the administration review its position and adopt a permanent solution.

In an emergency, a backcountry landing strip could mean the difference between life and death to the pilot of a single-engine aircraft. During a trip to Idaho a few years ago, I arrived at the remote Thomas Creek airstrip one hour after an aircraft lost its engine and made an emergency landing there. Thankfully, no one was injured. Thomas Creek, located in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, is surrounded by some of the most mountainous terrain in the United States. If the airstrip did not exist, there would not have been a safe area for that aircraft to land.

Senator Crapo and Representative Otter, both of Idaho, have introduced freestanding bills to remedy this problem legislatively, and we also ask for your support of those bills. But in the name of safety, we believe this may be an issue most quickly addressed by the administration through regulation.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you won't hesitate to call if you have any questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,

Phil Boyer, President

April 16, 2001

The Honorable Ann Veneman
Secretary, The Department of Agriculture
United States Government
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Veneman:

As you develop President Bush's agenda for federal lands managed by the Forest Service, we respectfully request that you consider revising the prior administration's policies regarding backcountry airstrips on federal lands. Specifically, we request the Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Department of the Interior, consider adoption of a national policy requiring state aviation departments in the affected states first approve any proposed airstrip closure. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, consisting of 371,000 members who fly general aviation aircraft for business and personal use—the largest pilot organization in the world, is interested in the preservation of existing backcountry landing strips as a matter of safety.

Through the years our members and state aviation officials have told us that federal local land management agents have closed airstrips without prior notification and/or input from the states or pilots. This type of situation represents a grave danger to pilots who fly over mountainous terrain and depend upon airstrips for emergency landings. In response to this intolerable approach by federal land managers, our supporters in Congress included a provision in last year's Interior Appropriations bill preventing the use of those funds to close these airstrips without the consent of the FAA. However, there was no such preventative measure regarding airstrips on lands managed by the Forest Service. We were very disappointed to see this provision struck in the President's budget. The members of AOPA and I request the administration review its position and adopt a permanent solution.

In an emergency, a backcountry landing strip could mean the difference between life and death to the pilot of a single-engine aircraft. During a trip to Idaho a few years ago, I arrived at the remote Thomas Creek airstrip one hour after an aircraft lost its engine and made an emergency landing there. Thankfully, no one was injured. Thomas Creek is located in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, surrounded by some of the most mountainous terrain in the United States. If the airstrip did not exist, there would not have been a safe area for that aircraft to land.

Senator Crapo and Representative Otter, both of Idaho, have introduced freestanding bills to remedy the problem of backcountry airstrips, and we ask for your support of those bills. However, this may be an issue most quickly addressed by the administration.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope you won't hesitate to call if you have any questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,

Phil Boyer, President

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