The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is encouraged by the FAA's new 10-year "blueprint" for improvements to increase air transportation system capacity and reduce airline delays but is working to ensure the plan's solutions for the airlines do not harm general aviation.
The Operational Evolution Plan (OEP), which the FAA is scheduled to present to the press June 6, sets out a timetable for changes to the air traffic control system, airport improvements, and new aircraft communication and navigation equipment requirements.
AOPA was among the FAA's key industry partners in developing the plan.
"In my 11 years as head of the world's largest aviation organization, I've seen the FAA attempt many grand programs," said Phil Boyer, AOPA president, "but never before have I seen the FAA dedicate so many resources to finding realistic, pragmatic solutions to a national problem."
Boyer said that the FAA plan had involved system users—from general aviation pilots to the airlines to air traffic controllers. The OEP solutions, Boyer said, are "bound by realistic thinking, are technically feasible, and can be implemented on a reasonable schedule."
"The plan makes individual FAA managers accountable for fixing the problems and gives them the resources from across the agency's 'lines of business' to get the job done," Boyer said. "The FAA has followed a business model for solving a problem. It's a refreshing break from the past."
Reflecting AOPA's input, the OEP includes an emphasis on building more runways, particularly at the most delay-plagued airports. "AOPA has long maintained that additional runway capacity is vital to addressing current capacity constraints," said Boyer. "The problem is not too many aircraft in the system; the problem is too many airline flights vying for the limited amount of runway capacity at a few key airports."
Boyer noted that while there are five general aviation flights for every airline flight, most general aviation operations serve the 5,000 public-use airports that are not served by the airlines. GA flights are not a significant contributor to airline delays. Most GA flights operate below the altitudes where airliners fly and away from the most-used airline routes. GA operations account for less than seven percent of the traffic at the top eight delay-plagued airports, and less than 11 percent of the operations at all 31 of the top delayed airports.
While the OEP addresses airline capacity restraints at our large air carrier airports, the plan will affect general aviation operations as well. AOPA has submitted comments on those issues affecting general aviation.
"GA is an important part of the transportation system. We want to ensure that in fixing part of the system for the airlines, we don't break it for the majority of pilots, nor mandate expensive cockpit equipment on a very cost-sensitive group of users," Boyer said.
In its comments on the plan, AOPA said that general aviation must have continued access to airports near these major airports. And additional general aviation and reliever airports will further help ease airline congestion.
The FAA plans to reconfigure terminal airspace (Class B and C) at the "choke-points" where air traffic is the heaviest. Changes will include the consolidation of some terminal approach control (tracon) facilities and the addition of lower and parallel arrival and departure routes. Many of these new routes will require RNAV (area navigation) equipment such as GPS or a flight management system. The OEP recommends that ATC give RNAV-equipped aircraft "preferential treatment."
"We told the FAA that RNAV must not be the 'cost of admission' to Class B airspace," said Boyer. "The RNAV requirement should only apply to the primary airport. General aviation must continue to have access to nearby reliever airports without having to buy expensive new equipment."
In the case of airports where there are a significant number of general aviation operations, AOPA told the FAA that any RNAV requirement must be phased in over a reasonable period of time. "AOPA will oppose an equipment mandate that imposes too great a burden on general aviation and doesn't provide significant benefits to the pilot," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs.
The OEP recommends implementing ADS-B to expedite aircraft movements on the ground (ADS-B is a non-radar, GPS-driven system where each aircraft broadcasts its position to other aircraft and air traffic control.)
"ADS-B alone doesn't provide enough benefits for general aviation," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA director of advanced technology. "The datalink should be expanded to provide graphical weather and non-ADS-B traffic in the cockpit."
The OEP also takes up an issue that AOPA has been pressing for years: better access to special-use airspace (MOAs and restricted areas) when the military isn't using it. AOPA said the FAA must put real-time use information in the hands of pilots, including making Special-Use Airspace Management System (SAMS) scheduling data available to flight service stations and general aviation pilots. (As part of a test program with the FAA, AOPA members can currently access the SAMS database on AOPA Online.)
"AOPA is helping to shape the OEP into a solution that will benefit all users," said Boyer. "The plan has dealt with what is real and what can be accomplished with today's technology. The solutions are both immediate and link with longer-term modernization efforts.
"AOPA pledges the support of our pilot membership and qualified technical staff to see that the tactics of the OEP match its strategic goals," Boyer concluded.
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.