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AOPA receives honors for defending general aviation rights following September 11 attacksAOPA receives honors for defending general aviation rights following September 11 attacks

Two prestigious aviation groups and a state legislature recently presented the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association with awards for efforts on behalf of general aviation in the wake of last September's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Ninety-Nines, the world-renowned association of women pilots, presented AOPA with its Award of Merit, recognizing an individual or organization which has made significant contributions to aviation, or aviation education, science, or history.

The Lawyer Pilot Bar Association (LPBA) presented AOPA President Phil Boyer with its first-ever Aviation Advocacy Award.

In addition, members of the Colorado state legislature presented Boyer with a resolution, passed earlier this spring, praising AOPA for its "relentless defense of general aviation."

"We're tremendously honored to have our efforts commended," said Boyer. "Every AOPA staff member, from the president all the way down the line, takes very seriously the trust our members place in us.

"After the government shut down the National Airspace System following the attacks, we made sure not only our members, but all GA pilots had the most up-to-date information. Then, as airlines were allowed back into the sky even as greater restrictions were imposed on GA pilots, we began using our connections at the FAA and on Capitol Hill to get general aviation flying again."

In the petition nominating AOPA for its Award of Merit, the Ninety-Nines called AOPA "a visible and vocal presence in Washington diligently working with the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA Administrator to restore our ability to fly."

When the LPBA presented AOPA President Boyer with the Aviation Advocacy Award, association President William Wimsatt noted that AOPA was one of the only timely, accurate sources of information in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

In fact, the aftermath of the attacks was a "watershed moment" in how the association communicates with its members, according to Boyer. In the first week alone, pilots and the general public visited AOPA Online's constantly updated home page more than two million times.

As events unfolded and airspace restrictions were imposed or lifted, AOPA sent out thousands of e-mail alerts, targeted to members directly affected by the new information.

In the weeks immediately after the attacks, AOPA staff put in more than 8,000 hours of overtime, responding to thousands of e-mails, phone calls, and press inquiries. Boyer himself spent a great deal of time on the phone with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.

But when it became obvious that neither DOT nor the FAA were calling the shots, Boyer and AOPA's Legislative Affairs staff turned their sights on Congress and the White House.

Boyer went to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of GA pilots and spoke directly with members of the Bush administration. AOPA Legislative Affairs staff brought the message that the restrictions were causing real pain among small GA-related businesses home to Congress, relaying anecdotal and statistical evidence from AOPA's members.

AOPA also helped draft the General Aviation Small Business Relief bill and provided critical input for several other bills currently pending before Congress to provide relief for GA businesses damaged by the post-September 11 airspace shutdown.

When official notices to airmen (notams) from the FAA issued on short notice and rescinded on even shorter notice became a serious, even life-threatening problem, AOPA placed its vice president of Air Traffic Services inside FAA headquarters to ensure that the FAA understood the needs of GA pilots.

When the FAA banned flights in the vicinity of nuclear power plants but refused to give specific locations, AOPA, working with chart-maker Jeppesen, charted all of those temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) and made them available on the Internet in less than 24 hours.

AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation have also posted plain-language descriptions and graphical depictions of virtually all national security TFRs, something the FAA to this day is unable to do.

Of the recent recognition, Boyer commented, "The Ninety-Nines paid us perhaps the highest compliment when, in nominating AOPA, they said, 'While we don't know what the future will bring, we do know that AOPA will be doing what it has always done—preserving our freedom to fly.' To be known for that is everything anyone at AOPA could hope for."

With more than 380,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, representing the interests of all general aviation pilots and owners. Some two thirds of all pilots in the United States are members of AOPA.

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