In a federal lawsuit filed August 2, AOPA is challenging the constitutionality of a Michigan law requiring felony-background checks for flight school students. AOPA contends that the measure attempts to legislate in an area preempted by federal law, in essence trying to regulate who is allowed to fly in the nation's airspace.
The Michigan law, effective May 22, requires a criminal-record background check through the FBI for any person enrolling in a flight-training program to obtain a pilot certificate or upgrade to a new certificate or rating.
"Pilots and students aren't criminals, and they shouldn't be treated as such," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Michigan is forcing innocent Americans to stand in line along with convicted felons to get fingerprinted and be treated as if they have done something wrong. It's humiliating and unnecessary."
AOPA's lawsuit points out that since September 11, both the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration have examined flight school security and have determined that no new regulations are necessary for U.S. citizens at this time. The agencies have implemented new rules governing foreign students taking flight training in the United States. The association's lawsuit also questions the value of a criminal-background check, noting that none of the September 11 terrorists had a criminal record in the United States.
The Michigan law is also damaging Michigan businesses, with some flight schools reporting a dramatic decline in new training applicants because of the law. AOPA noted that some pilots were simply crossing the state line to take flight training to avoid the criminal-background check.
The potentially precedent-setting case could have consequences for pilots in every part of the country. "All Americans should be concerned about national security," said Boyer. "However, a patchwork of conflicting state laws does nothing to make us more secure, and does everything to inconvenience and harm innocent citizens."
Boyer noted that, in addition to Michigan, several state legislatures have enacted or considered restrictive measures related to perceived threats from general aviation pilots.
A copy of the complaint is available online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2002/020805complaint.html).
In part because of the FAA's slow response to AOPA's urgent request for a direct-to-final rule requiring pilots to carry a state-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) as identity verification, many states are attempting to impose their own Draconian security measures, often requiring some type of criminal-background check, including fingerprinting, for pilots.
At press time, only Michigan had passed such legislation, but similar proposals were still active in New York and New Jersey. South Dakota was getting ready to implement a massive program to require entirely new state-issued photo IDs for pilots (see story, page 18).
In addition, legislation imposing some form of additional local restrictions or requirements has been introduced in at least 13 other states. "It doesn't take much imagination to see how disruptive a quagmire of state laws regulating aviation would be," pointed out AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA's suit charging Michigan with usurping federal preeminence in aviation is a shot across the bow for all local lawmakers caught up in the post-September 11 paranoia."
In New York, A.B.11863 passed the New York Assembly in June but has not yet been taken up by the state Senate; in New Jersey, S.B.432 was passed by both houses of the state legislature but is on hold. In both cases, vocal opposition from AOPA members alerted by the association helped to prevent immediate enactment of the measures.
An up-to-date summary of state legislative actions is available online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/region/).
A U.S. House of Representatives version of a bill to create the Department of Homeland Security, passed in late July, contained AOPA-suggested language that reminds officials of the importance of general aviation.
The bill calls on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to use "all reasonable measures to ensure efficiency and a viable transportation system as it fulfills its security obligations."
Despite that, the House ignored a recommendation from its own Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to delay moving TSA into the new Homeland Security Department.
"I appreciate the House recognizing the importance of a safe and efficient transportation system," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But transportation security belongs in the Department of Transportation."
The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the bill later this year. The current version of that bill calls for further study of transportation security before deciding whether to move TSA.
The South Dakota Aeronautics Commission is continuing to develop a legislatively mandated plan for state-issued pilot photo identification, ignoring both potential conflicts with federal law and an AOPA-suggested alternative. AOPA had questioned the state's authority to issue the ID cards, noting that the procedure closely resembles pilot certification, which is a federal responsibility.
At a late-July commission meeting, AOPA Regional Representative Bill Hamilton also pointed out that the FAA's imminent rulemaking action requiring pilots to carry a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver's license) in addition to their pilot certificate would be a far less burdensome way to implement the state law. But an aide to the governor attending the meeting suggested that if the commission followed that idea, "Governor [William] Janklow would be very upset."
AOPA did persuade commissioners to remove a requirement allowing the state to close airports found in noncompliance with the pilot ID law. In addition, the association was able to get last-minute clarification that pilots would not be required to display the photo ID on the outside of their clothing and that the law would not apply to visiting out-of-state pilots.
In its report on the November 2001 midair collision between an Air Force F-16 and a Cessna 172 just south of Tampa, Florida, the NTSB recommended that the FAA and Department of Defense do a better job of providing real-time information about military flight activities in special-use airspace (SUA).
"This reinforces what we've been saying for years," said Melissa Bailey, AOPA's vice president of air traffic, regulatory, and certification policy. "Real-time information would only enhance safety for everyone."
Last year, AOPA partnered with the FAA to create an online database ( www.aopa.org/members/airports/sua.cfm) making the FAA's Special Use Airspace Management System (SAMS) easily available to all members. Although that database is updated every six minutes, not all ATC and military facilities contribute to SAMS.
AOPA continues to push for notam reforms, as well as a data system that will allow graphical depictions of SUA status on moving-map displays in the cockpit.
AOPA in July filed a request for re-examination of a patent on a part required by a Lake amphibian wing spar airworthiness directive (AD). Although the request specifically concerns the Lake AD, the outcome could have implications for all aircraft owners.
AD 2000-10-22 mandates a wing spar doubler kit, but a patent on that kit requires that it be purchased from the aircraft type certificate holder, Revo Inc., or that owners pay licensing fees to a third company. AOPA contends that the Revo kit is no different from spar doubler kits installed on several existing airframes and, therefore, isn't patentable.
Revo Inc. obtained the patent after manufacturer Airtech Canada offered an alternative at a substantially lower price. Florida-based patent infringement firm Enpat, which obtained the patent rights from Revo, is pursuing civil action against Lake owners who used the Airtech kits if they don't pay a licensing fee to Enpat. Airtech has now stopped offering its lower-priced kits.
AOPA President Phil Boyer said, "The implications of this action should be obvious to all aircraft owners. Pilots should not be precluded from using any FAA-approved AD fix."
The FAA announced in late July that it will start streamlining and clarifying airworthiness directives (ADs) by writing them in "plain language."
The new AD format will use charts and tables and focus attention on "the unsafe conditions that created the need for the directive," according to the FAA.
AOPA has been encouraging the FAA for several years to make both regulations and ADs easier to understand.
Your yoke-mounted portable GPS unit is probably still legal thanks to an exemption won by AOPA in June allowing you to continue using it in nonturbojet aircraft operated under FAR Part 91. The FAA had originally planned to require immediate (and expensive) certification of all devices with moving-map displays.
"We reminded the FAA that many GA pilots use portable GPS technologies and the policy would actually decrease safety instead of increasing it, taking a step backwards," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA's director of advanced technology. "AOPA has steadfastly maintained that there is much to benefit, and little to lose, when these devices supplement a pilot's operations."
In making the case for the exemption, AOPA also educated the FAA on new technologies emerging, such as moving maps on personal digital assistant (PDA) devices. Such units would also have had to undergo official FAA certification.
The certification requirements are explained in recently issued FAA Advisory Circular 120-76, available online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2002/ac120-76.doc).
An AOPA Aviation Services analysis shows that changes made quietly to the FAA practical test standards (PTS) will affect applicants for private, commercial, or flight instructor certificates.
One change now allows a second chance if a checkride maneuver is incomplete or the outcome is uncertain. "This doesn't mean instruction, practice, or repetition of unsatisfactory performance, but it does now officially allow a second chance on the checkride," said Melissa Bailey, AOPA's vice president of air traffic, regulatory, and certification policy. "It's a most welcome change."
For commercial pilot applicants, steep spirals and power-off 180-degree accuracy landings are now required. In addition, more precise maneuvering standards are required for slow flight, power-off stalls, and (in the case of private pilot applicants) turns to a heading.
A side-by-side comparison of the old and new requirements is available on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2002/pts_comp.html).
Members of the Colorado legislature and two aviation groups honored AOPA in July for its efforts on behalf of general aviation after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The award from Colorado lawmakers, a special resolution, commended AOPA President Phil Boyer for his success in restoring GA in Colorado and elsewhere. The Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association presented its Aviation Advocacy Award to the association in British Columbia, Canada, and the women's pilot organization The Ninety-Nines honored AOPA with its Award of Merit in ceremonies at its annual convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Ninety-Nines President Vicki Lynn Sherman 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."
AOPA members claiming AOPA 5% FBO Rebate program redemptions now have a toll-free fax number to use: 866/AOPA-FBO (866/267-2326).
Since 1997, the program has returned more than $8.5 million to members. It allows rebates of up to $250 a year from AOPA Certified partner MBNA America Bank, N.A., on virtually any purchase made with an AOPA credit card at a qualifying fixed-base operator (FBO). All rebates are paid entirely by MBNA America Bank and include no contribution from AOPA, AOPA member dues, or the FBO.
"Other aviation associations may talk about cutting the cost of flying," said Karen Gebhart, president of the AOPA Services Corporation, an AOPA subsidiary, "but AOPA was the first to actually do something about it."
An application for the AOPA credit card is available online ( www.aopa.org/info/certified/) or by calling 800/932-2775.
A full slate of seminars will highlight AOPA Expo 2002, the association's annual convention and trade show, from October 24 through 26 in Palm Springs, California.
Fully half of the 80-plus hours of seminars will be aviation safety-related, while others will provide valuable information on aircraft renting or buying, modifying or upgrading; medical issues such as Lasik eye surgery, cardiac certification, and flying with diabetes; and general interest topics such as an inside look at how the FAA makes rules, and career possibilities for CFIs.
This year's event also will feature a 500-plus vendor exhibit hall, more than 80 hours of seminars, numerous social events, and entertainment by nationally known political humorist Mark Russell. Expo will kick off on October 23 with the popular AOPA Parade of Planes, a nose-to-tail procession of about 77 display aircraft taxiing through city streets to the Palm Springs Convention Center.
Up-to-date schedules and registration information about AOPA Expo 2002 may be found online ( www.aopa.org/expo/).
ASF's General Aviation Accident Database, comprised of reports on more than 39,000 general aviation accidents over the past 19 years, is now available to the public.
The organized and searchable reports in the database, drawn from the NTSB, include virtually all GA accidents since 1983 involving fixed-wing aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less. The database is available without cost online ( www.aopa.org/asf/ntsb/).
"Making this information available online should help both pilots and researchers better understand the causes of accidents, as well as help them spot trends," said AOPA ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg.
Searches of the database can be as specific as a tail number or as broad as a date range. The information can be sorted in a variety of ways: by type of aircraft (factory-built, homebuilt, ultralight); make; model; type of flight (for example, personal, business, aerial application, and air race); state; injury index (none, minor, serious, fatal); or any combination of factors.
Unlike some other collections of accident reports, the ASF database standardizes aircraft designations, making searches easier and more accurate.
While the database is open to all pilots, AOPA members can also access AOPA's Airport Directory Online from a particular accident report to look at airport diagrams and instrument approaches if the accident is associated with an airport.
ASF's General Aviation Accident Database online access was made possible by a grant from ASF Hat-In-The-Ring member Mike Lazar. ASF is funded primarily through contributions from individuals and companies interested in promoting GA safety.
The FAA has selected ASF's new "flashcard" safety program to help reduce the number of near collisions on active runways. Often caused by unauthorized entry to an active runway, runway incursions have been a top FAA safety concern for several years.
The series of 17 ASF-designed flashcards feature airport signs or pavement markings on the card front, with an explanation of each sign or marking on the back. They are intended to be used by CFIs to drill flight students and by FAA designated flight examiners for the oral portion of a checkride.
The cards are expected to be especially helpful for pilots training at smaller nontowered airports when preparing to operate at larger towered airports.
A packet containing a set of the cards, the updated ASF Safety Advisor publication Operations at Towered Airports and accompanying ASF video, and the new FAA video Airport Signs, Markings and Procedures is being sent to more than 80,000 CFIs and FAA designated flight examiners. The ASF outreach coincides with a change in checkride procedures that requires examiners to place greater emphasis on avoiding runway incursions.
ASF will also back up the FAA's efforts with free distribution of the remaining flashcards to pilots who attend ASF safety seminars.
Thanks to intervention by area pilots, led by AOPA's ASN Volunteer of the Month Martha Ainsworth, approaches to four GA airports in Prince George's County, Maryland, will stay protected. The win came with passage in July of the county's new Compatible Land Use Zoning ordinance, which creates Aviation Policy Areas (APAs) protecting airports in the county, as well as the approach to one runway at a GA airport in an adjoining county.
"This is an excellent example of teamwork saving airports," said Mark Lowdermilk, program manager of AOPA's Airport Support Network. "Instead of butting heads, all sides got together and found a solution that works for everyone."
Ainsworth, who is the AOPA ASN volunteer for Freeway Airport in Prince George's County, based her arguments for the ordinance on safety and noise issues around her endangered home airport. She credited Prince George's County planners Craig Rovelstad and Wendy Irminger with helping assemble the evidence for the ordinance and shepherding it through the approval process. "It's a particularly sweet victory because these were the four airports [Freeway, College Park, Hyde Field, and Potomac Airpark] most severely affected by post-September 11 closures," said Ainsworth. "This zoning ordinance will protect their long-run viability. In the meantime, we have to work on getting them all back to normal operation."
Public-use airports in the United States are closing at the rate of about one every two weeks. The AOPA Airport Support Network designates one volunteer per airport to watch for threats and encourage favorable public perception of general aviation. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/asn/ ).
Florida. Naples: Support for Naples Municipal Airport is building after three years of education and promotion by AOPA ASN volunteer R. Scott Cameron and the Friends of Naples Municipal Airport. A newspaper story following a fatal accident at the airport in June quoted neighbors as saying they understood the vital role the airport plays in the community. Local media has often bashed the airport.
Massachusetts. Beverly: Local pilots led by AOPA ASN volunteer Gary T. Kerr blocked a zoning change that could have jeopardized future FAA funding at Beverly Municipal Airport. As part of the effort, Kerr had obtained a letter from the FAA opposing the change.
Michigan. Allegan: A fly-in sponsored by the Allegan Area Pilots Association (AAPA) at Padgham Field drew a record crowd in late June, helping the formerly antiairport city manager to see the airport in a different light. AOPA ASN volunteer Douglas Kuhl and AAPA used AOPA's The Complete Guide to Holding an Airport Open House manual in planning the event, which featured a temporary ATC tower.
New Mexico. Santa Fe: A new airport master plan for Santa Fe Municipal Airport, more than a year in the making, was approved by the Santa Fe City Council in July. It includes a recommendation for an FAA noise study at the airport, something long advocated by AOPA ASN volunteer Carter DuBois and local pilots. Neighborhood groups have agreed to stop pushing for noise-abatement procedures and mitigation if the study shows no noise problems.
New York. Westhampton Beach: A proposed fee of $100 for takeoffs or landings at Francis S. Gabreski Airport has yet to be collected despite being included in the 2002 Suffolk County budget. An investigation by AOPA ASN volunteer Larry Sribnick determined that the fee could violate FAA grant obligations and jeopardize funding for airport improvements.
Pennsylvania. Corry: Effective weed barriers around runway lights, fashioned from rubber bladders, were installed at Corry-Lawrence Airport after AOPA ASN volunteer Clark Zeaman persuaded local company Corry Rubber to donate a pallet of the bladders to the airport. Commercial versions of such weed barriers cost about $50 each.
By Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager
Preserving your airport is not a single event; it's an ongoing process. One great example is Martha Ainsworth's preservation of not only her home airport of Freeway in Prince George's County, Maryland, but also three other airports in the county as well (see " ASN Volunteer of the Month: Martha Ainsworth," above).
When a developer proposed building as many as 1,799 residential units around the north end of the runway at Freeway Airport, Ainsworth enlisted local pilots, airport businesses, and local zoning agencies to protect the airport.
The result of her efforts, a county ordinance limiting development around airports and requiring disclosure to real estate purchasers of their proximity to an airport, not only protects all four GA airports in Prince George's County, but it may also serve as the basis for statewide legislation. Talk about keeping the process moving in the right direction!
Don't wait until your airport is under attack to form or join an airport support group. Your ASN volunteer has detailed information about developing such a group. Not sure if your airport has an AOPA ASN volunteer? Visit the Web site ( www.aopa.org/asn/) and click on "Find Your Airport Volunteer." If your airport has no ASN volunteer, you may nominate yourself at the same site.