After months of insisting on a dialogue with all federal agencies that make decisions about airport and airspace security, AOPA and other industry organizations finally had the opportunity to sit down with government representatives during a meeting Friday at FAA headquarters.
Today's meeting was the first between AOPA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Secret Service. Five other government agencies also took part. Six industry organizations, representing every aspect of general aviation from helicopters to charter operators, presented the positions to the government's Interagency Group, which is tasked with coordinating airspace control measures.
AOPA President Phil Boyer presented a very candid picture of the typical GA pilot and the impact the airspace rules were imposing on the pilot and owner directly.
"I'm not going to tell you all AOPA pilots are out saving lives, fighting fires, doing electronic news gathering, or chartering their planes," Boyer told the gathering. "GA pilots are using these airplanes with three to four seats on average, in a single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft basically for personal and business transportation.
"Probably the proudest thing you could have, just like a car when you were 16, 17, or maybe you had to wait until 20, 21, or whatever, are the keys to one of these general aviation airplanes." At this point, Boyer held up the keys to his personal aircraft, a Cessna 172. "You'd be an owner; you now have an asset that to these people is very important."
Boyer pointed out that the financial commitment that pilot/owners make goes far beyond just owning the aircraft. "Just about 40 miles away at Frederick, Md., the hangar for the airplane that goes with these keys is $325 a month; insurance is about $150 a month, and the maintenance on that airplane, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, about another $150 a month. So before you even take the airplane out of the hangar, there's an outpouring of $650 to $700 a month that these people have made as their commitment to aircraft ownership.... Many will just decide not to keep this valuable asset any longer.
"I represent pilots, and the best way to understand them is to hear the kinds of comments they are sending us, as their representative. I'm going to limit these to operational comments, not comments that have four-letter words in them and negatives about our government's thinking power.
"'Instructors are having trouble convincing students to continue their flight training because they don't find this anywhere near enjoyable.'
"'There is an insidious effect of fewer flying opportunities, fewer active pilots. Already our club has lost 3 pilot members in the last month that decided to save themselves money until the situation improves.'
"I have to personally answer e-mails and phone calls. Our AOPA staff of 225 employees hear from members every single day. The one question I can't answer now is, 'Phil, should I turn my airplane keys in now, or are they going to be worthless sometime later?'" at which point, Boyer placed his aircraft keys on the table.
The meeting closed with a pledge from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to more closely cooperate with AOPA and to offer a forum for operational solutions to their security concerns. Boyer and AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula took this as a firm follow-up commitment with the agencies that the association has not dealt with in the past.
As members of the Interagency Group, AOPA now not only has direct contact with the FBI and Secret Service, but also continues to have a very direct working relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement.