FAA Administrator Marion Blakey opened AOPA Expo 2003 in Philadelphia on Thursday with promises of new technology. She also addressed concerns about federal funding and took a few swipes at the mayor of Chicago. Following up on a promise made at last year's Expo, Blakey said that the long-awaited graphical temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) are now available on the FAA's Web site. They are updated every 30 minutes and will soon be updated every minute. AOPA had been providing graphical TFRs on its own Web site and urging the FAA to provide pilots with better information for navigating today's complex airspace. In other technology news, Blakey said vertical capabilities for WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) GPS approaches should be approved by early 2004; with both lateral and vertical guidance, they will be similar to ILS approaches. Blakey said she will ride along on an approach in a Cessna 172 flown by AOPA President Phil Boyer when approval is granted.
On Capitol Hill Blakey said that AOPA is "missing in action" when it comes to support of the FAA reauthorization bill now in Congress that funds a host of general aviation programs. AOPA became concerned about the bill when language opposing privatization was removed. Although Blakey said she is confident the bill would not open the door for privatization or even a fee-based system for air traffic services, AOPA spokesman Warren Morningstar had another opinion. "In a bill so important to our members, all we have left is their word," he said. Additionally, Morningstar said there are concerns that the federal government does not believe air traffic control is an inherently governmental responsibility.
On the airport preservation front, Blakey attacked Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's actions in bulldozing the runway at Meigs Field, calling it a "travesty" and a "national tragedy." She said the airport was part of a National Airspace System and added, "No one should carve out a piece of it." In the future, new regulations will require that local officials give ample notice of any intent to close an airport and impose heavy fines for violating such provisions. She added that the action by Daley showed "disregard for the interest and safety of the aviation community."