The FAA's recently released strategic plan for the next five years acknowledges the need to address the operational impacts of security restrictions and commits the agency to improving GA access to major metropolitan areas and other constrained airspace. Flight Plan 2004-2008 also incorporates a number of other AOPA recommendations.
"In the final version of the strategic plan, the FAA recognizes that it is the focal point for resolving the new reality of security restrictions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The plan contains almost all of our recommendations. The challenge for AOPA's Government Affairs staff plans is to make sure the FAA lives up to the commitments in its five-year plan."
Access to the system is a top priority for AOPA members, and the FAA's plan promises improvements in both IFR and VFR access to general aviation airports.
The FAA hopes to improve VFR access to congested airspace, including the development of VFR routes for better access to constrained airspace, such as Class B. In addition to improved access, the FAA hopes to reduce accident rates by giving VFR pilots improved navigation.
In the final plan, the FAA also commits to providing pilots with better IFR access, including continued development of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). WAAS enhances the GPS signal and makes possible ILS-like precision approaches to thousands of general aviation airports that don't have them today.
The FAA also commits to the development of datalink products to bring traffic and weather information into the cockpit, publication of new area navigation (RNAV) approaches to improve GA safety, and streamlining the process for certifying new avionics.
AOPA told the FAA that the draft plan failed to address the problems created by the nation's new security-consciousness in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The final version now contains language committing the FAA to work with airspace users on the operational impact of security restrictions.
AOPA also raised concerns that the FAA's new effort to revise the airmen training and testing standards. While not mandatory, the FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) could turn into a de facto rule if the FAA modified the practical test standards or insurance companies started requiring FITS training before issuing an insurance policy.
The final plan recognizes the need to have general aviation at the table as the program is developed. "AOPA staff members are already working with the FAA on the development of FITS," said Boyer.
The only area in which the FAA completely ignored AOPA's suggestion was international harmonization.
AOPA said the FAA needed amend the draft plan to acknowledge that the U.S. National Airspace System is unique in the volume of general aviation traffic, and that "harmonizing" with international standards that are more restrictive is not in the best interest of general aviation or the U.S. airspace system in general. However, the FAA made no changes in the final version.