The 215 employees of AOPA have one goal, year after year - finding ways to make your flying safer, more affordable, and more fun. As we look back on our information, education, and advocacy efforts for 2004, we want to thank you for your support and tell you about some of the work we've done on your behalf.
"AOPA is going to end the year with a record number of members - more than 403,000, and a record high renewal rate," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That's particularly gratifying, because it is a vote of confidence in what the AOPA staff are doing for the members day in and day out.
"It's also a tribute to all of our members who value their AOPA membership and encourage other pilots to join," Boyer continued. "You cannot underestimate the power of 403,000 pilot voices, united in their determination to keep general aviation growing and strong."
But it certainly has been a year of challenges.
When we started the year, we made your top priorities our own - protecting airports, beating back user fees, bringing reason to security rules for GA, reducing the number of "temporary" flight restrictions, putting GA-friendly politicians in office, putting a dent in rising insurance costs, and finding more ways to reduce the cost of flying.
"One cost-of-flying issue is government-imposed user fees, and we successfully blocked those again this year," said Boyer. But it didn't look so sure at the beginning of the year.
At the end of 2003, Congress yielded to pressure from the Bush administration and deleted bans on user fees and air traffic control privatization from the four-year FAA reauthorization bill. And while the legislation had some good provisions for general aviation, AOPA refused to run with the pack of other aviation organizations endorsing the bill, because it had opened the door to user fees.
"But in Congress, you have two chances to set policy; the authorizing legislation that gives federal agencies the authority to spend money, and the appropriations bills, which actually set how much money can be spent each year," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs.
So AOPA used its influence on Capitol Hill - backed by our more than 403,000 politically active members - to get a user fee prohibition written into FAA's 2005 appropriation.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey assured pilots attending AOPA Expo this year that the FAA " doesn't support a fee-based system." But times are tight at the FAA as airline ticket-tax revenue is falling off. Many of the major airlines are clamoring for user fees to fund air traffic control (and to lessen the competitive advantage the low-cost airlines enjoy).
The block on user fees in the appropriations bill extends only until September 30, 2005, the end of the fiscal year. "So we've won a battle, but not the war," said Cebula. "We'll be charging up Capitol Hill again to head off future attempts to impose user fees."
The FAA appropriations bill also includes a few other things that AOPA lobbied for, including research money for a leaded avgas replacement; $3.5 billion for airport improvements, with some $341 million earmarked for general aviation airports exclusively; full funding for the GPS wide area augmentation system (WAAS) [ View AOPA's WAAS video from AOPA Expo.] and new instrument approaches into GA airports; and a "level of service guarantee" for pilots using flight service station (FSS) services.
And that leads us to the contentious issue of who will actually provide flight services in the future. The FAA is close to completing an "A-76 study" to determine what is the most effective and cost-efficient way to get weather and safety-of-flight information to GA pilots. Despite the hard work and dedication of the 2,300 specialists staffing the system, it relies on antiquated technology and is extremely expensive to operate. Something's got to give. (See " Modernizing flight service")
But it won't come at the expense of quality of service. Nor will there be a direct expense (user fee) to use it. That's because AOPA has stuck its foot in the door to make sure pilot needs are considered, that the level of service will not decline, and that the service will continue to be free of direct user charges - regardless of who may ultimately be providing it.
And speaking of free services, another win for AOPA this year was the continuation of the DUAT service provided by two independent contractors. The FAA wanted to take DUAT back in house, but the private contractors are already providing a higher quality and variety of services than the FAA could, so AOPA lobbied to continue the contracts.
Of course, 2004 was an election year, so another one of our goals was to get as many aviation-friendly politicians into Congress as possible. We did pretty darn well; 95 percent of the candidates backed by the AOPA Political Action Committee were elected to the U.S. House and Senate, and many of aviation's friends will be in leadership positions on key congressional committees. We'll need that help to continue to beat back user fees.
So it won't cost you any more in government fees to fly in the new year, but what did we do to save you money?
Well, we started the year with rate cuts of as much as 28 percent for aircraft renters insurance through the AOPA Insurance Agency.
And by year's end we'll have returned more than 15 million dollars in rebates back to our members from purchases made at qualified FBOs with the AOPA FBO Rebate credit card. In addition to the 5-percent FBO Rebate Program, the card features a 5-percent Sporty's Pilot Shop discount.
"$15 million in rebates since the program began," said Karen Gebhart, AOPA senior vice president of products and services. "That's money back in your pocket to help reduce the cost of flying." This year, members of the Aircraft Electronics Association joined the list of more than 4,700 qualified FBOs. That means avionics and services purchased through AEA members are now eligible for the rebate.
This year AOPA also launched two more ways to save while supporting general aviation - the AOPA WorldPoints credit card and the AOPA Rewards American Express card. Issued through AOPA's Member Products partner MBNA America Bank, N.A., both cards allow you to earn points for every dollar you spend in purchases, and you can redeem them for a wide variety of rewards.
Your association also is offering you more ways to save as you learn to be a better pilot, with exclusive subscription discounts to great Belvoir publications like Aviation Safety, IFR, Light Plane Maintenance, Aviation Consumer, IFR Refresher, and Kitplanes.
And because a "good pilot is always learning," we launched our new AOPA Flight Training Web site, completely redesigned to make it more user friendly, easier to navigate, and more logical and relevant to student pilots and flight instructors. And for current pilots, there is no better place to send someone you know who is interested in learning to fly or who has just started their flight training.
We also updated our GA Serving America Web site to educate the public about the benefits and value of general aviation, and as you read this, some 36 million TV viewers across the nation are viewing AOPA-sponsored commercials on the Weather Channel promoting GA and GAServingAmerica.org.
Pilot education is the major role of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and it's very good at this job. So good, in fact, that the FAA turned to AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation again this year to educate pilots about runway incursions. The Air Safety Foundation completely revised and updated its innovative online course, " Runway Safety: Safe Flying Starts and Ends on the Ground."
And it introduced a new concept - the Safety Hotspot - to give pilots one place to go for quick information about safety-critical topics. The first hotspot is " Flying Night VFR."
Two new live safety seminars also were created. "GPS-Beyond Direct-to" toured the country earlier in the year and "Weather Wise," developed with assistance from the National Weather Service, is now on the ASF seminar circuit. All of these online and live courses are free to pilots.
It was a banner year for fund-raising as well, topped by a $250,000 grant to support pilot safety from the Conrad Hilton Foundation. A new GPS online course will be launched in 2005, fully funded by an individual donor. All of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's research and educational efforts are funded by contributions from individual pilots and organizations interested in furthering the cause of general aviation safety.
Those safety efforts are working. While we won't know the complete picture until February or March of next year when the NTSB compiles all accident data, through the end of October the number of general aviation accidents is down compared to the previous year, even though it appears that GA is flying more.
"It's gratifying that general aviation pilots take safety so seriously, and they are willing to support the cause through donations to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation," noted ASF executive director, Bruce Landsberg.
AOPA also improved some of the tools you use in your flying this year. We enhanced the image quality of the free instrument approach procedures online while actually reducing the file size. We added a new feature that allows you to retrieve all the approaches for an airport with a simple keystroke. You can store all of the airports you normally use under " My Procedures," and download all of the associated instrument charts every time they're updated. The charts also now include the effective date. AOPA's electronic charts are much smaller than the files you'll find elsewhere, saving your time with faster downloads.
We improved AOPA's free Real-Time Flight Planner, which gives you graphic depictions of weather and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) along your route of flight and allows you to file your plan with the FAA. You can now store five aircraft profiles, 10 routes, and 35 waypoints. More than 100,000 members are using AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner, powered by Jeppesen. Did we mention it's free?
This year saw a huge proliferation of TFRs as President Bush barnstormed around the country to win reelection. AOPA did its best to educate government officials about the detrimental effects of these outsized TFRs on GA flight and the national economy. And the fact that TFRs weren't issued for all the other candidates may have been due in part to those efforts.
We did our best to make sure you knew about the TFRs. We e-mailed more than 200 ePilot Special Airspace Bulletins, alerting pilots to TFRs in their area.
We also persuaded the FAA to turn 11 military TFRs into much less restrictive national security areas (NSAs). The military wanted them to be prohibited areas, and AOPA is still fighting that designation for the TFRs over Bangor, Washington, and St. Marys, Georgia. We also reduced some of the burden of the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for pilots flying into outlying airports surrounding the nation's capital.
The issue of general aviation security was front and center for much of the year, and AOPA scored some significant victories. We disposed of the ridiculous Weiner bill that would have required airline-style screening of every GA passenger and prohibited overflight of large cities.
Working with the rest of the aviation industry, we convinced the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to issue general aviation airport security guidelines, rather than impose unneeded and expensive new regulations.
Congress's watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a report on GA airport security concluding that small GA aircraft were unlikely to be used as terrorist weapons and praising industry efforts to improve airport security, particularly AOPA's Airport Watch program. Of course, AOPA had worked quietly behind the scenes to make sure the GAO investigators had all the facts about general aviation.
The 9/11 Commission also found no significant threat from general aviation, but that didn't stop some in government from trying to use the report as justification to impose new regulations, including a security check on every renter pilot. AOPA worked quietly with Congress to keep that from becoming law.
With help from Congress, AOPA got the "pilot insecurity rule" changed to protect a pilot's right to due process and right to contest a TSA determination that a pilot is a national security threat.
And AOPA continues to work with TSA to reduce the impact of the Alien Flight Training/Citizenship Validation rule. Already your association has succeeded in reducing the scope of the rule so that it does not apply to proficiency training and flight reviews and changed the onerous citizenship record-keeping requirements to a simple logbook entry.
"We were actively engaged in helping to defend against threats to more than 400 airports this year," said Roger Cohen, AOPA vice president of regional affairs, "with some great successes, including Horace Williams Field in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Buchanan Field in Concord, California."
AOPA's efforts helped swing the election in Stuart, Florida, defeating a slate of anti-airport candidates. And, of course, there are the ongoing efforts to protect the general aviation airports surrounding Minneapolis-St. Paul. Oh, and we can't forget how AOPA and Phil Boyer challenged the anti-general aviation propaganda of Northwest Airlines and its CEO, based in Minneapolis.
Speaking of propaganda, there was Mayor Richard Daley's attempt to "spin" the slap in the face from the FAA over the destruction of Meigs Field by claiming that the airport was "abandoned" and needed to be torn down. The city won't restore the airport, but thanks to AOPA's dogged determination, Chicago will likely have to fork over a significant fine for the mayor's actions.
And of course, AOPA's two premiere magazines, AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training, which continued to offer the very best in articles to help you fly more safely and affordably while capturing the romance and fun of flying in words and pictures. By the way, AOPA Pilot is the world's largest circulation general aviation magazine, thanks to you, our members.
And if you couldn't find what you were looking for in the pages of our magazines, how about the 27,000 pages of new and updated information on AOPA.org? That's right, 27,000 pages in one year.
AOPA staffers attend hundreds of meetings on your behalf through the course of the year, but none are more important than our contacts with you through the toll-free Pilot Information Center, e-mail, encounters at aviation events, and Pilot Town Meetings. That gives us a chance to serve your individual needs and for you to tell us what's important for AOPA to be doing. And that's why your AOPA president continues his busy travel schedule, to be able to talk to you face-to-face. This year he visited 18 cities and met with close to 4,000 pilots through AOPA Pilot Town Meetings alone.
"It's been one tremendous year, and we all have a lot to be proud of," said Boyer. "This list only begins to scratch the surface.
"But we'll we back next year, ready, willing, and able to make your flying safer, more affordable, and more fun. Stay tuned, we've got some great things planned for you!"
December 30, 2004