Thanks to AOPA's strong presence on Capitol Hill, important general aviation programs will get the money they need from Congress. Lawmakers this week approved a $13.8 billion budget for the FAA for fiscal year 2005.
"Once again, AOPA successfully lobbied for language that prohibits the FAA from implementing any new user fees this year," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We also responded to member concerns and worked to increase the research on a leaded avgas replacement and funding for general aviation airport improvements.
"In a tight budget year with most government programs hit with across-the-board cuts, this level of funding for general aviation is a real tribute to the commitment of AOPA's legislative affairs staff on Capitol Hill," Boyer said.
"The support of AOPA's political action committee also helped build relationships and greatly enhanced our ability to present a businesslike case for general aviation."
But AOPA will have to continue fighting against user fees. While the user fee prohibition is legally binding, it's only in place for one year. So Congress could change its mind.
And there remains considerable budgetary pressure to raise taxes and fees, along with the pressure to privatize the air traffic control system. "We can never let our guard down," said Boyer.
A top concern of pilots voiced at AOPA Pilot Town Meetings is the continued availability of aviation gasoline for higher performance piston engines. The FAA's budget addresses that as well. Congress directed specific funds for "research into modifying general aviation piston engines to enable their safe operation using unleaded aviation fuel."
"There are already no lead alternatives for lower horsepower engines," said Boyer. "While totally eliminating leaded fuel is still probably a decade away, we will have to get the lead out. FAA-funded research will help ensure that the big-bore Continentals and Lycomings don't become obsolete."
The 2005 FAA budget continues to include $3.5 billion for airport improvements, with some $341 million earmarked exclusively for reliever and general aviation airports.
"Thanks to the work we've done in previous sessions of Congress, Airport Improvement Program funds can now be used for GA improvements like hangar construction," said Boyer. "This program really leverages local dollars, since the FAA will match every $5 of local funds with $95 of federal funds. Local airports can make significant improvements with using relatively small amounts of local funds."
More instrument approaches to general aviation airports are also part of this year's budget. Congress approved the full $100 million that AOPA had recommended for wide area augmentation system (WAAS) implementation. That includes direction to create WAAS GPS approaches to non-air carrier airports. (See " What's Up with WAAS" from December's AOPA Pilot magazine. Also view our short WAAS video from AOPA Expo.)
The budget bill also contains language that AOPA had pushed for to ensure that pilots continue to get good weather briefings and other safety services, regardless of who may ultimately provide the service. The law instructs the FAA to require "comprehensive and specific customer service standards for providing flight briefings to pilots as well as a process for ongoing customer service monitoring and evaluation" from any flight service provider. (The FAA is conducting an A-76 study to determine if any services currently provided by flight service stations should be handled by private contractors or government/industry partnerships. See "Modernizing Flight Service" in August's AOPA Pilot.)
The conference agreement has been passed by the House and Senate. Following technical corrections, the bill will be forwarded to the President who is expected to sign the measure in early December.
November 24, 2004