Greek Minister of Defense Spilios Spiliotopoulos, AOPA-Hellas President Yiouli Kalafati, and IAOPA President Phil Boyer
Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Anastasios Neratzis
Minister of Tourism Dimitris Avramopoulos
Hellenic Civil Aviation Administration Governor Panagiotis Manousos
IAOPA discusses European GA issues in Athens
The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) European regional meeting November 27 in Athens, Greece, marked the first time the organization has convened in southern Eastern Europe. That brought new participants to the semi-annual regional meeting, including representatives from AOPAs in Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece.
"We asked the delegates to list the top problems facing general aviation in their countries, and the problems are universal," said Phil Boyer, IAOPA president and president of AOPA-USA. "Just as in the United States, the problems are access to airports and airspace, medical certification, and the high cost of flying."
In Germany, for example, a 250 nautical mile flight in a Cessna 172 costs the equivalent of $330, just for the user fees!
"The fee for a night landing in Germany is $90," said Boyer. "There certainly is no better argument than that for why we in the United States have to maintain our strong political presence in Washington backed by AOPA's more than 400,000 members to fight against direct charges to general aviation pilots."
In Berlin, government officials want to close two of three airports, eliminating close-in general aviation access to the capital city.
The island nation of Cypress closed its only GA airport after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. General aviation is forced to use the international airport, but pilots face departure delays of up to 45 minutes while paying European prices for Hobbs time as they sit and wait.
As difficult as airport security may be for some GA pilots in the United States, it's nothing compared to problems in the rest of the world. One Israeli pilot told of landing at an airport and leaving the property, then being refused return access to his airplane because he didn't have the proper paperwork.
One issue that will impact all European pilots is the Single European Sky initiative, an ambitious project to reform the air traffic control architecture over all of the member states. Antonis Koutsoudakis, director of the HCAA Flight Standards Division (and past president of AOPA-Hellas) explained what that would mean to general aviation in Greece.
Delegates from AOPA-Turkey presented Boyer with an award of appreciation for his "world-wide support of aviation."
With 60 member states, the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations is the worldwide voice of general aviation. More than 470,000 pilots are members of IAOPA-affiliated pilot associations. IAOPA is the official representative of general aviation before the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization.
America leads the world in aviation, which also means that we lead the world in aviation problems - and ways to solve them. That's why AOPA President Phil Boyer found himself in Greece during the Thanksgiving holiday.
AOPA-Hellas (Greece) President Yiouli Kalafati invited Boyer, who also serves as president of the 60-country International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA), to lend some international clout and experience to efforts to reopen a general aviation airport in the Greek capital and expand general aviation access throughout the country. Thanks to that high-profile IAOPA presence, Greek general aviation pilots got audiences with some of the country's aviation "heavy hitters," including the minister of defense, the deputy minister of transportation and communications, the minister of tourism, and the head of the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority.
"The number one problem is the lack of a general aviation airport in Athens, home to almost half of the Greek population," said Boyer. "And like so many examples here in the United States, the problem was created by the closure of two perfectly good GA airports."
That parallels the issues in Austin, Texas, where the old commercial service airport (Robert Mueller Memorial Airport) and a general aviation facility (Executive Airport) were closed without adequate replacements for GA.
In Greece, officials closed the general aviation airport at Marathon (26 miles from Athens) to create a linear water park for Olympic rowing events. They closed Athens' Hellinikon Airport (LGAT) and replaced it with a larger international airport farther away from the city. Part of Hellinikon was converted into Olympic venues, and a tram system was constructed across one runway end. That left general aviation homeless.
But it also left some 1,600 meters (5,300 feet) of runway untouched and unused at Hellinikon - perfect for general aviation. Not only that, the tower is still in place, and Athens' air traffic control radar facility is still housed there.
"The officials I met with were receptive to the idea of reopening Hellinikon for GA," said Boyer. "And with Greece's beautiful Mediterranean weather, our colleagues at AOPA-Hellas would like to make Greece the 'Florida' of Europe - the perfect spot for flight training."
But Greek officials also indicated they faced local pressure to turn the seaside location into a park. To that, Boyer talked about the experience with Florida's Albert Whitted Field, where airport opponents unsuccessfully tried to convince voters to close the airport for a "park."
"When talking about prime real estate, you always have to be suspicious of 'park' plans," said Boyer. "As was the case with Albert Whitted, the real purpose may very well be to grab land for expensive condos and other development."
Other issues for general aviation pilots in Greece include access to existing airports, both civilian and joint-use military fields. Many airports are open only when an airline flight is scheduled. That means GA pilots have to time their flights around the airline schedule. In some cases, that means an airport is only open for an hour a day.
Greek pilots also are trying to get better access to military airfields. Currently pilots have to provide four days advance notice with the exact time of arrival and names of passengers to use a military field. Boyer suggested to the minister of defense that they consider a "trusted pilot" program through AOPA-Hellas, allowing pilots previously vetted more "real time" access to the airports. As experience is gained with the program, trusted pilot status might be extended to AOPA members from neighboring countries.
And the high cost of flying bedevils Greek pilots. But American pilots should consider this: Tax alone on a gallon of aviation gasoline in Greece is the equivalent of $14!
And one lesson that bears repeating. When it comes to saving an airport, it's local action that generates success.
"One Greek pilot thought they were powerless to reopen Hellinikon because they were 'only 115 people,'" said Boyer. "It was a lot fewer people who saved Albert Whitted, but they were passionate and involved in their community.
"It took the help of a national organization like AOPA, but AOPA couldn't have done it alone," Boyer concluded. "In the end, it's your airport, and it's up to you to protect it. And that's the same whether its Athens, Greece, or Athens, Georgia."
November 30, 2004