The 2004 presidential election is only a few weeks away, and security officials remain extremely concerned that terrorists will try to disrupt or influence the outcome with renewed attacks within the United States. The specter of the attacks on Spanish trains in March, which helped sway national elections there, looms large for security agencies in the United States.
"The overall heightened alert posture means that general aviation is also likely to draw extra scrutiny," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Security measures such as Airport Watch are going to be especially important during this period, not only for their protection benefits, but also to demonstrate to security officials and a skittish nonflying public that GA is actively involved in protecting our country."
AOPA's Airport Watch draws upon the pilots who fly at GA airports and the employees of businesses based there to help watch for and report suspicious activities. It's such an effective deterrent that the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has, in its GA Airport Security Guidelines, urged airport managers to incorporate it as a central part of a comprehensive security plan.
While the TSA and the general aviation community understand that GA airports and aircraft are not, in and of themselves, security threats, the news media and the nonflying public often do not. They see unfenced airports and no passenger screenings and feel unsafe.
"As much as we might want to roll our eyes when we hear that, we cannot afford to disregard those feelings," said Boyer. "The fears are real, even if the threat is not."
Following the Airport Watch guidelines — watching for unusual behavior, listening carefully for people who misuse aviation lingo or otherwise try to act like pilots but obviously are not, looking for aircraft with unusual or obviously illegal modifications — and reporting suspicious activity to the Airport Watch pilot hotline (866/GA-SECUR[E], or 427-3287) are sure ways to let security officials know that GA is a serious partner in aviation security.
FBO employees at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Illinois proved that Airport Watch works and caused some embarrassment to NBC News this summer when two producers trying to show the weakness of GA airport security were instead detained by police. The pair, acting suspiciously, tried to hire a helicopter. The FBO employees knew something was not right and sensed an imminent threat. They followed the Airport Watch suggestion to contact local law enforcement in such a situation. The NBC News producers were later released because they had made no threats and were not carrying anything illegal. Still, the alert FBO personnel foiled what could have been a black eye for GA, but might also have been something far worse.
"TSA correctly focused most of its aviation efforts on air carrier airports, since that's where the September 11 attacks were launched," said Boyer. "During this time of heightened concerns, we in the GA community can help TSA remain focused on air carrier airports, and ease security concerns among lawmakers and the public, by taking Airport Watch and other security measures at GA airports seriously."
When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was first formed, AOPA staff, like many pilots, feared the worst — an overbearing security agency that would squelch general aviation activity.
But after some initial missteps, the agency has shown that it understands GA and has made good-faith efforts to balance GA's needs with those of national security.
"TSA's involvement in Airport Watch and its development of GA airport security guidelines — not rules — are evidence that they recognize GA's importance," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "Even when we disagree with them, they give what we say the attention it deserves."
The TSA itself explains the importance it places on general aviation on its Web site. "TSA is working closely with the 17 GA associations that make up the General Aviation Coalition [which includes AOPA] to ensure security mandates are based on threat analysis and risk management, balanced with common sense. We recognize that one-size security does not fit all, and that different solutions are required for different environments and different classes of operators."
"TSA is part of the aviation landscape now," said Cebula. "At AOPA, we'll keep up our almost-daily contact to make sure the agency knows the effects of its actions on more than half a million GA pilots."
In the past 12 months, more than 10,000 pilots have successfully completed the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's free Know Before You Go online course on understanding and avoiding temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).
The 20-minute interactive course focuses on TFRs, which have proliferated in recent months as the elections near. Course graduates qualify for not only a color graduation certificate, but also receive credit for the ground portion of the FAA Wings program.
Know Before You Go is available by clicking on the Online Courses button on the Web site ( www.asf.org).
The FAA this summer finally approved its long-awaited Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rule that will allow many pilots to fly with a valid driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate and create new, less expensive ways to become a pilot.
"The promise of the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rule is that it could swell the ranks of current active GA pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "bringing lapsed pilots back into the fold and drawing new pilots into the aviation community."
From the beginning of the nine-year process, AOPA pushed hard for a driver's-license medical standard that would allow already-certificated pilots to fly light-sport aircraft immediately — and many of the provisions that AOPA had sought are included in the final rule. That means that for the past several weeks, since September 1, pilots who qualify have been able to act as sport pilots using a current valid driver's license (see " Sport Pilot Lands," page 127).
"Organizations like EAA and AOPA recognize that anything that makes general aviation accessible to more people is good for all pilots," Boyer said. "This rule invites old friends to get back into the air while creating opportunities for more people to pursue their dreams of flight for the first time."
The rule creates a more affordable avenue for learning to fly, requiring a minimum of 20 hours of flight time to earn a sport pilot certificate. While experience suggests that the certificate may take closer to 30 or 35 hours to earn, the standard still represents a significant cost savings over the average time of nearly 70 hours to earn a private pilot certificate.
Although the new rule defines pilot and aircraft certification requirements, it also raises a host of new questions that will require interpretation as the FAA gains real-world experience with it.
"AOPA's staff of full-time medical and technical experts will remain in continuous contact with the FAA to ensure that our members get accurate answers to all their questions as they take advantage of this new rule," Boyer said.
AOPA is leading the advisory committee that will set key standards for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flying in U.S. airspace. The association has accepted the role as co-chair of a special advisory committee that will in essence write the UAV certification standards.
"We volunteered for this job because we want to make sure that these unmanned aircraft don't have an impact on our members, literally and figuratively," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs.
"Our benchmark for the standards will be a piloted vehicle operating VFR," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA senior director of advanced technology and co-chairman of the UAV advisory committee. "Only when a UAV can fit into the system with the same level of safety will it be ready to share our airspace."
UAV operations in the United States are currently very limited. The drones fly within special-use airspace, either restricted areas or military operations areas. Outside of such airspace, UAV operations must have a "certificate of authorization" approved by both the air traffic and flight standards branches of the FAA. The operations have to be conducted within strict parameters, including using chase planes and/or ground spotters to monitor their activity.
At AOPA's urging, Congress has directed the FAA to ensure that pilots continue to get the best possible flight briefing and en route information services without user fees. The committee that holds the agency's purse strings told the FAA to have specific, comprehensive customer service standards for maintaining the quality of pilot briefings.
AOPA's legislative affairs staff worked with the House Appropriations Committee to add the FSS (flight service station) service directive to the report accompanying next year's funding bill for the FAA.
"This guidance from Congress is a very pointed reminder to the agency that pilots need a high level of service, whether the briefers work directly for the government or indirectly through a contractor," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Flight service station functions are safety-of-flight issues, and pilot service and safety can't be shortchanged."
The issue is important because the FAA is currently conducting a so-called "A-76" study to determine whether it should contract out some FSS functions, much as it does already with the DUATS service.
AOPA has been part of the A-76 process from the beginning to make sure pilots have a voice in the outcome. For example, the association's technical staff had significant input in describing the services pilots need from FSS.
And AOPA will have a voice in the performance standards that the future FSS will have to meet whether the service is provided by government employees or contractors.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will not be closing Horace Williams Airport in 2005, thanks to action by the North Carolina legislature. This follows a three-year effort by AOPA to save the airport. An amendment to the state budget bill requires the school to keep the airport open until a replacement facility can be found.
AOPA and airport supporters were able to get language included in the bill that guarantees general aviation access to Horace Williams pending the opening of a new facility.
Further, the legislation says the state will provide assistance to the school in locating the replacement airport, which may require construction of a new airport.
House co-speakers James Black (D-Mecklenburg) and Richard Morgan (R-Moore) were principal among the legislative leaders responsible for protecting the airport. However, many people were involved in making the legislation a reality, including local and regional pilots and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers who contacted lawmakers.
The hurricanes that swept through Florida in August and September left many aircraft owners — after dealing with home and business losses — calling in claims. Greg Sterling, executive vice president and general manager of AOPA Insurance Agency, offers the following points on what members who have suffered a loss can do to prepare for the adjuster's arrival and expedite settling their claims.
"If it has been more than a week between your initial call to your agent or insurance company and you still haven't heard anything, then by all means give them a second call," says Sterling. "All insurance companies want to settle your claim quickly and fairly to minimize the hassles on both ends." (See " Pilot Briefing: Florida Airports Take the Brunt of Hurricane Season," page 69.)
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has confirmed that she will speak at AOPA Expo 2004 in Long Beach, California, albeit by satellite. She will help kick off Expo, appearing during the opening general session, at 9 a.m. on Thursday, October 21.
If you missed the September 27 preregistration deadline, you can still register on-site. An exhibits pass costs $30 a day on site, and gives visitors access to the general sessions, the exhibit hall with more than 500 vendor exhibits, and the static display with some 70 aircraft, including the AOPA Win-A-Twin Sweepstakes grand prize, a better-than-new 1965 Piper Twin Comanche, at nearby Long Beach/Daugherty Field. Free shuttle-bus service is available.
The exhibits and seminars pass costs $50 a day on-site, and provides all of the access described above, plus allows visitors to attend any of the more than 75 hours of seminars available during AOPA Expo 2004.
AOPA and Member Products partner MBNA America Bank, N.A., have a new solution for businesses that support general aviation. It's an AOPA business credit card.
The card will give businesses an improved ability to track and manage expenses, and to access account information online 24 hours a day.
In addition, businesses can get free additional cards for employees and set credit limits for each additional card to control who spends how much.
"There's no annual fee for the new AOPA business credit card, and it carries a low introductory rate," said Karen Gebhart, AOPA's senior vice president of Products and Services. "And using the card supports general aviation by helping fund AOPA's mission." AOPA receives money back from MBNA as a result of all the AOPA credit cards and how much members use them.
Apply online ( www.aopa.org/info/certified/financial.html) by clicking on AOPA Business Credit Card, or by telephone at 800/598-8791.
AOPA and Belvoir Publications have reached agreement on a deal that will save AOPA members money on any of Belvoir's aviation publications. They include Aviation Consumer, Aviation Safety, IFR, IFR Refresher, KitPlanes, and Light Plane Maintenance. Belvoir also publishes the AVflash electronic newsletter and runs the AVweb.com Web site.
Belvoir Publications joins the growing list of AOPA Member Product partners. AOPA members can order aviation newsletters from Belvoir online ( www.aopa.org/info/aviationnewsletters/).
For more than 30 years, Belvoir has addressed the specialized information needs of aircraft owners and pilots.
Public-use airports in the United States are closing at the rate of about one every two weeks. The AOPA Airport Support Network designates one volunteer per airport to watch for threats and encourage favorable public perception of general aviation. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/asn/).
California. Petaluma: ASN volunteer Tom McGaw and the Petaluma Municipal Airport community's long fight against a sports complex that would have been built immediately adjacent to the airport appears to be drawing to a satisfactory close. According to McGaw, financing for the project has fallen through, although the developer is pursuing alternative financing sources. In the meantime, the city has nearly completed construction of two other sports parks, which should relieve pressure on the parks system and reduce or eliminate the need for the complex near the airport.
Connecticut. Bridgeport: In a true team effort, Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport ASN volunteer David Faile is working closely with both the Airport Support Network staff at AOPA headquarters and AOPA Regional Representative Craig Dotlo to try to head off a building going up just 380 feet from one of the airport's runways. Faile and the Friends of Sikorsky Airport are fighting an uphill battle, because neither the airport's management nor the FAA alerted pilots when the agency was evaluating the possible obstruction. With no official objections from pilots, the FAA found no reason to oppose the building's construction.
Illinois. Monticello: The long struggle to ensure that Piatt County Airport would be relocated rather than closed is finally paying off. ASN volunteer Dan Leach says the Monticello City Council has voted unanimously to sign the contracts and has already funded its half of the site selection and airport layout study. The study will begin as soon as the Illinois Division of Aeronautics issues its order to proceed. Meanwhile, a very well-attended open house garnered much positive media attention for the existing airport.
Wisconsin. Eagle River: Volunteer Ron Lorch is working with the Airport Support Network staff to prevent construction of an 800-foot-tall radio antenna that would pose a navigation hazard at Eagle River Union Airport, as well as two others in the region. This is not the first time the issue has come up. At Lorch's request, AOPA has filed comments with the FAA detailing the problem and requesting that the agency declare the proposed tower a hazard to air navigation.
With longer winter nights just around the corner, pilots will have more opportunities for night-VFR flights. And while that makes getting and staying night-current more convenient, it also carries more risk. Only about 5 percent of all VFR flights are conducted at night. Yet the rate of fatal accidents after dark is disproportionately high.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation has developed a number of useful night-VFR training safety tools.
ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg's "Safety Pilot" columns in the July and August issues of AOPA Pilot (see " Safety Pilot: Beware the Dark Side," July Pilot, and " Safety Pilot: Going Bump in the Night," August Pilot) offer guidelines for establishing a personal minimum safe altitude for night flight, and a cautionary tale about failing to do so.
"While a number of risks increase in severity after dark, a study of the ASF GA Accident Database shows that the real menace is weather," said Landsberg. "Clouds are harder to discern, so the risk of inadvertently flying into instrument meteorological conditions is higher.
"At the same time, pilots trying to remain in VFR conditions might be tempted to fly too low. It may be as counterintuitive as pushing the nose down to recover from a stall, but at night, safety definitely lies above you, not necessarily below."
ASF's Terrain Avoidance Plan Safety Brief online ( www.aopa.org/asf/asfarticles/2004/sp0407quiz.html) expands on Landsberg's suggestions for using information published on IFR and VFR charts to establish a safe minimum altitude. And be sure to take the obstruction-avoidance quiz at the bottom of the online safety brief.
If a pilot is not night-current, night instruction would be a wise investment. "Night VFR bears a lot of similarities to IFR flight," said Landsberg. "Boning up on your basic attitude instrument training can add an extra measure of safety.
"Flying at night pays dividends, such as less traffic and less wind and turbulence. But like the stock market, the prospect of greater dividends also carries the potential for greater risk. Pilots, like investors, need to know about and account for the added risk."
When the FAA's Office of Runway Safety and Operational Services wanted to reverse the dangerous trend of runway incursions, it turned to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to reach the huge general aviation audience.
The FAA's new 28-page brochure Pilot's Guide to Safe Surface Operations and an article in the August issue of AOPA Pilot, "Incursions R Us," were only part of a coordinated campaign to teach GA pilots how to avoid incursions. The centerpiece is ASF's brand-new Runway Safety online course, free to all pilots through the Online Courses button on the Web site ( www.asf.org).
In addition, the Air Safety Foundation offers both online and printed Safety Advisors on operations at towered and nontowered airports, and runway safety flashcards that test a pilot's knowledge of the airport ground environment.