When Congress passed the FAA funding bill in late November, it in effect said, "The current tax system works just fine, thank you." So much for the FAA's claim that the system is "broken." And once again, lawmakers said, "No user fees!"
"Congress, acting as the board of directors for the FAA, has once again decided that the fairest, most responsible way to pay for aviation's benefits to all citizens is through excise taxes and general fund contributions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And that's why we want to make sure that Congress retains oversight of the FAA."
However, the language on user fees is good only through September 2006. Meanwhile, there are some in Washington who continue to support a funding system with the "revenue stream" tied to services provided. That means that potentially every FAA "service" — every flight service station (FSS) or DUATS weather briefing, every contact with a tower or en route controller, every new certificate or rating issuance, and conceivably every landing at a federally funded airport — would result in a direct charge to the pilot.
"Frankly, this is not something that we can allow to happen," said Boyer.
Meanwhile, Congress found that, for fiscal year 2006, the revenue from the aviation trust fund and the general fund was enough to give the FAA even more money than the Bush administration asked for. And that's good news for general aviation. Congress allocated $3.55 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, and provided funding for the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), FSS modernization, and new technologies like automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), which will provide traffic and weather information to GA pilots in the cockpit and give air traffic control a more expansive picture of air traffic.
"This budget means that important programs for aviation safety and infrastructure improvement will continue," said Boyer. "And it also shows the funding system is far from 'broken.'"
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey continues beating the drum for a change in the FAA's funding structure, and user fees are likely at the top of the list. Shortly after Congress passed the FAA funding bill for fiscal year 2006, giving the agency even more than the Bush administration asked for, Blakey shifted focus to 2007.
"A change in our funding system is not only necessary, it is warranted," Blakey said. "Our ability to pay the operations bills is literally tied to the price of a ticket. Low-cost carriers driving the market, more and smaller aircraft up there, you do the math. The equation doesn't work."
However, others have done the math, including the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). "Rather than the FAA's predictions of an aviation trust fund collapse, the OMB predicts continued trust fund growth," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
The FAA's authority to collect aviation ticket and fuel taxes will expire in 2007. And despite the OMB's projections, FAA and Department of Transportation officials want to change the system when the law expires.
"What we need is a constant, stable revenue stream, one that's tied to the actual cost of the services we provide," Blakey said. "What a difference that could make for the FAA, what a difference that could make for the future of aviation."
While the administrator always has been careful never to say user fees, "it's difficult to imagine any other system where the 'revenue stream' is tied to the actual cost of the services provided," said Boyer. "If you charge a fee for the service, your revenue can be tied to providing that service."
The problems associated with the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) are drawing ever more attention, even outside aviation circles. In November, AOPA President Phil Boyer answered questions from a Bloomberg news reporter regarding the negative economic impact of the ADIZ and flight restricted zone (FRZ).
"The impact of the airspace restrictions is felt even beyond the airports themselves," said Boyer. "Loss of local spending in communities around just four of the airports inside the ADIZ amounted to more than $10 million annually between 2002 and 2004."
That is based on AOPA's 2005 independent economic study, which also shows that 10 general aviation airports inside the ADIZ are losing nearly $43 million per year in wages, revenue, taxes, and local spending.
"Pilots are security-minded and are being respectful of the need to protect the nation's capital," said Boyer. "But enough is enough."
Last month, more than four years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress approved $5 million in compensation for the DC-3 airports — College Park, Potomac Airfield, and Washington Executive/ Hyde Field — and associated businesses hardest hit by the security restrictions put in place around Washington, D.C.
The FAA's extended deadline to file comments on its proposal to make the ADIZ permanent ends February 6, and AOPA is urging pilots who have not yet filed comments to do so. To learn more about the ADIZ and what it means to pilots, or to file comments, see the AOPA Member Action Center: Operation ADIZ.
When the media seize on a story about general aviation, it's rarely good news. And all too often, reporters covering the story know little or nothing about GA. That's where AOPA comes in — providing accurate information and the pilot's perspective.
Now that task is easier with the completion of a small new TV studio located inside AOPA's Frederick, Maryland, headquarters. The single-camera studio uses a satellite uplink to allow AOPA President Phil Boyer and other association officials to get on the air with television stations nationwide in a matter of moments.
"We want the media to get the story right, and news outlets need the information fast — this is one more way we can ensure that reporters get the facts they need and [that] the GA perspective is part of the story," Boyer said. "Nobody understands GA better than AOPA, and it's vital that we share that understanding with the media and the public."
AOPA officials have hundreds of media contacts each year, providing information about GA to reporters working in TV, radio, print, and online.
AOPA President Phil Boyer continuously works to ensure that AOPA remains the world's best general aviation association now and into the future. As part of that goal, on January 1, Boyer promoted Karen Gebhart to executive vice president of non-dues revenue and Andy Cebula to executive vice president of government affairs. The promotions are part of a senior management reorganization Boyer announced in 2003. The other two executive vice presidents of AOPA are Diana Roberts, operations, and Jeff Myers, communications.
The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) will host the twenty-third World Assembly of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA), to be held from June 18 through 24 in Toronto, Canada.
Topics facing international delegates to the biennial gathering of the World Assembly include air traffic services, airport and airspace access, user fees, and security issues.
"IAOPA is proof that there is strength in unity," said IAOPA President Phil Boyer. "Together, our 62 affiliate organizations present a formidable front for general aviation and aerial work in international forums. The work done at the World Assembly allows us to share information and ideas, and lets us plan for the years ahead."
Delegates will take part in a wide range of discussions on GA and aerial work activities. They will hear from experts representing the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Transport Canada, and aircraft manufacturers. The delegates will discuss important issues and make recommendations concerning key issues. Resolutions developed from these discussions will be used to provide policies and direction for IAOPA and its affiliates.
The World Assembly will be at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at the Toronto International Airport. Tours at nearby attractions and aviation events are planned for delegates and their guests during and after the World Assembly.
"COPA has been a leader in articulating the needs of GA in Canada, so it's appropriate that their members host this important event for all our affiliates," said Boyer.
All interested parties are invited to join with IAOPA delegates in the World Assembly public sessions to learn about the future direction of worldwide GA and aerial work.
The most recent World Assemblies were in Toulouse, France, in 2004 and Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2002. IAOPA represents the interests of more than 470,000 GA and aerial work pilots and aircraft operators through AOPA affiliates in 62 countries around the world.
The council was formed in 1962 to provide a voice for GA in world aviation forums.
AOPA members, along with members of other IAOPA affiliate organizations, are invited to this year's World Assembly in Toronto, Canada, to learn about general aviation around the world and to celebrate the joy of flight.
In addition to the formal meetings, a variety of "extracurricular" activities are planned. Attendees can arrange to fly a Cirrus airplane, for example, on a variety of flight missions designed to demonstrate typical uses of the aircraft — from a short scenic flight around the patch to an IFR trip with the family. Or attendees can learn about becoming a floatplane pilot at live seminars, with introductory floatplane flights, or with training available at Orillia Lake St. John floatplane base. Plus, attendees can join AOPA President Phil Boyer and Canadian Owners and Pilots Association President Kevin Psutka at Oshawa for a rally to support GA in the Toronto area.
But the event isn't just about aviation. Attendees also can catch free shuttles to visit museums, restaurants, theaters, and shops in Toronto, or participate in a day trip to Niagara Falls. Learn more about these opportunities online.
General aviation VFR pilots must have access to airspace around metropolitan areas — it's not just reserved for the airlines — and AOPA is fighting to make sure Minneapolis-area pilots will be able to continue to fly from point A to point B without the hassle of complex clearances once Minneapolis-St. Paul International/ Wold-Chamberlain's Class B airspace expands in February.
"The Minneapolis Class B airspace currently has no VFR flyways for pilots, but at the request of AOPA, the FAA has promised that it will create them," said Heidi Williams, AOPA director of air traffic services. "We are going to hold the FAA's feet to the fire to make sure it creates flyways so that, for example, a pilot can efficiently fly from Flying Cloud on the western side of the airspace to St. Paul Downtown Holman Field on the eastern side."
The lateral limits of Minneapolis-St. Paul International's Class B airspace will expand, and the ceiling will be raised from 8,000 feet msl to 10,000 feet msl to contain procedures to and from the airport's new runway.
The cost of aircraft renters insurance has just been reduced for members, thanks to the efforts of AOPA and the AOPA Insurance Agency. "AOPA members will now receive a 5-percent discount on new renters insurance policies," said AOPA Insurance Agency Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Sterling. The new AOPA member discount allows members to carry a nonowned policy for as little as $90.
"As the largest light-aircraft insurance agency in the country, we were able to work with a major A-rated underwriter to offer this exclusive AOPA member discount," Sterling said.
The member discount will apply to new and renewing policyholders. Members who renew their nonowned policy can obtain an additional 10-percent discount if they were violation- and accident-free in the previous policy year.
Visit the AOPA Insurance Agency Web site to apply for and purchase renters insurance, or call 800/622-2672 for more information.
Speaking before a Senate committee in November 2005, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey had high praise for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's efforts to improve general aviation safety.
In her written testimony before the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, Blakey said the FAA had partnered with AOPA and ASF to reduce runway incursions, and specifically mentioned ASF's online "Runway Safety" program.
"We have developed and promoted runway-safety training material in conjunction with organizations such as the AOPA Air Safety Foundation," said Blakey. "Since its inception, an average of 1,800 pilots a month have completed the ['Runway Safety'] program."
And the administrator told Congress how AOPA had distributed the safety brochure Runway Safety — A Pilot's Guide to Safe Surface Operations through a special insert in AOPA Pilot magazine (see September 2005).
"We are taking a proactive approach to address operational vulnerabilities through awareness, education, procedures, airport infrastructure, and surface technology initiatives," said Blakey. Of course, proactive has been the watchword at ASF since 1950.
You know the old saying, "There are old pilots and bold pilots, but...." Pilots wanting to improve their odds of becoming old pilots can attend the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's "Do the Right Thing: Decision Making for Pilots" safety seminar.
Pilots take an active part in the course, using their own decision-making skills and an interactive DVD to determine whether a fictional pilot should continue to his destination despite worsening weather conditions. If the audience should vote to take off for a planned flight to "take a look" despite warnings about the weather, it will see how the chain of poor decisions grows stronger.
The seminar is in full swing through May. Visit ASF's Web site to see when the seminar will be in your area.
Are you preparing for the sport pilot checkride? Or are you a flight instructor preparing a student for the sport pilot practical test? The AOPA Air Safety Foundation offers an online sport pilot checkride guide. It includes the practical test standards, eligibility and flight time requirements, required endorsements, and a quick reference.
Before taking the checkride, test your knowledge with a free Sporty's Safety Quiz on the sport pilot and light sport aircraft rule. The quiz is in the previous-quizzes section online.
Low ceilings and restricted visibilities are aviation's deadliest killers. But fortunately, pilots can learn to minimize the risks these conditions pose. And now pilots can do that without leaving the ground.
By using special free downloadable Microsoft Flight Simulator scenarios, pilots can "fly" many of the conditions explained in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's online course "Weather Wise: Ceiling and Visibility Flight Scenarios." See what marginal VFR looks like, how fog really looks when it hangs out around rivers and lakes, and what happens if fog doesn't burn off as expected. And experience the eerie sensation of running into fog and clouds at night.
The scenarios are available at the end of the free course. They also can be downloaded directly from AOPA Online if you have Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, version 9.1 or above.
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.
North Dakota. Northwood: Vince Field Airport Support Network volunteer Kirk Pristas continues to watch over his airport while he is serving in Iraq by staying in communication with his fellow pilots. A cell-phone company has proposed constructing a tower in close proximity to the airport's traffic pattern, and local pilots have fought the proposal by attending town council meetings and spreading the word in Northwood. The pilots were able to convince the town to reduce the height of the tower from the proposed 350 feet to an FAA-approved height not to exceed 100 feet.
Rhode Island. Pawtucket: When North Central State Airport was faced with noise issues, Airport Support Network volunteer Stuart Gitlow silenced the public outcry against the airport by joining with airport supporters and officials from the Rhode Island Airport Commission to host town meetings and watch AOPA's Flying Friendly video. He took a proactive approach toward educating the general public and pilots and was able to help promote good-neighbor policies.
Delaware. Middletown: When AOPA learned that the state of Delaware was planning to relocate one of its major roads that connected the Interstate 95 corridor to the state's eastern shore resorts, advocates on the local and state levels were activated to ensure Summit Airport would not be negatively affected. Summit Airport Support Network volunteer Bob Vawter has been providing local insight and educating officials on the state's grant assurance agreements regarding the airport and the airport's reliever status in the FAA's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. He is lobbying for the option that protects the airport. The state's goal is to improve transportation, and maintaining the airport is a key part of that.
This month, the AOPA Airport Support Network staff wishes to recognize all ASN volunteers who give so generously of their free time to promote, protect, and defend America's community airports. As U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta told us at Expo in Tampa last year: One of the most effective ways AOPA members can keep general aviation strong is by taking it upon themselves to educate the public. Each day, more than 1,700 ASN volunteers across the country are doing just that, but there are still more than 2,000 public-use airports that do not have volunteers.
AOPA relies on ASN volunteers to help promote the value of GA nationwide, as well as protect and defend against potential threats such as proposals for housing and cell-phone towers too close to an airport and local initiatives targeting an airport's operations.
AOPA has created numerous materials and initiatives to help members preserve their airports, but the most pivotal continues to be the ASN program. AOPA has staff dedicated to providing specialized assistance for volunteers. The ASN program hosts regional meetings and dinners with AOPA President Phil Boyer at various times throughout the year, publishes newsletters and other educational materials, and even outfits volunteers with identifying clothing. However, the daily interaction with any of the more than 1,700 volunteers often proves to be the key to making GA stronger in communities nationwide for the more than 407,000 AOPA members.
To learn more about the ASN program, visit our Web site or call 301/695-2200.
Blaine, Washington, is a waterfront community nestled on the Canadian border and is a major port of entry to the United States. And the town's airport, Blaine Municipal, plays a major role in the area's economy.
The Washington State Department of Transportation's Aviation Division recognized the airport's strategic and economic value and announced that it was considering a $16.8 million plan to expand the airport. Anti-airport factions began clamoring for airport closure. Several AOPA members and Washington State Aviation Director John Sibold contacted AOPA, voicing their concerns about the opposition's agenda.
That's when Clarence Ranck stepped forward to serve as the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer. After a quick introduction to the ASN program and AOPA staff and resources, Ranck was able to provide valuable updates that enabled the association to present facts to the media, town council, and opposition.
However, the anti-airport group was able to get a ballot measure approved during the town's November election to study the feasibility of closing the airport. Ranck and his fellow AOPA members are working to make sure that the airport's value is highlighted during the study.