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AOPA members in Congress a huge assetAOPA members in Congress a huge asset

AOPA members in Congress a huge asset

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UAV TFR along the Arizona/New Mexico border.

AOPA members in Congress were key to pushing the issue on UAVs. "We have many friends in Congress who understand GA issues and go to bat for general aviation," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "But those elected representatives who are also pilots and AOPA members bring a special passion with them, and it shows every time an aviation issue is before them."

"TFRs are not a workable long-term solution," AOPA member Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) warned the FAA during the House aviation subcommittee's UAV hearing.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) also expressed his concerns about the impact UAVs could have on general aviation. He became aware of the need for a long-term solution after a local sheriff department announced its intent to use a UAV for law enforcement activities.

As a pilot and AOPA member, Rep. Hayes realized the hazard this posed and intervened to find a better solution.

Rep. Sam Graves, an enthusiastic J-3 Cub pilot, said that as a GA pilot, he was particularly concerned about TFRs, and that he wanted to make sure there wouldn't be more.

The FAA's associate administrator for Aviation Safety, Nick Sabatini, admitted that the FAA "had not anticipated this kind of growth so early," when Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) asked if the FAA needed more resources to address the requests to operate UAVs in support of Defense and Homeland Security activities.

But as industry representatives pointed out, the future is now, and the FAA must accelerate its process of regulating UAV operations.

The critical question, as asked by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in her opening statement, "What are the FAA's plans for ensuring safety?"

Sabatini explained the process the FAA is currently using for both government and commercial requests. He stated that the FAA works with the applicant to develop conditions and limitations for UAV operations to ensure they do not jeopardize the safety of other aviation operations. But as has happened along the southern border, safety has been established at the expense of pushing general aviation out of the airspace with temporary flight restrictions.

"Does the FAA sit down with AOPA and discuss how TFRs will impact general aviation?" Rep. Boswell asked Sabatini.

Sabatini tried to respond by simply stating, "all those factors are considered." But Rep. Boswell pressed further, specifically asking if the FAA consults AOPA.

Sabatini explained that while the FAA and AOPA don't actually sit down at a table together to discuss the issue, the two organizations do have conversations, and AOPA's concerns are well understood. Sabatini also noted that he is a member of AOPA.

Boswell asked Sabatini how long it will take for final regulations to be issued. At first, Sabatini said it was difficult to put a time frame to it because participation in the RTCA is voluntary for the industry.

As Boswell continued to press him for a more definitive response, Sabatini stated that the FAA hopes to have an outline of requirements by the end of 2006 and be ready to begin rulemaking by the end of 2007.

March 31, 2006

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