Although government officials have repeatedly said they would not impose "user fees" on general aviation, they have referred to a "cost-based revenue structure," which means users could be charged directly for what it costs the government to do business. Even if a new funding structure initially does not affect GA, the implementation of any user-fee system would pave the way for forcing fees on GA.
"Once the precedent is established for one category of airspace user, the pressure starts building to extend the fees to all other users in the interest of 'fairness,'" said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That has happened in almost every country in the world where user fees have been imposed."
AOPA is working on all fronts to protect GA and keep flying affordable.
In particular, AOPA has been working with Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). Tiahrt sits on the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. He and his colleagues literally write the check for the FAA.
Earlier this year, Tiahrt told a Pilot Town Meeting audience in Wichita that he would do his part to work against any effort to impose user fees on general aviation.
During a House Appropriations Committee hearing in March, Tiahrt asked Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta specific questions regarding general aviation.
In response to Tiahrt's question, "Are you considering user fees on general aviation to fund the air traffic control system?" Mineta answered emphatically, "No! I've said this to AOPA at their annual convention...there would not be any user fees."
"Secretary Mineta is a good friend of GA, and we have no doubt that as long as he has any power over the issue, he will oppose user fees on piston-engine general aviation," Boyer said. "But Secretary Mineta won't always be in charge."
When the FAA and all the airlines are in total agreement about something, it is usually not good for general aviation.
During the FAA's annual forecast conference in February to present its predictions on aviation traffic and economics, and to discuss issues with the aviation industry, the airlines pushed for user fees.
"There was unity among all the airlines that the FAA should change to a user-fee system," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. AOPA believes Congress should continue to hold the purse strings.
"Make no mistake, this is about control. Neither the bureaucrats nor a select group of users should have the final say on how the system is run," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The best interests of general aviation and the general public are served with Congress firmly in the left seat and in control. There are some who would much rather be able to spend as much as they like, and make the users pick up the tab, without Congress 'interfering.'"
Then there is the issue of overall cost effectiveness and accountability. A user-fee system removes direct congressional control, reducing the impetus to contain costs.
"If you are a monopoly, and you can charge your customer whatever it costs to do business, what incentive do you have to keep charges low? It's not like there would be a competing air traffic control system that would charge a lower price," Boyer said.
Air Transport Association of America President James May has claimed that some types of general aviation do not pay their "fair share" of the ATC system. May said during the forecast conference that the $10 billion that the airlines pay each year in ticket taxes and other fees would be replaced with a formula that would likely include a fee for takeoffs and landings, plus fees for ATC contacts.
"This is why we in all of general aviation have to keep Congress in control," Boyer said. "Once a user-fee system is implemented for some users, it's only a matter of time before the fees are pushed down to every user. As we've seen in Europe and New Zealand, they start at the flight levels, then add piston IFR, and ultimately VFR. And in Canada, GA got user fees but still has to pay the fuel tax."
AOPA does not believe the current funding system is broken.
"The aviation fuel tax does a fair job of apportioning costs among the users relative to how much of the system they use," Boyer said. "The bigger and faster an aircraft is, the more likely that it will use a larger part of the air traffic control system. The bigger, faster aircraft uses more fuel, and consequently pays more tax.
"And the gas tax literally costs peanuts to collect," Boyer continued. "Can you imagine the huge new bureaucracy that would have to be created to calculate and collect user fees? It couldn't possibly be as cost-effective."
The chief of the Transportation Security Administration now knows a lot more about general aviation and AOPA.
Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Kip Hawley toured AOPA's headquarters some 45 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. — just outside the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) — and met with top AOPA staff in March.
"Secretary Hawley now has a much better picture of general aviation and what AOPA means to pilots," AOPA President Phil Boyer said. "And I think he now has an appreciation for how AOPA can help the TSA achieve reasonable security goals without additional regulations or harming GA."
Noting that many of the initial problems with the Alien Flight Training Rule might have been avoided by early consultation with AOPA, Boyer said, "If we know about the issue, we may very well have a better solution."
Hawley acknowledged some of GA pilots' concerns and offered that he was considering how the TSA might mitigate the impacts of presidential temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).
But although AOPA staff pressed him hard on the Washington ADIZ, he had little to say because he felt that the restrictions of the rulemaking process prohibited his comments.
Boyer demonstrated the many things AOPA has done to inform pilots about security issues and help them know about TFRs, including the literally millions of e-mail airspace alerts the association sends out each year, and the real-time graphical TFR depictions available to members through AOPA's free Real-Time Flight Planner.
The most vocal user-fee proponents usually point north to Nav Canada to demonstrate the "success" of the concept. Since the commercialization of air traffic control in Canada, and the imposition of direct fees for ATC services, the system is being dominated by the interests of the airlines.
Now Nav Canada wants to impose new user fees on general aviation as a change in its charging methodology. AOPA, on behalf of U.S. citizens flying in Canada, is objecting.
"This proposal underscores why AOPA opposes a user fee-based system in the United States," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "It reinforces AOPA's stance that Congress (or Parliament in the case of Canada) is the appropriate 'board of directors' for a national air transportation system."
Not only is Nav Canada trying to collect more from GA, but also it is attempting to "segregate" users and drive GA away from some airports.
Nav Canada wants to start collecting new "daily charges" from aircraft weighing less than three metric tons (less than 6,614 pounds) using eight major Canadian airports. The charge would start at $5 a day and escalate to $10 a day by 2008.
The Nav Canada proposal notes that "many commercial operators believe that the charges should be substantially increased" for small GA aircraft. And the privatized ATC agency says that "an additional charge would also serve as an incentive for small aircraft to use reliever airports...[which] would have an efficiency benefit for air-carrier traffic using the major international airports."
(Nav Canada's board of directors is heavily biased with four commercial air-carrier representatives, versus only one representative for business and general aviation, three from the federal government, and two representing the ATC unions.)
"A user-fee system can generate sufficient funds during the good times, but it falls apart during an economic downturn, which is exactly what happened to Nav Canada after 9/11," Cebula said.
AOPA also argued that the costs to collect small GA user fees, particularly from non-Canadian aircraft owners, would likely exceed the revenue from the fees themselves.
Active flight instructors, ground instructors, and flight school employees now have a means available to complete the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) recurrent security-awareness training. In March, the TSA posted an online training module, " Recurrent Flight School Security Awareness Training," that can be used to fulfill the recurrent training requirements or to develop an alternate training program.
"AOPA has worked since the TSA Flight Training Rule was first issued to minimize the burden on pilots, flight schools, and instructors, while still maintaining a high level of security awareness," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "This module is another step in the right direction toward helping instructors and flight schools complete security training."
The course does not require a sign-off from the TSA. Active flight instructors, ground instructors, and flight school employees can self-certify that they've taken the recurrent training.
Those who will be taking recurrent training for the first time have 18 months from the time of their initial security-awareness training to do so. The TSA issued an exemption in December 2005 granting an extension that is good until January 1, 2007.
Learn more about the association's efforts to mitigate the TSA Flight Training Rule online.
Pilots have to be engaged, be politically active, and work closely with AOPA and their AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer to save their airports. That was the message AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn gave to Minneapolis-area pilots last week, speaking to several groups at Crystal Airport. But it is a message worth repeating for pilots everywhere.
"Crystal Airport outside of Minneapolis has a much brighter future today because local pilots were active and made it very clear to the politicians that this airport is important," Dunn said.
Crystal Airport, one of six GA reliever airports for Minneapolis-St. Paul International/Wold-Chamberlain, has been under attack for more than two years, with proponents of closing the airport claiming it is an economic drain and provides no benefit to the local community.
"But thanks to the continued involvement of a lot of dedicated people, the members of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) have accepted the results of the economic study, which prove that Crystal is a key component of the MAC-operated reliever system and generates millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs annually," Dunn said. "And now the MAC has directed that updates be made to the comprehensive plans of all the reliever airports in the MAC system, including Crystal."
According to Dunn, the acceptance of the study and the updated comprehensive plans are clear signals that the MAC intends to keep operating Crystal Airport for some time.
AOPA Fly-In and Open House is a time to celebrate the freedom of general aviation with thousands of fellow pilots and the association that works tirelessly to maintain that freedom for its more than 407,000 members.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation will be presenting numerous seminars that focus on emergency procedures, aeronautical decision making, and single-pilot IFR flying. Also learn how to save a life in an aircraft accident with Dr. Ian Blair Fries and get a humorous take on hangar flying and handling in-flight emergencies with popular aviation speaker Rod Machado.
AOPA President Phil Boyer will talk to members about the status of GA in the mid-Atlantic region and explain what the association is doing to keep flying safe, fun, and affordable.
Pilots can peruse more than 40 aircraft and 100 aviation exhibits.
AOPA Fly-In and Open House takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, in Frederick, Maryland. Admission is free. For fly-in procedures, driving directions, or a list of seminars and exhibitors, visit AOPA Online.
The AOPA WorldPoints credit card is a hassle-free way to be rewarded for your everyday purchases. Whether you are using your card at your local FBO for your engine overhaul this spring or for your everyday shopping at your neighborhood grocery store, the AOPA WorldPoints card will reward you for every purchase dollar you spend using your credit card. Your ability to earn is limitless; there are no caps, so your points can soar as high as you can fly. What's more, your points are automatically credited to your account, making this card the easy way to earn rewards and support AOPA. To apply, visit AOPA Online or call 800/932-2775 and mention priority code LXT1.
When obtaining weather information for a flight, get as much detailed information as possible. For example, precipitation does not just mean a gentle rain — it could mean thunderstorms.
According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Joseph T. Nall Report released in March, 25 percent of general aviation's fatal weather accidents during 2004 were a result of pilots flying into convective activity.
That's why ASF developed the new Weather Wise: Thunderstorms & ATC online course. The course includes re-creations of real accidents caused by pilots flying into precipitation and discusses the recent changes in ATC terminology used to describe precipitation.
The course also provides tips on how to communicate with ATC to ensure that you know what services are being provided because miscommunications can have grave consequences. But even when you are not talking to ATC, you can still learn to gather weather information by listening to what ATC is telling other pilots. ASF also has included examples of resources other than ATC that you can use to get important weather information.
Proper planning, current weather information, and proper communication with ATC can help you minimize your chances of being surprised by a powerful thunderstorm when you were expecting just a few showers. The course is free and available to all pilots online.
If you plan to fly anywhere near the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, you need to become familiar with the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and with all of the ways you can be warned that you have violated the ADIZ: military intercept, a call from air traffic control, laser illumination, and others.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation offers a free four-minute training course on the Visual Warning System, which uses laser beams to illuminate aircraft that have strayed into the Washington, D.C., ADIZ. The course includes video footage of what the light signals look like from a general aviation aircraft. The course also provides clear and straightforward advice for pilots who are illuminated by the beams.
The "Visual Warning System" online minicourse is free and available to all pilots online.
Got notams? Before flying in today's complex airspace where temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) pop up at a moment's notice, all pilots should make sure they check for notams along their route of flight. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's popular Airspace for Everyone Safety Advisor includes a handy flight-planning form that reminds pilots to check notams.
Along with airspace information for VFR and IFR pilots, the Safety Advisor includes an airspace-at-a-glance cutout card that provides pilots with a quick refresher on airspace communications and weather requirements. Plus a detachable intercept-procedures card can be used as a guide in the event of a military intercept for violation of a TFR.
The advisor also can serve as a tutorial on special-use airspace, RNAV IFR terminal transition routes, and the major airspace markings on VFR sectional charts. Airspace for Everyone is free for all pilots and is available online.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation seeks a student for a full-time fall internship to help develop safety education programs and materials, including print publications, live seminars, and online courses for the general aviation community. The intern will receive hourly pay plus a stipend to assist with moving, housing, or flying expenses. The application deadline is June 16. See AOPA Online.
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.
Washington. Camas: The Port of Camas-Washougal, the public owner/sponsor of Grove Field in Washougal, Washington, has been having public hearings to gather comments about whether to accept FAA funding for airport improvements. According to Grove Field Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer Jim Metzger, the FAA is standing by to provide funding. However, the Port of Camas-Washougal is facing pressure from a small but well-funded group of homeowners opposing any airport growth. Metzger and fellow members of the Camas Washougal Aviation Association are working to educate local officials about the value of the airport.
Maryland. Stevensville: For the third year in a row, Maryland Delegate Darryl Kelley is proposing legislation that would create a task force to study GA issues in Maryland. The Maryland Aviation Administration, AOPA's state and legislative affairs office, and Bay Bridge Airport ASN volunteer David F. Rogers are opposing the bill. They have been successful for the past two years and are hoping the third defeat will be the end of the delegate's quest. This bill would require an examination of environmental issues, including any problems with low-flying aircraft, safety and land-use compatibility questions, security issues, flight school monitoring, and more.
Steve Van Cleve, the ASN volunteer for Eatonville-Swanson Field in Eatonville, Washington, has been opposing the town's development However, the Town Council approved the new development regulations, paving the way to allow improper use of the aerospace zone and incompatible land use.
But Van Cleve has not given up on protecting his airport. Van Cleve filed a petition at the state level for a review against the town's decision to adopt the development regulations. The state's review board must rule on Van Cleve's petition, which challenges the legality of the town's new development regulations. His argument is that the regulations are incongruent with a Washington state law that requires growth plans to provide for public health and safety. Should the state find in Van Cleve's favor, the town will be forced to adopt measures to protect the airport.
Thanks to Van Cleve's determination and organized effort that included various groups, the Town Council might be forced to amend the development regulations to include airport protections.
An active airport support group is the answer to many questions the AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) staff receives about how to best promote, protect, and defend community airports. For example: How do you combat a city council that does not support the airport? If you have an active airport support group, you can develop a political action committee to educate elected officials, show a strong, unified group of airport supporters, and support pro-airport candidates.
An active airport support group should have committees to focus on community outreach, public relations, and security. For instance, how would you show the media that your airport is not a threat but a benefit to the community? Gather the group to host open houses or fly-ins at your airport. Obtain literature and craft talking points that explain to the media that the airport is a source of revenue for the community. Ensure that AOPA's Airport Watch signs are posted prominently at the airport, and host meetings to discuss the airport's security checklist and watch AOPA's Airport Watch video. These actions can help show the media that your airport is a community as well as a commodity and that airport supporters are security minded.
Additional ideas can be found in AOPA's Guide to Obtaining Community Support for Your Local Airport . In addition to providing sample bylaws and checklists, the guide explains how your airport support group can start promoting your airport before you are faced with defending its existence. Perhaps starting an airport support group could even ward off future problems.
If you don't have an airport support group at your airport, contact the ASN staff for help.
To learn more about the ASN program and/or find out if your airport has a volunteer, visit our Web site or call 301/695-2200.