For months, AOPA has felt the tension in the calm before a federal funding hurricane. But with the release of the president's fiscal 2008 budget proposal in February, that storm has taken shape and is gathering energy: Tax increases and user fees for general aviation are now upon us.
"This is real, and it's just as bad as we thought it was going to be," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That's why we've been lining up opposition to it in Congress. It's going to take an all-out fight by the aviation community to defeat this."
President Bush released his $2.9 trillion spending plan that would radically alter the funding mechanism for the air traffic control system. As if that were not enough, the budget would slash airport funding by $1 billion.
The president's budget sets the tone for the FAA's reauthorization bill, which will determine who pays what and how much the FAA will receive in its budget. (That bill had not been released as of this writing in February.) The FAA's bill will need to be passed into law by the end of September.
"We have strong reason to believe [the reauthorization bill] will increase GA fuel taxes by nearly fourfold," said Boyer. "As if a huge tax increase weren't bad enough, the budget makes it clear that the FAA will charge user fees for GA operations in 'the nation's most congested airspace,' which sounds like Class B airspace.
"And don't think you could get out of paying fees by avoiding Class B airspace. The FAA is also looking at dramatically increasing fees for aircraft registration and replacement pilot certificates. The FAA wants to collect new user fees on many existing services such as processing pilot and medical certificates."
AOPA maintains that the current system has worked well during the past four decades and should be preserved. The airlines are plotting to destroy it. The FAA wants user fees, which are different than taxes, because the source of funding would allow it to sidestep the congressional budget process. The agency could spend the money the way it wants to without congressional scrutiny and use the fees to fund its manufactured budgetary crisis.
The White House Office of Management and Budget, meanwhile, wants to spend less from the Treasury Department's general funds to help reduce the budget deficit. And the airlines simply want to wrest control of the system and use it for their own benefit.
No one has explained how the user fees would be collected and accounted for.
"All this ridiculous funding scheme would do is make aviation more expensive and more complex," Boyer said. "Why destroy a critical function that the government actually does well?"
Because the issue of user fees is so important to general aviation pilots and the public, AOPA has launched a new Web site called The FAA Funding Debate to explain the FAA funding debate and the threat of user fees.
"This site is an effective primer for all members wanting to understand how the FAA funding issue affects them," said Jeff Myers, AOPA executive vice president of communications. "We explore the arguments for change and objectively demonstrate why our current tax system is the best choice."
The Web site includes short videos to help explain the issue. It will be regularly updated as the FAA funding debate progresses through the legislative process. (See " FAA Funding Debate: Euro-Fees Fears," page 83.)
The Bush administration didn't have a chance to obscure the issue of aviation user fees in the president's budget submission to Congress. That's because AOPA took a preemptive strike, briefing key reporters in the nation's capital about how to find the secrets in the budget.
"The administration is manufacturing an FAA 'funding crisis' in a smoke-and-mirrors attempt to divert attention away from the real issue — the need to address the problems that constrain capacity, efficiency, and new-technology adoption," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They are attempting to end-run Congress to put the world's safest, most efficient, and largest air traffic control system into the hands of airline barons who've flown their own businesses into bankruptcy," Boyer said at the National Press Club on February 1.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced new security requirements for nuclear power plants but did not overstep its jurisdiction by trying to regulate aviation.
In fact, it specifically said the FAA and military were charged with addressing the possibility of airborne attacks.
"We continue to work with Congress, the FAA, the Department of Defense, and other government agencies to show that general aviation does not pose a threat to nuclear power plants," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey announced January 30 that the agency soon would be writing rules to move the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from age 60 to 65. The proposed rule change would parallel international standards, requiring one crew-member to be younger than age 60 whenever an older-than-60 pilot is in the cockpit.
"While this rule doesn't directly affect pilots flying general aviation aircraft, we've always followed the issue closely because of our concern about any age discrimination against pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
"We all recognize that older pilots — airline or general aviation — frequently have skills that surpass younger pilots' because of their flight hours and experience.
"We hope that this will also be recognized by the insurance community and others who place penalties on older GA pilots," said Boyer.
Believing that age is not a pathology, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has started a yearlong study — with the help of a major recognized research institution — to determine exactly how age affects airmanship and safety.
"We hope this study will put an end to the notion that older GA pilots should be penalized by the insurance industry and the regulations," said Boyer.
AOPA is opposing an FAA proposal to stop monitoring instrument approach navigational aids.
FAA flight service stations (FSSs) traditionally have monitored ILS signals at nontowered airports in their area. If an ILS went off the air, the FSS would issue a notam to advise pilots and alert FAA technicians to repair the problem. Now the agency wants to stop monitoring.
That's because the FAA didn't include navaid monitoring in its FSS contract with Lockheed Martin. And reducing the number of FSSs nationwide has put many ILSs outside of monitoring range.
So the agency just wants to bail out of the monitoring responsibility.
"In order to maintain safety, and adequate levels of reliable service, the FAA should ensure that navaids used for instrument approach access to an airport are monitored," wrote AOPA Senior Director of Technology Randy Kenagy to the FAA's Technical Operations Services.
AOPA suggested that the FAA look outside the box for a solution. "New telecommunications options may be available that are more affordable than traditional solutions," Kenagy said. "If AWOS [automated weather observation system] and ASOS [automated surface observation system] weather stations can talk to the Internet, why couldn't ILS transmitters?"
It's important for pilots' flight planning that navaids be monitored. The systems do have internal monitors that shut down the equipment if it puts out an unsafe signal.
But without external monitoring, a pilot has no way of knowing that the navaid has shut down until he arrives at the airport and attempts to land.
"That forces the pilot to fly in bad weather to an alternate airport, which just increases the risk," said Kenagy. "With navaid monitoring, he would be able to choose an airport with functioning equipment before taking off.
"That's certainly worth the cost."
The FAA published its long-awaited commercial air tour, charity, and sightseeing rule in February.
"General aviation pilots can continue to conduct for-profit sightseeing flights within a 25-statute-mile radius of their departure point under Part 91 regulations," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "AOPA had argued strongly to keep these operations from being lumped into commercial Part 135 operations."
The biggest change for Part 91 sightseeing operators will be that they now have to get a letter of authorization from the FAA.
But pilots and associated organizations giving charity sightseeing flights won't be pleased. That's because the FAA increased the minimum flight time for private pilots to conduct these flights.
"Despite AOPA's contention, the FAA raised the minimum from 200 to 500 hours," Gutierrez said. "The FAA based its action on the fact that more accidents occur with pilots between 200 and 500 hours. But that's not an accurate justification because the majority of pilots fall into that range. This move unnecessarily reduces the number of pilots available to give charity sightseeing flights by 22 percent."
You've now got a thousand more reasons to become an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor.
New for 2007, any Mentor who signs up to mentor a student for Project Pilot is entered into a drawing for a $1,000 Bank of America gift card. Use it for avgas, aircraft rentals or repairs, or anything you like.
There will be four drawings — one each quarter — so the earlier in the year you sign up to mentor a student pilot, the more chances you have to win. The drawing is only among Project Pilot Mentors who sign up students, so the odds are truly on your side.
Being an AOPA Project Pilot Mentor is fun, is easy, and takes less time than you might imagine. So share your passion for flight with a prospective student pilot. No purchase is necessary; the promotion ends January 4, 2008. Visit the Web site to sign up and for official rules.
With the AOPA WorldPoints Rewards credit card, cardholders automatically earn two points for every dollar spent at more than 4,000 FBOs, on select AOPA products and services, and at participating aviation retailers, including Sporty's Pilot Shop, Pacific Coast Avionics, King Schools, Aircraft Spruce & Specialty, and Gulf Coast Avionics. Plus you automatically receive one point for each dollar you spend for your everyday purchases. There are no limits to the number of points you can earn or redeem.
Reward redemption opportunities begin with as little as 2,500 points for cash and merchandise. As you earn more points you may opt for gift certificates from major retailers. The more points you earn, the more valuable your rewards. Choose to travel with your reward points with no blackout dates, on the airline that you choose. You can even redeem them for Celebrity Cruises trips. The opportunities are endless.
Not only can you use the AOPA WorldPoints Rewards credit card to earn valuable points redeemable for cash, merchandise, and travel, but also with every purchase you make AOPA receives valuable revenue, which helps us fight the user-fee battle.
The AOPA WorldPoints Rewards credit card also offers MyConcierge as a complimentary benefit. MyConcierge offers many customized services including: dining arrangements and reservations, gifts and personal shopping, tickets for sporting events, concerts, and shows, and more.
"Most important, members are supporting AOPA and general aviation every time they use the card," Karen Gebhart, AOPA executive vice president of non-dues revenue, said. "Revenue from the credit card program has helped fund AOPA's fight against user fees and enhance member service without raising dues."
Redeeming points is easy. You can go online, or call 800/434-8313.
The FAA has proposed an overhaul of the pilot certification regulations. Changes to Part 61 don't happen very often, and AOPA wants to know how these changes would affect your flying. Details, as well as a chart of the changes, are available online, but here are the top 10 proposed changes likely to affect our members:
Your input as a pilot and AOPA member is paramount, so please e-mail your comments to: [email protected].
Have you ever been faced with a difficult go/no-go decision because of questionable weather and wished there were pilot reports (pireps) available to help you make your decision? One of the most useful pieces of weather information is a pirep, yet pireps are all too rare. Now all pilots can learn how to get, use, and give these invaluable weather reports with the newly updated AOPA Air Safety Foundation's online course SkySpotter: Pireps Made Easy.
The program encourages pilots to report when the weather is better than, worse than, or the same as forecast. In other words, give a pirep on every flight. By doing so, pilots can help one another to make an educated go/no-go decision, by either confirming the weather reports or describing what the weather conditions really are.
Pireps provide critical weather information about topics such as cloud layers, icing, and turbulence that cannot be accurately obtained from other sources. They also fill in the gaps between ground-based weather reporting stations.
The goal of the SkySpotter program is to improve the quality and quantity of pireps across the country. The course qualifies for AOPA Accident Forgiveness and the FAA Wings program.
GPS units are common in general aviation aircraft now, and they can be a tremendous boost to pilots' situational awareness when used properly. But just learning to hit the Direct-To button — as is the case with many pilots — limits your resources.
Learn how to get the most out of your unit, whether it's VFR only or IFR certified, with free online courses from the Air Safety Foundation.
For you fair-weather pilots, the foundation offers GPS for VFR Operations to help you make your next VFR flight safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable — thanks to the GPS.
The interactive one-hour course gives a broad picture of the GPS system, sorts through the different types of GPS receivers, and lists "ASF's Top 10 Bonus Tips for Using GPS in VFR Operations." The course also discusses four "gotchas" that trip up many pilots.
Even if you're an experienced GPS user, you'll still find some useful tidbits of information in the course.
Now, for those of you who like to fly in the soup — or who just file IFR to avoid the hassles of flying VFR in complex airspace — check out the foundation's GPS for IFR Operations course. It's a great primer for more in-depth, receiver-specific courses. The interactive course covers GPS receivers and IFR certification; common terms and receiver functions; flight planning; and en route, terminal, and approach procedures.
The course also discusses new technologies such as the Wide Area Augmentation System, WAAS approaches, and differences between WAAS and non-WAAS receivers, along with area navigation routes around terminal airspace. And the course specifically explains the new minimums listed on RNAV approach plates.
Both online courses count for FAA Wings program credit and are free to all pilots.
Do you just have a few minutes at a time to study your Garmin GNS 430/530? Take the Air Safety Foundation's minicourse VFR GPS Guide: Garmin 430/530 . The course focuses on the layout and most-often-used functions: panel and button layout, com and VHF nav tuning, proper direct-to use, nearest-airport function, and GPS waypoint selection.
The free five- to 15-minute self-paced course also includes a free printable quick-reference card that you can carry with you in the cockpit.
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.
Ohio. Toledo: Although George Stossel is the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for Wood County Regional Airport in Bowling Green, he contacted AOPA when he read a news story about possible closure of a nearby airport that does not have a volunteer, Toledo's Metcalf Field, located 13 miles away. Stossel brought the article in The Toledo Blade to AOPA's attention, and the association's media relations staff quickly contacted the newspaper to correct its inaccurate reporting.
Ohio. Carroll: Six years ago, a housing development sprang up in the shadows of Fairfield County Airport in Carroll. However, airport supporters did not let this setback stop them from making their airport a centerpiece in the community. Over the years, a new progressive and proactive airport board was elected, and ASN volunteer Jeff Gerken is ensuring that the airport receives as much positive attention as possible. He recently hosted a booth for the airport during the local Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting. Gerken spoke to more than 100 business and community leaders about the airport and its value to Fairfield County.
North Carolina. North Wilkesboro: Wilkes County Airport is facing a good dilemma: finding enough airport property to build more hangars. According to ASN volunteer Ed Mulholland, the airport hired an engineering firm to survey the property and the market demands. The results revealed two additional target markets for hangars that would require wider and higher openings. The engineers already have presented proposed hangar layouts for land that is available now. An AOPA member who sits on the airport board for Wilkes County has reached out to the state aviation director to solicit additional funding for the proposed projects. AOPA Southeastern Regional Representative Bob Minter has been included in these discussions. The county government, which sponsors the airport, has been supportive, offering county employees and county-owned equipment to begin moving some of the dirt to get the projects under way.
In 2006, the Port of Grays Harbor, which sponsors Bowerman Airport in Hoquiam, Washington, formally requested that the FAA release the airport from its federal surplus property disposal restrictions and grant obligations. The FAA said no five days later. The port said it requested these releases in order to move the airport, so AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Jim Criel and former volunteer Billie Mae Klein jumped into action to uncover the port's interests.
A local newspaper contacted Criel to ask for his views on the port's actions. Criel immediately called AOPA and spoke with ASN and media relations staff, which gave him talking points about grant obligations and an airport's value to its community. Criel and Klein then met with local officials, including port representatives, to find out what their primary concern was with the airport. Klein was the catalyst for much of this outreach.
As local pilots and airport supporters packed port meetings, representatives began to understand they needed to work with the pilots out in the open rather than concoct no-win solutions behind the scenes. The port asked Criel, Klein, and local pilots for help alleviating some obstruction issues at the airport. The pilots gave the port their recommendation and it was adopted.
Although the first collaboration was a success, Criel, Klein, and airport supporters are still watching the port closely to ensure Bowerman Airport is protected. For now, thanks to the FAA's letter and the support of numerous local pilots, the airport is safe in Hoquiam.
Growing the pilot population is one of AOPA's top priorities for 2007 and beyond. AOPA's success in this arena will be a key factor as we work to squash user fees and try to protect our community airports from threats of closure. The more people on our side, the louder and more influential we are — both in Washington, D.C., and in your city hall. With your help, AOPA can help you make this, and more, a reality.
AOPA Project Pilot is a program developed to encourage AOPA members to become Mentors to students as well as find more students. Students with Mentors are three times more likely to finish their flight training than those without. Mentors can be "potential pilot scouts." Just as your favorite professional sports team scouts out athletes to improve the team's position, Mentors can scout out potential pilots to increase support for their local airports as well as our pilot population overall.
As an ASN volunteer, you are eligible to become an AOPA Project Pilot Team Leader. We'll supply you with a customized kit to start drafting your team members. We offer rewards available only to volunteers who participate in the program. For more information, visit the Web site.