When it comes to the FAA funding debate, "what it's really all about is a huge tax break for the airlines," AOPA President Phil Boyer said in an informal hangar session during the AOPA Fly-In and Open House on June 2 in Frederick, Maryland.
"First, take user fees off the table, even for the airlines. User fees are the beginning of the end of general aviation, as we know it. Second, know that the airlines are trying for another giant financial bailout by removing the only aviation tax that they pay. Finally, if there is a need to address growing use of the system by some segments of general aviation, primarily corporate operators, then let's pay for that with an incremental increase in the fuel tax."
Boyer pointed out that as long as aviation is funded only by taxes, Congress remains in control. But a fee system puts the power in governing boards, and both bills that have advanced so far would give the airlines the majority of the seats on the governing board.
"As a 412,000-member organization, we want Congress in control," said Boyer, noting the effectiveness of AOPA-member political action. "It is the power of a large grass-roots organization," said Boyer. "I'm so proud to be your leader, and so proud to have your support."
AOPA President Phil Boyer and the airlines' representative, James May of the Air Transport Association of America (ATA), recently squared off for a debate on the FAA funding legislation. AOPA and ATA are the two biggest guns of the aviation user community, and they spoke face to face in Washington, D.C., at the Washington Aero Club. The high-powered audience included congressional staff members, FAA officials, and national news media.
Boyer stated that every time it came time to renew the FAA funding legislation, the airlines always tried for a giant tax cut for themselves and more control over the world's safest and most efficient air traffic control system. Boyer also said that AOPA and the airlines were very close on many issues, including the need to modernize the ATC system.
"Our concern is the introduction of a user fee to any segment of aviation, whether it be $5 or $25," said Boyer, referring specifically to the Senate's FAA funding bill that proposes a $25-per-flight user fee for turbine-powered aircraft.
"Even if it were just the airlines [paying user fees], to put that structure in place would be a slippery slope. As we've seen around the world, fees would eventually trickle down to general aviation, with devastating economic results."
May was willing to drop user fees for GA. "I've never advocated a collection formula," he said. "The collection method should be wide open to the user." But he continued to insist that corporate aviation was not paying enough.
"I don't have any grief with Phil at all," said May. "Piston GA is exempt from user fees in the Senate bill and I support that. My beef quite frankly is with the corporate jets. I'm just trying to find a little balance from some folks who can easily afford to pay their fair share."
The airlines have begun stuffing seat backs with anti-general aviation propaganda, right next to the sick bags. AOPA has been anticipating such stealthy maneuvers as the FAA funding debate spools up. So far, editorials have appeared in two in-flight magazines, Northwest Airlines' NWA WorldTraveler and United Airlines' Hemispheres, under the headline "Smart Skies," the namesake of the airlines' political initiative. What's not so smart is the idea — a dramatic oversimplification — of blaming GA for all their woes, namely air traffic delays. AOPA members are stepping up to the plate to counter the propaganda, writing to the airline presidents with scathing statements like this: "Poor business practices have caused the current instability in the airline industry, not the fees they [the airlines] pay to monopolize the ATC system."
The airlines' trade organization, the Air Transport Association of America, also has run ads on the CNN Airport Network, making the same claims. They were countered by the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
"At the top-10 busiest airports in the United States, the FAA's own data for all towered airports show that general aviation makes up less than 4 percent of all aircraft operations," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
What are the real culprits? A June 5 front-page story in USA Today said that about 40 percent of the delays were caused by weather.
Other factors were late-arriving aircraft, maintenance and crew problems, and flight coordination at airports. The article also said that flight delays are at their worst in 13 years.
The ATC system was created for the airlines. The extensive cost is because of the airlines' hub-and-spoke system. It makes business sense for them to shift the blame and costs onto somebody else.
AOPA agrees that the system needs an upgrade, also known as modernization, so that a satellite-based system can reduce fuel costs, bolster the economy, and the like. GPS is nothing new to the GA pilot. In fact, GA embraced the technology a decade ago. But it's in the financial details where segments of the industry part ways.
The Government Accountability Office as well as the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation have concluded that there is adequate money under the existing funding scheme to support modernization.
AOPA has taken its FAA funding views to an important and influential group — those who run airports.
Under the FAA's original reauthorization bill, airports would face the scary proposition of losing $1 billion in Airport Improvement Program funds. Plus, general aviation pilots would get hit with an increase of 70 cents per gallon in avgas taxes and new user fees for certain flights, which would surely result in lost revenue for airports if pilots were to fly less and therefore use fewer services.
"AOPA, however, is anticipating legislation soon that may bode well for GA," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs, as he spoke recently at the American Association of Airport Executives' annual conference. In fact, a few weeks later the House proposed legislation that contains no user fees and provides robust airport funding.
Just days after AOPA President Phil Boyer promised to continue working to resolve flight service station problems, he and Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Cebula spent nearly two hours detailing pilots' FSS woes before Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel and his staff. The DOT inspector general (IG) is charged with promoting effectiveness and stopping waste, fraud, and abuse in the FAA and other transportation agencies. IG reviews are independent of influence from the department's agencies, including the FAA.
"Long hold times, dropped calls, lost flight plans, inexperienced briefers, failure to supply critical information such as TFRs [temporary flight restrictions]. We laid it all out," said Boyer. "We also gave them a copy of every complaint that members have sent us."
AOPA shared the results of its most recent pilot survey to reflect the experience of the entire pilot community. More than two-thirds of the pilots surveyed felt that service from the automated flight service station (AFSS) network had become worse in the past 30 days. Some 44 percent of the respondents said they were "dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the briefing received, although the majority gave briefers high marks for professionalism and courtesy — but not for content delivered; 44 percent of the respondents said they were dissatisfied with briefers' local geographical and meteorological knowledge.
And although the FAA's contract with Lockheed Martin requires phone calls to be answered within 21 seconds, only 18 percent of pilots surveyed said their calls were answered that quickly. More than 50 percent said it took up to five minutes to get through to a briefer, and 30 percent reported waits of 10 minutes or more.
That data caused Boyer to question whether Lockheed Martin's performance metrics were capturing the state of the entire system.
"On a day when Lockheed Martin reported that the longest hold time for the entire system was four minutes, we had a member report of a 20-minute hold," said Boyer. "Their system averages seem to be much better than what our members say are their real-time experiences. We encouraged the IG to resolve that apparent discrepancy."
The FAA this year is consolidating several tracons throughout the country. Have you heard? Probably not. The FAA is proceeding quietly and not making the information available to the public. The agency isn't soliciting information from airspace users either.
Here's a recent example: After hearing from concerned members in Palm Springs, California, AOPA asked the FAA to have a public meeting before the Palm Springs Tracon was consolidated into the Southern California Tracon. With only two days' notice, more than 50 people attended the meeting. Under pressure from AOPA, local pilots, air traffic controllers, and Congress, the FAA has tabled indefinitely its plan to consolidate the Palm Springs Tracon.
"This underscores the need for the FAA to have a public process for tracon consolidations," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "You can't operate behind closed doors when it comes to air traffic policy."
Congress also has taken an interest in tracon consolidations and wants to make sure the FAA follows an appropriate process. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation recently passed legislation that would create a public process for the realignment of FAA services and facilities, including tracons.
The FAA's motive for the consolidations is cost. The agency says that in some cases it can provide more services to more locations by putting all the controllers behind radar screens in the same dark building.
Tracons provide radar separation of aircraft in busy terminal areas. General aviation pilots depend on tracons for VFR and IFR services.
IFR-certified GPS receivers are OK to use as they have been, thanks to a clarification of the rules sought by AOPA.
A previous interpretation by the FAA had caused concern among some 26,000 users.
The FAA has begun tying up a number of loose ends created when it revised policies that instruct pilots on how to use GPS receivers when flying under IFR. In a letter to the FAA, AOPA had drawn the agency's attention to the consequences of the combined changes to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), an advisory circular (AC 90-100A) on terminal and en route area navigation (RNAV) operations, and an associated list of compliant GPS units.
"The bottom line is [that] pilots can continue using their IFR GPS receivers like before," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA senior director of strategic planning.
In a letter to AOPA, the FAA confirmed that pilots can use appropriate GPS receivers (TSO-C129/129a) in lieu of automatic direction finder or distance measuring equipment. It also lets them continue using T-routes, which allow properly equipped general aviation aircraft to safely transition through some of the busiest airspace in the nation and access some remote areas where no other ground-based navigation equipment exists.
"The FAA's letter provides some much-needed relief to pilots who've installed GPS receivers in their aircraft," said Kenagy. "It makes it clear that the current operational approvals will be in place for a long time to come.
"But it also says that as the system evolves to RNAV and required navigational performance (RNP), certain older receivers will not be allowed to be used for RNAV departure procedures and standard arrival routes (DPs and STARs). AOPA will work with the FAA to ensure that members are not penalized for not having RNAV DP-/STAR-capable equipment."
Planning trips to Florida or to Maine this summer? If you plan to fly there in your own aircraft, beware.
In Maine, the state's revenue service is collecting a use tax on out-of-state aircraft owners who did not have to pay a sales tax when they purchased their aircraft. The intent is to collect a 5-percent tax on an item (like an aircraft) that would have been taxed if sold in Maine so that people won't try to skirt the tax by purchasing it in another state. However, AOPA believes the revenue service is taking this measure too far.
"Aircraft owners who legitimately live and register their aircraft in another state should not have to pay this tax simply because they frequent Maine," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. AOPA is investigating similar reports coming in about Florida. "This tax enforcement is too broad, and AOPA will work with state officials in Maine, Florida, and any other state where our members are being unfairly slammed with this kind of tax."
For nearly a decade, AOPA has been pushing for low-altitude T-routes through busy airspace for GPS-equipped aircraft. The FAA is proposing to establish one near Augusta, Georgia. The route (T-209) is designed to facilitate the transitioning of airspace adjacent to the Bulldog MOA (military operations area). The new route would provide a more direct route than the current Victor airways. T-routes are charted using GPS waypoints. Aircraft equipped with IFR-certified GPS receivers and filing "/G" can fly them. The Augusta T-route would be the first one developed near heavy special-use airspace.
Pennsylvania legislators are considering a measure that would create a Southeastern Regional Airport Authority to operate Philadelphia International and Lehigh Valley International airports. The authority would coordinate operations to ease traffic at Philadelphia International and better utilize airports in nearby Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Atlantic City, New Jersey. AOPA has written the commonwealth House Transportation Committee to support the move because it would improve operations at the region's general aviation airports.
Aircraft engines: As long as they start and run smoothly we tend not to worry too much about them. But with the cost of an average overhaul well into the five-digit range (and the possible cost of an in-flight failure much steeper than that), most of us could stand to be a little more engine-educated.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Engine and Propeller online course is designed to get you up to speed on the inner workings of piston aircraft engines and propellers. The free course will help you get the best performance and greatest reliability from your powerplant — even if you don't know a carburetor from a camshaft. Through animated engine cutaways, interactive features (an engine-start simulator, for example), and informative video clips, you'll learn about carbureted and fuel-injected engines, as well as fixed-pitch and constant-speed propellers. You'll explore methods of controlling engine temperatures, techniques for hot starting fuel-injected engines, and warning signs of impending problems.
Because 15 to 20 percent of all accidents are caused by mechanical failure (often because of neglect), the course also stresses preventive maintenance, detailed preflight inspections, and best practices for engine operation.
Depending on your individual pace, the course should take approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete — but since your progress is automatically saved, there's no need to finish it all in one sitting. Check it out online.
Like it or not, the federal aviation regulations are a fact of life. But even though some pilots (jokingly) contend that it's impossible to climb out of bed without breaking at least one regulation, the truth is that staying on your local FAA inspector's good side isn't all that tough — and it certainly doesn't require a law degree.
Still, it's a good idea to attend the Air Safety Foundation's newest live seminar. Regulations: What Every Pilot Should Know answers commonly asked regulatory questions (logging pilot-in-command time, anyone?) and provides insights into the real-world intersection of rules and safety. Our experienced presenters will give you the scoop on important rules that don't show up in your FAR/AIM, ways to stay on top of regulatory changes, and simple methods for reading — and understanding — complex regulations.
The bulk of the seminar is scenario based: You'll follow a typical pilot as he grapples with regulation-based decisions during a cross-country flight. Along the way, you'll hear about the newest FARs, find out how regulations are made, and learn how to make your voice heard in the federal rulemaking process.
In addition, at most seminars you'll have an opportunity to learn about FAA enforcement issues by participating in a Q&A session with an AOPA Legal Services Plan aviation attorney — no retainer required! Be sure to bring your questions about rights and responsibilities in the event of an FAA ramp check, an accident or incident, or any other aviation legal matter.
The seminar is free, and no registration is required. Find the nearest showing by going online.
Getting ready for your private or instrument checkride? Pick up a copy of the Air Safety Foundation's Pilot's Checkride Guide. Pocket-size for quick reference, it's our "plain language" version of both the private pilot (single-engine land) and instrument rating practical test standards. In addition to being shorter, more readable, and easier to carry than the FAA version, the guide offers numerous real-world tips for safe, successful checkrides, as well as sample logbook endorsements and guides to the flight review and instrument proficiency check. At only $11.95, it's a must have for any student or CFI! Visit ASF 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.
Indiana. Anderson: Madison County, Indiana, wants to build a new airport. Local leaders believe they can build a new airport to replace adjacent Hamilton County's Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport and their own field, Anderson Municipal-Darlington Field. Local ASN volunteer Rodney French and his newly formed Anderson Airport Support Group friends are trying to convince the county that this "two for one" deal is not a good one. So far, the group has received positive press coverage for its efforts to demonstrate Anderson Municipal's value to the community. According to an Aviation Association of Indiana study, the airport pumps nearly $8 million into the community, providing the county with a 40-to-1 return on its investment.
Indiana. Sellersburg: When a local TV station ran a story on the Bush administration's user-fee proposal, the media outlet quoted AOPA President Phil Boyer as well as ASN volunteer Bill Kramer, who provided valuable "real life" details that would affect his business and many others in Southern Indiana. After Kramer's quotes appeared in the story, he was asked to make a presentation to local elected officials who believed that the airport had to become self-sustaining through fees, like the FAA wants. Kramer called upon AOPA, who guided him to online resources to help him build his case for Clark Regional Airport and other nearby community fields. Kramer's presentation included facts from www.gaservingamerica.org, www.aopa.org/asn/, and several state-based Web sites that demonstrated the economic and lifesaving value GA airports provide to communities they serve.
Washington. Greenwater: ASN volunteer Al Banholzer and 20 of his fellow Washington Pilots Association (WPA) members cleared debris, installed warning signs, and set up a new windsock to get Ranger Creek Airport ready for its summer flying season. Ranger Creek Airport is not open year round because of its location near Mount Rainier in the Cascades, and at one point back in 1987, the airport was completely shut down by the U.S. Forest Service.
Some airport hazards and obstructions are man-made and others are nature's way, such as the trees that caused operational restrictions at Grosse Ile Municipal Airport (see below). FAA Order 5190.6A, also known as "Airport Compliance Requirements," explains how airports that are federally obligated are supposed to handle obstructions and airport hazards under Sec. 3 Part 4-9. The FAA says airport sponsors are to take preventive action to ensure that airspace affecting airport operations is protected and mitigate existing hazards as well as prevent the creation of future hazards. With trees growing into protected airspace, but not on airport property, the FAA is more or less silent simply because it cannot force a landowner to remove them. The FAA may offer to purchase the property or otherwise eliminate the obstructions, but if the landowner refuses, the FAA has no legal authority. Some states have statutes that give them compliance enforcement power. In Grosse Ile, the airport sponsor was able to facilitate negotiations with the landowners, the FAA, and the state to come to a solution that allowed the airport to operate unencumbered. For issues at your airport, contact the FAA's Airports District Office or State Aeronautical Agency and initiate dialogue before they lead to restrictions on your airport's operations.
Trees can grow to be a hundred feet high; unfortunately, when they mature like this on the approach and departure paths for airport runways, they become hazards to air navigation. And to complicate matters, often these trees are not on airport land (in this case, they were on an island), thereby creating additional obstacles for the airport sponsor. Just as trees take years to grow, getting them trimmed may take years, as AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer of the month for Grosse Ile Municipal Airport, Alan P. Anderson, knows well.
In 2004 the FAA, the state of Michigan, and Grosse Ile Township invested money in a major runway project at Grosse Ile Municipal Airport. Additional funds were poured into a new precision approach path indicator system and other lighting. Part of this project required removing or trimming trees that obstructed the approach to the newly resurfaced runway. Anderson, in conjunction with the township, airport, and landowner adjacent to the airport property, worked for three years to accomplish this. The challenge was the result of the airport sponsor not owning the land and thus needing the owner's permission. Through successful negotiations, the trees were trimmed in spring 2007, allowing the airport to regain future grant assurances, thus ensuring future federal and state funding. Grosse Ile is now enjoying full use of the airport and the investments provided by federal and state transportation agencies that pledged financial support of Grosse Ile as a significant part of the nation's transportation system.