FAA Administrator Marion Blakey discussed user fees and answered members' questions during AOPA Expo 2006.
Blakey told members that she did not support a new funding system that would entail "broad user fees." The comment was met with applause, but she was later pressed for clarification on the word broad by a member during the question-and-answer period.
The administrator, now four years into her five-year term of service, said that everybody who uses the air traffic control system should pay his fair share, including the public through a continued general fund contribution.
"We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA," she said.
Blakey acknowledged that general aviation pilots have been paying fuel taxes, a form of user fees, but she said that when you look at the bigger funding picture, airline passenger ticket taxes are not carrying their weight. Unlike fuel taxes that are fair and efficient, she said, the ticket taxes are based on a percentage of ticket prices and have nothing to do with the cost of the system or the volume of work.
The existing law establishing the taxes on aviation users will expire in October, but Blakey said that there is no current proposal on the table for a new funding scheme.
"The administration is a much broader body than just yours truly," she said. "I cannot predict what the proposal [from the White House] will ultimately say."
Until President Bush presents his budget proposal in February, AOPA will remain skeptical. As AOPA President Phil Boyer pointed out, the shift in power in Congress will provide new opportunities to fight the fees.
Washington will look very different in January. For the first time since 1994, the Democrats will control the House of Representatives. They also will control the Senate.
"This shift in power in Congress changes the picture for us on the user-fee fight," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but it doesn't mean we've won the battle. However, now we can be assured of a fair hearing from people who understand aviation and aren't beholden to the White House."
The power shift also brings to the forefront some lawmakers who have concerns about GA security. "We'll have more work to do to educate people about the great strides we've made in improving security, and about the minimal threat that GA represents," said Boyer.
To accomplish anything on Capitol Hill you have to have relationships with lawmakers and their staffs so that you can talk to them. Your association has a cadre of professionals dedicated to building these relationships. AOPA uses its independently funded political action committee and other tools to keep the association in the forefront of lawmakers' minds.
"This election was a referendum, with American voters making statements about corruption, terrorism, the economy, and the war in Iraq," said Boyer. "On these broader issues, some of our members are likely unhappy with the results.
"But on the specific issue of aviation funding and user fees," said Boyer, "we're well positioned with the people newly in power who will, at the very least, listen to us."
See more on the election and AOPA's goals for 2007 in " President's Position: The New Year," page 4.
The FAA said no and slammed the door on any further consideration. It won't budge on expanding the driver's license medical to pilots exercising recreational pilot privileges.
Last June AOPA petitioned the FAA for changes to allow more pilots back in the air.
"But we won't give up, particularly because we think the FAA's position is logically inconsistent," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "Too many pilots have lost their medicals, yet they are still fit to fly light sport aircraft and simple aircraft like Cessna 172s safely. We're going to find a way to make that happen."
AOPA has petitioned the FAA multiple times to extend the "driver's license medical" to recreational pilots. That would allow pilots to fly a fixed-gear, four-seat aircraft with as much as 180 horsepower in day-VFR conditions without a medical certificate.
When AOPA has made this request in the past, the FAA has said there weren't enough data to show that the change could be made safely. This time the FAA's answer was to simply close the door. "The FAA has not found cause...to reconsider the third class medical certificate standard for the exercise of recreational pilot privileges," the FAA said.
"But we will keep knocking on this door," said Cebula. AOPA will conduct yet another detailed analysis of the data records, looking specifically at the two years of data from sport pilots flying without medical certificates.
Volunteer of the Month: William L. Nelson
William L. "Larry" Nelson, Airport Support Network volunteer for Waynesville Regional Airport/Fort Leonard Wood Military Field, a joint-use civilian military facility in Missouri, has made great strides as the chairman of the year-old airport advisory board despite the fact that the board reports to three different airport decision makers. First in the chain of command is the U.S. Army, which as the owner of the airport has the primary say over property use. The other two decision makers are the councils of the two cities that share sponsorship of the airport's civilian use.
Although the airport advisory board does not have direct operational control over the field, Nelson says the body makes recommendations to the two city councils and the Army to enhance services, make improvements on the field, and add to the bottom line of the airport's contributions to local residual revenue. Nelson and his team have successfully lobbied the city councils to improve the airport based solely on their research and local support. The councils worked with the Army to obtain agreement on the improvements. Nelson reports that during the advisory board's first year in existence, both councils agreed to support a $1.2 million grant for additional ramp space, new T-hangar construction, an avgas pump that accepts credit cards, and additional environmental studies to annex extra land from the Army for more ramp and hangar space.
Nelson says the key to the advisory board's success has been educating citizens and local leaders to gain their support for the airport. Today, he says, the community understands that most airports operate in the red but that an airport's indirect benefits to the local economies far exceed its cost. Nelson will be able to build on his current accomplishments, as he was elected chairman of the airport advisory board for a second year.
AOPA paid tribute at AOPA Expo to Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Ky.) for his dedication to general aviation, awarding him with the prestigious J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award for 2006.
"Congressman Rogers has been a longtime supporter of GA," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We have always found him willing to listen to our concerns and our ideas. His support and commitment to GA programs have strengthened the aviation community across the country."
Rogers is the longest-serving Kentucky Republican ever elected to federal office and has a reputation as a skillful insider with significant influence over federal budget policy in a wide range of areas, including appropriations for GA projects.
As chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, Rogers is responsible for funding and oversight of the Department of Homeland Security. He has been an advocate for reasonable approaches to GA security and supported AOPA's 2002 petition to require pilots to carry a government-issued photo ID.
Rogers is a staunch supporter of AOPA's Airport Watch program. He recognizes that to continue the progress of homeland security, tools need to be provided and that Airport Watch is one of those tools.
Rogers served as chairman of the transportation appropriations subcommittee, which supports the FAA. During this time, he held the FAA accountable for its spending and defended the federal Airport Improvement Program grants to airports.
As a senior member of the full Appropriations Committee, Rogers has been tenacious in ensuring that much-needed resources paid into the aviation trust fund reach GA airports across the country — especially important this year, as more than $400 million of funds targeting GA airports were at risk for airports across the country under the president's budget proposal.
Earlier this year, AOPA was pleased to join Rogers in celebrating the grand opening of Williamsburg-Whitley County Airport, located in his congressional district.
The J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award is named for AOPA's first employee and president of the association for 38 years. It is awarded annually to the federal, state, or local government official who has done the greatest good on behalf of general aviation.
Felix Maguire earned the 2006 Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award from AOPA for his selfless commitment, tireless leadership, and commitment to general aviation in Alaska.
"Felix has worked relentlessly on behalf of GA in Alaska," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "From improvements for VFR pilots — including the unprecedented establishment of a VFR route across the Bering Strait to Russia — to the cutting edge of instrument flight using ADS-B [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast], Felix has used his broad aviation background to improve safety."
Maguire, a native of Ireland, came to Alaska as a Royal Air Force officer on an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force in 1974.
After joining the Alaska Airmen's Association, Maguire became a champion for a number of GA causes. Opening a VFR route between Alaska and Russia was one of those causes.
Maguire is the civil co-chair of the Capstone Coalition, leading an effort to equip all Alaskan aircraft with ADS-B and WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) enabled GPS equipment. During the early phases of Capstone, he pushed for GA pilots to be included in the initial demonstration program. He is proud of the 47-percent reduction in fatal accidents the program has achieved over five years in southwestern Alaska.
Maguire also sits on the Governor's Aviation Advisory Board, providing input to state government on aviation issues, and on the Alaska Civil Military Aviation Council, where his military aviation background serves him well.
The Sharples Award honors the founding chairman of AOPA and recognizes individuals whose work is in the interest of the betterment of general aviation.
General aviation is at the forefront of efforts to improve aviation safety. That was the key message AOPA President Phil Boyer told aviation industry leaders from around the world at the third annual FAA International Safety Conference in November.
"From GA's participation in the FAA's real-world test of ADS-B [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast] in Alaska's Capstone project to the rapid deployment of glass cockpits in the general aviation fleet, GA is taking great strides to promote and improve aviation safety," said Boyer. ADS-B is the system the FAA hopes to use as a replacement for surveillance radar.
FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nicholas Sabatini also noted AOPA's commitment to safety advances. He explained to the delegates that AOPA hosts an ADS-B ground station and that all of the association's aircraft have been equipped for ADS-B for a number of years.
AOPA knows there's power in numbers. That's why your association's government affairs staff always makes it a point to tell federal elected leaders just how many members we have — nearly 410,000.
Now AOPA is working to increase its effectiveness at the state level by forming a state aviation caucus of elected officials who are AOPA members, pilots, or general aviation advocates.
"While federal issues often have a higher profile, AOPA works hard to protect aviation interests on the state and local levels," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "We encourage AOPA members to let us know if they have an elected official who is a pilot. AOPA members who are state legislators or local officials should contact us to let us know their position and join the caucus."
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey honored the AOPA Air Safety Foundation with the first Thomas H. Wardleigh Award for the foundation's continuing and dedicated work in advancing the cause of air safety.
"We don't give this thing out to just anybody," Blakey said. "And I can't think of a more deserving recipient than AOPA's Air Safety Foundation."
Blakey noted that in fiscal year 2006, the United States had the lowest number of fatal accidents since records have been kept and that most of the improvement was in the personal flying segment, a major focus area for the foundation.
The Wardleigh award honors an individual or organization for making a significant impact on aviation safety; creating innovative training, equipment, or other improvements to safety; and showing leadership in aviation safety, all over a long period of time. The Air Safety Foundation, established in 1950, is the world's only safety foundation dedicated solely to improving GA safety.
The late Thomas H. Wardleigh was the "dean of Alaska aviation." He was the former chairman of the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation board and a lifelong advocate for aviation safety in Alaska. He had worked for the FAA and held the FAA's Master Pilot and Master Mechanic awards, marking more than 50 years of active participation in those activities.
In retirement, Wardleigh also co-hosted Hangar Flying, a popular public-television program on aviation safety that promoted continued training and new technology in Alaska. In 2004, shortly before Wardleigh died, AOPA gave a grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to archive all of the more than 1,000 episodes of Hangar Flying to DVD.
During the past 10 years, more than 30 takeoff accidents resulted from wing contamination by snow, frost, and ice. Learn how to prevent such an accident from happening to you with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Safety Brief Cold Facts: Wing Contamination. It offers simple preflight steps to remove wing contamination.
Even after the ice is removed from the wings during preflight, pilots must still keep their guard up during flight: Ice accumulation in the air is a serious problem. With the Aircraft Icing Safety Advisor , learn how to anticipate areas of probable icing, how to tell if ice is accumulating on the propeller or tail, and how to completely avoid icing.
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.
Missouri. St. Charles: "Support Your Airport" was the theme for this year's St. Charles County Smartt Airport Open House; judging by the turnout of more than 600 community members, the airport has great local support. During the event, Airport Support Network volunteer Leo Lang and his fellow airport open-house organizers talked with local council members and showed them how their support for airport funds would continue to make St. Charles County Smartt Airport a positive impact on the community.
Indiana. Indianapolis: After Indianapolis' newest airport, Hendricks County-Gordon Graham Field, opened three years ago, it quickly became a coveted and appreciated part of its neighborhood.
James Graham, the Airport Support Network volunteer for the airport that was named after his father, has worked closely with local leaders and airport neighbors during the past few years to establish strong zoning ordinances and positive community relations.
He relied heavily on AOPA's Guide to Airport Noise and Compatible Land Use and A Valuable Community Resource: The Guide to Obtaining Community Support for Your Airport. To improve relations with the community, the Hendricks County Aviation Association recently offered free meals and airplane rides to adjacent landowners at its annual drive-in/fly-in picnic.
General aviation faced many challenges in 2006, but the tremendous support from AOPA's nearly 410,000 members enabled the association to overcome them. From submitting record numbers of individual comments opposing the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone to making user fees a key issue in the 2006 midterm elections, AOPA members' activism, passion, and sheer numbers give the association credibility when battling the federal government.
But just as strength rests in numbers in the national political arena, it also rests in numbers on the local level. Later this year, AOPA will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Airport Support Network program, which is comprised of more than 1,700 AOPA members in all 50 states. These volunteers have stepped forward to promote, protect, and defend their local community airports. With more than 5,200 public-use airports throughout the country, the ASN program's goal is to have a volunteer at each of these airports. Currently, we are one-third of the way to reaching that goal, but we don't have another 10 years to wait.
In the early 1990s, airports were closing at an alarming rate of two per week.
In 2004, just seven years after the ASN program was launched, only 14 airports were closed. Although that is still 14 too many, local advocates have been the key to reducing the closure trend. The fact is that the ASN program works. For more information on what an ASN volunteer does and how to apply, visit the ASN Web site. Whether your airport is threatened or thriving, your help is needed to keep GA airports part of our nation's landscape and culture.