AOPA President Phil Boyer will be a 40-year member of the association this year.
Time flies when you're busy. You'll note I did not write, "When you're having fun." Now that 2007 is upon us, it seems like I just got used to writing "06" after every date. Your association enters the new year with a significant amount of momentum to tackle both the challenges and opportunities that await us in the sixty-eighth year of AOPA's existence.
You've heard me write often about "user fees." Although that's your association's single most important focus for 2007, it's not the sole topic of this month's column. The November election will redefine the FAA funding issue and other aviation issues, with the Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress. Although the White House has consistently supported a private or corporate air traffic system, creating a user-funded system — outside of the existing tax structure — a Democratic Congress can be counted on to scrutinize this and other executive branch initiatives with a fine-toothed comb. That's good news for those of us who wish to retain a 35-year-old funding system that works, and produces the safest and most efficient air traffic system in the world.
To accomplish anything on Capitol Hill you have to have relationships with lawmakers and their staffs so that you can talk to them. It's not the kind of thing you can do with a phone call or an occasional trip to the nation's capital. Your association has a staff of professionals dedicated to building these relationships. AOPA uses its independently funded political action committee (PAC) and other tools to keep the association in the forefront of lawmakers' minds.
The AOPA PAC gave its support to 143 candidates this election. The party split for our contributions was 44 percent to Democrats and 56 percent to Republicans. The criterion for AOPA's support was simply based on what the candidate had done — or could do — for general aviation.
Your association did well in picking the winners — more than 90 percent of the AOPA-backed candidates were elected. When it comes time to talk about user fees, those winners will remember — and listen to our arguments.
Important to aviation will be the new head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who wasted little time in making his position on general aviation user fees clear.
"The idea of a cash register in the sky to cover the cost of aviation is not appealing to me, to general aviation, to regional aviation," said Oberstar. Although the FAA and the airline industry are backing a plan that would take the FAA "off budget," charge fees to all system users, and create an air traffic control governing board dominated by the airlines, Oberstar called that a "bad idea." In addition, Oberstar is a big supporter of funding for smaller general aviation airports. He also understands not only the transportation assets of GA, but also the economic impact. His district includes Duluth, Minnesota, providing many local jobs to those who work building the new Cirrus aircraft.
While on the subject of economic impact and local airports, AOPA's 2007 work will continue to concentrate on the many problems surrounding GA public-use airports. You have told us in numerous surveys that your local airport is a number-one concern. A new DVD will be released right after the first of the year, along with printed support materials. I have personally been working on a Flash Player media presentation, which we will unveil early in 2007, that will be ideal for presentation to Rotary club meetings and other gatherings. It will be available with or without a narrative script so members can deliver the message to their local communities.
Security — airport, airspace, aircraft, and pilot — will continue to be of concern. The Democratic Congress has already indicated a desire to implement all the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission, and although none directly impacts general aviation, this is an area AOPA will be watching. And eventually the FAA will finish reading and categorizing the more than 22,000 member/pilot comments to the rulemaking on a permanent Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone. The recommendations will require intense AOPA work during 2007.
Your association has been toiling for almost two years on a total redesign of our Web site, and this will debut around midyear. The Web site is information packed, but presently it's difficult to find what one needs. Although we receive high marks on our present site, the new format will allow for easier navigation.
Then there are the never-ending general aviation crisis situations such as the recent Cory Lidle accident in New York City. AOPA, as in the past, will be on ready alert to do its best to bring sanity to the uneducated and uninformed media reporting on tragedies such as Lidle's.
All through the year we'll be concentrating on my number-one concern for the long-term future of general aviation — the decline in the number of student pilots. We will be ending 2006 with almost 3,000 new students in the AOPA Project Pilot program — a nice start, but there are plenty more opportunities to improve in 2007.
As members know, we celebrate milestones with special membership pins recognizing increments from five to 60 years. In 2007 I'll be looking for my 40-year pin, recognizing my learning to fly, and my AOPA membership.