The FAA ran into a wall of unyielding skepticism with its funding proposal during a March 21 hearing before the House aviation subcommittee. AOPA President Phil Boyer told panel members that they were right to be skeptical — that the FAA has manufactured the funding crisis it claims to be addressing with the proposal.
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and an ex-officio member of the subcommittee, told the FAA in his opening statement, "We're going to do right by aviation." He said the subcommittee and full committee would listen to everyone affected by the proposal, including the FAA itself. After that, he said, "I intend to give it a decent burial."
During his five-minute presentation to the panel, Boyer noted that all segments of the aviation industry recognize the need to modernize the air traffic control system.
"Let's take user fees off the table," he said, "and get on with the real issues at hand through a productive, meaningful discussion on how to strengthen the nation's airports and modernize ATC."
The FAA is currently funded by a combination of fuel excise taxes, airline passenger ticket taxes, taxes on air cargo, and a contribution from the general tax fund. Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office and U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel III each told members of the aviation subcommittee that the current funding system does generate enough money to fund the FAA's modernization efforts.
This validates AOPA's analysis last year of the FAA's next five-year revenue stream, which indicates that the FAA could spend some $20 billion on ATC modernization over a five-year reauthorization time frame and still end up with an uncommitted balance in the Airport and Airway Trust Fund of more than $7 billion.
Subcommittee members from both sides of the aisle expressed concerns about the proposed funding system and estimate that it would generate some $600 million less than the current system.
AOPA President Phil Boyer laid out five key assumptions and principles for the members of Congress:
Significantly higher general aviation taxes and user fees didn't sit well with key members of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, honoring a request from the president, introduced the administration's FAA funding bill "as a courtesy" on March 30.
Although noting that the Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007 was an "aggressive proposal" for FAA reauthorization, Inouye said, "I cannot support all portions of this bill. Specifically, I am troubled by the proposal to drastically increase the general aviation fuel tax and substantially cut the Airport Improvement Program funding level."
The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), said, "I echo Senator Inouye's concerns with the proposal."
Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) told members of the aviation subcommittee and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the FAA's proposed avgas tax hike would significantly reduce general aviation activity in Colorado. "Today, the sale of general aviation fuel is down 23 percent across the state of Colorado," he explained. "Airport managers tell me this is directly tied to the price of fuel. Adding an additional 50 cents on top of the existing price could cripple general aviation."
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) expressed similar concern about the FAA's proposed avgas tax hike. "I'm concerned about general aviation," said Buchanan. "If we drive a lot of people out of this industry, including the FBOs, what have we really done to increase revenues [to the FAA]?"
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) continued to challenge the FAA's cost projections for the NextGen air traffic control modernization program. During a previous hearing, Ehlers had declared the FAA funding proposal "dead on arrival."
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) voiced his concerns about the negative impact that the FAA's funding proposal would have on the economy, safety, and future of general aviation in his state.
Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) requested that the subcommittee focus on a plan to modernize the air transportation system and determine the costs associated with the project before discussing a new funding structure.
Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) said that the FAA's funding proposal was a "solution looking for a problem that doesn't yet exist." Noting general aviation's contributions to the national economy, he commented, "We can't afford to come in here and kill GA." Hayes said, "Our focus should be on making the system work better. It's working pretty darn well now. We don't need a sledgehammer, which is this very costly system, to drive a carpet tack."
AOPA has created an eyeopening user-fee calculator designed to calculate how much the FAA proposed fuel tax increase would cost you. Just enter your aircraft's average fuel burn, your average hours flown, and your type of aircraft — the calculator will do the rest. Try it out online for a realistic estimation of how the proposed FAA funding plan could affect you.
Yet another congressional committee is calling into question the Bush administration's justification for changing the FAA funding system and radically increasing general aviation fuel taxes. The FAA claims that it needs more taxes and user fees to fund the NextGen air traffic control modernization program. But Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the space and aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, questioned the government's ability to deliver on its NextGen promise. "I am troubled by indications that all may not be going as well as hoped with the NextGen effort," said Udall at a March 29 hearing. "We haven't yet seen a clear plan from FAA and the JPDO [joint planning and development office] for implementing agreed-upon NextGen technologies and procedures into the National Airspace System expeditiously." The House Science and Technology Committee has jurisdiction over all nondefense research and development, and therefore the committee will play a significant role in shaping the FAA funding bill.
A broad coalition — the Alliance for Aviation Across America — has formed to support general aviation and fight the airline- and FAA-backed legislation. The legislation would dramatically increase GA fuel taxes, charge user fees to most aviation segments, and significantly reduce the airlines' financial contribution toward the FAA's costs. The coalition also is dedicated to properly modernizing the air traffic control system. "Our coalition is here to send a clear message to lawmakers that we stand united against a radical 'user fee' proposal, which would decimate businesses and communities around our country through a huge tax hike," said Gene Wright, mayor of Quinwood, West Virginia. "This special-interest legislation would benefit no one but the big commercial airlines."
Alliance for Aviation Across America members include the League of Rural Votes, National Farmer's Union, National Association of State Aviation Officials, Air Care Alliance, National Agricultural Aviation Association, National Business Aviation Association, Angel Flight, AOPA, and hundreds of small- and medium-size businesses around the country. "AOPA is pleased to support the alliance," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "All of our more than 411,000 AOPA members are already alliance members as a result of their participation in AOPA."
So far, so good. The FAA has selected a preferred air traffic management plan that covers a five-state area in the Northeast region. AOPA has been in support of the integrated airspace plan because it would provide the most operational benefit and flexibility for general aviation. The FAA is now deep into the process of redesigning ATC procedures in a 31,000-square-mile swath of airspace. The move is an effort to improve the efficiency and safety of aircraft operations in the New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, metropolitan areas. The FAA's preferred plan would combine high- and low-altitude airspace to create more efficient arrival and departure routes. The FAA expects to publish the final environmental impact statement sometime this summer.
Good news for younger pilots: The FAA is proposing to lengthen the duration of certain medical certificates. For pilots under age 40, the duration of third class medicals would go from the current three years to five years, and first class certificates would go from six months to one year. The last major change to pilot medical standards occurred in 1996 when the FAA extended the duration of third class medicals from two to three years for pilots under the age of 40.
The Minnesota House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee has passed aircraft insurance legislation that is more affordable for pilots and does not put flying an aircraft in the same liability category as handling dynamite. AOPA members strongly opposed a previous measure that proposed dramatic increases, and AOPA worked to bring those proposed levels more in line with what aircraft owners pay for insurance in other states.
"Our members did a fantastic job voicing their opposition to their senators and representatives," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "The legislators are listening."
AOPA worked with state legislators to lower the minimum liability coverage levels from the proposed $250,000 per seat to $100,000 per seat. AOPA won't let down its guard — the House and Senate still need to agree to the changes. "We'll ensure that our members receive fair treatment during the study," Pecoraro said. If the measure is enacted into law, it will not go into effect until January 1, 2009.
The Air National Guard is proposing to modify the existing Condor 1 and 2 military operations areas (MOAs) in western Maine by combining the footprint of each into one large Condor High MOA from 7,000 to 18,000 feet msl. There also would be a low-altitude Condor Low MOA from 500 feet agl to 6,999 feet msl, underlying the other MOA. Heeding AOPA's concerns, the military extended the comment period to May 14 on proposed changes to the Condor MOA. AOPA had not been notified when the Air National Guard released a draft environmental assessment. It's critical that members have time to comment on proposals that affect the airspace they operate in.
You spoke, we listened. In light of increasing costs to general aviation, the AOPA Aircraft Financing Program has lowered interest rates in several loan segments to make aircraft ownership more affordable. AOPA Aircraft Financing can expedite your aircraft purchase with an easy application process and quick credit decision. From light sport aircraft to very light jets, make the AOPA Aircraft Financing Program your choice for financing. With 10 years of experience, Bank of America is the preferred lender for AOPA and supports general aviation. Call 800/62-PLANE to speak to one of our financing experts or apply online. We'll even pay your AOPA member dues on loan amounts over $20,000.
Can you influence the cost of your aircraft insurance?
The answer is yes. Here's how: Demonstrate a commitment to recurrent training and safety every year. A well-trained pilot is less likely to have an accident, so pilots who obtain regular recurrent training are more likely to obtain the best rate. Many underwriters also have additional discounts for advanced certificates and ratings. Take an AOPA Air Safety Foundation course once every six months and you may qualify for the accident forgiveness program.
Stay current, fly regularly, and keep your pilot's logbook accurate and up to date.
Nearly every underwriter structures rate discounts around total flight experience and make and model time, but did you know that many also look closely at the recency of your flight time? An experienced, current pilot presents the best possible risk to the insurance companies, so be a "frequent flier." Higher total hours, as well as recent flight hours, will provide you with the best possible rating.
Partner with an aviation insurance brokerage that specializes in owner-flown aircraft. Selecting the right brokerage for your insurance needs is important. The AOPA Insurance Agency specializes in general aviation aircraft and understands your unique needs. Call 888/462-2672 or visit the Web site.
On Saturday, June 2, the largest one-day event of its kind returns to Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland when AOPA throws open its doors for the seventeenth annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House, which is free and open to anyone interested in aviation — not just members or pilots.
Do you know someone who wants to learn how to fly or is interested in general aviation? Bring him or her with you to the AOPA Fly-In. After a few hours checking out all the wonderful airplanes and amazing technology, he or she surely will be hooked and ready to start flight training. Sign up together for AOPA Project Pilot at AOPA Fly-In and both of you could walk away with brand-new Bose headsets. And don't miss Erik Lindbergh as he talks about his adventures in flying and just why and how we need to share our love for aviation with others.
For fly-in procedures, driving directions, or a list of seminars and exhibitors, visit AOPA Online.
Ever found yourself with a gnawing sense of anxiety while riding as a passenger on an airliner? As a pilot, you know better than to let yourself worry too much, but it's still not a pleasant feeling.
Now imagine yourself as a typical nonpilot, riding in the right seat of a general aviation aircraft. You don't know much about what the pilot's doing, and you have no real yardstick by which to judge his or her performance. Your head tells you that everything's OK, that you should just relax and trust the friend or spouse at the controls...but part of you just wants to get on the ground ASAP.
Unfortunately, many of our flying companions experience that feeling on a regular basis. That's one of the main reasons why the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has introduced an all-new version of its long-running Pinch-Hitter program. Designed to give nonpilots a simple, jargon-free introduction to the hows and whys of flying, Pinch-Hitter provides cockpit companions the knowledge they need to overcome their fears, gain a sense of participation, and maybe even lend a hand in the cockpit. And, as the name implies, Pinch-Hitter also is designed to provide nonpilots with information that can help them in the unlikely event that their pilot becomes incapacitated.
The first step toward a new perspective on aviation for flying companions, the free 45-minute online presentation, takes nonpilots through the fundamentals of aircraft control and basic emergency procedures. Course takers come away with an emergency action checklist and (after a short quiz) a certificate of completion.
ASF also has completed a brand-new Pinch-Hitter video. Taking a fun, lighthearted approach to the topic, it gives nonpilots a "hands on" feel for basic attitude flying and landing procedures. Two newly revised manuals accompany the video. The student manual digs more deeply into the topics discussed in the online course and video, and the instructor manual provides a syllabus for CFIs giving introductory flight training to Pinch-Hitter students.
ASF's Pinch-Hitter program is a great way for your flying companion to become more comfortable in the cockpit — and have a lot more fun. The free course is available online. You can order the video and the manuals from ASF's online store.
Mountain flying offers some of the most beautiful sights in aviation, but experiencing those breathtaking vistas safely calls for special knowledge and preparation. And with the high temperatures and density altitudes of summer just around the corner, there's no better time to get up to speed.
Taking the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's free Mountain Flying online course is a quick and effective way to do just that. Whether you're a flatlander thinking about a flight through the high country or an experienced mountain aviator looking for a refresher, the course is a great way to brush up on aircraft performance, mountain winds and weather, route planning, and high-altitude physiology, among other topics.
Although there's no substitute for a thorough checkout from an experienced mountain pilot, the Mountain Flying online course is a great place to start your training. Depending on your individual pace, the course should take about 45 minutes to complete. You can find it 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.
Florida. Bartow: The official grand opening of the new general aviation terminal at Bartow Municipal Airport was scheduled to be held April 26, the week after the busy Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, which promised to bring more positive local attention to the field as well. ASN volunteer Terry White reports that a large base of local support led to this accomplishment, and the entire community is sharing in the airport's future. The 20,000-square-foot terminal was designed for aviators, housing the Bartow Flying Service (which offers FBO services and flight training), as well as the Flight Line Grill. Members of the community interested in aviation can dine there and then visit the Historical Aviation Museum free of charge. White says that local leaders have taken a proactive interest in making the airport a centerpiece of the community.
Michigan. Allegan: The city of Allegan, which sponsors Padgham Field Airport, has been learning a great deal about the value of its airport and how to ensure it remains safe and secure, thanks to ASN volunteer Vickie Heckman. After receiving AOPA's new versions of the Local Airports: Access to America and Airport Watch DVDs, Heckman made arrangements to show them to local leaders and the community. Heckman arranged a joint planning meeting among city officials, the county's homeland security personnel, and the airport advisory board to show the Airport Watch DVD to ensure that the airport itself is secure. Then she presented the Local Airports DVD at a public forum, where she and other members of the airport advisory board lobbied the city to change its charter to allow longer leases for airport tenants and thus ensure that the airport's financial future is secure.
Have you ever sat around a hangar and just talked about flying? Of course you have! Has the topic of your airport ever included these comments: "Do we have an Airport Watch sign at all airport entrances? Did you see the bulldozers moving dirt on the old farm turning base to final?" Probably not.
As we enjoy the laughs and lore that accompany hangar flying, we also must recognize the realities that threaten our airport and must make it a point to take action. If we lose our airport, whether to developers or because of security issues, we will be hangar flying in our family rooms looking at pictures of airplanes rather than the real things.
What's the solution? Bring your airport into your hangar-flying conversations! Start talking to fellow pilots about the airport and potential issues. Share information, then take collective action; this is the only way to protect your airport's future. This is also a perfect forum to form an airport support group. AOPA has an online guide available to all members called " Guide to Obtaining Community Support for Your Local Airport: Organizing Your Airport Group."
Whether your airport is threatened or thriving, consider signing up to be the ASN volunteer at your field. Visit the Web site to learn more.
Pilots need little encouragement to get together and hangar fly, particularly on those cold winter days. Unfortunately, time off from flying often takes our thoughts from airport issues and pilot safety. AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteer of the month, Jim Cieplak at Merrill Field (MRI) in Anchorage, decided to be proactive and take advantage of the slow season to organize the "Pilot Safety and MRI Airport Status Seminar" this past spring. Cieplak received tremendous support from the airport manager, tower manager, and the nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base operations flight commander, all of whom spoke during the seminar. Additionally, Cieplak worked closely with the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, the FAA Safety Program office, and the University of Alaska Aviation Technology Center located on the field.
Although Merrill Field is not under threat of closure, Cieplak reminded the 75-plus attendees that vigilance and a proactive airport management have been the keys to safeguarding the airport as they faced noise complaints, vehicle- and pedestrian-deviation issues, and residential encroachment over the years. To help ensure that the airport remains on track, Cieplak began soliciting assistance to form an airport support group at Merrill Field. "While things are good today, it is better to be proactive now, rather than reactive later should things turn sour," noted Cieplak. "ASN activities such as this seminar help bring issues and concerns to light so they can be addressed, while simultaneously promoting a sense of airport community."
Cieplak's goals are to continue promoting the airport to pilots and the public, developing local awareness of issues, and encouraging other interested airport advocates. Cieplak plans to make the spring seminar an annual event and build on its success by holding an "end of flying season" social get-together later this year.