You can keep your paper pilot certificate forever, but if you want to continue flying, sooner or later you'll likely have to get one of the new tamper-resistant plastic certificates.
The FAA in January issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that, if adopted, would require private pilots to get a plastic certificate within two years (five years for other airman certificates) after the regulation is finalized in order to continue exercising their airman privileges. The rule also would require aircraft owners to notify the FAA within five days after the sale or transfer of ownership of their aircraft.
"Some 82 percent of AOPA members said they supported this rule when we surveyed them in 2005," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs, "and 55 percent already have a plastic certificate."
The FAA has been issuing plastic certificates since 2003, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks prompted the agency to act on a proposal published in the late 1980s but never finalized.
All pilots can voluntarily request a plastic airman certificate on the airman certification section of the FAA's Web site, and they can keep their old paper certificate. Ordering a new certificate costs $2, but if you want the FAA to remove your Social Security number from the certificate or its records, you can get a plastic certificate for no cost.
The FAA also said it would issue an NPRM "in the near future" to include a photograph on pilot certificates.
AOPA has worked closely with key members of Congress to make sure that any new photo requirement would not impose an undue burden on general aviation pilots.
Thanks to AOPA's advocacy, Congress told the FAA that it could use designees to process the new certificates "to the extent feasible in order to minimize the burdens on pilots."
That means that if the FAA chooses to, it could have aviation medical examiners take the pilot's photo as part of the medical examination and forward it to the agency to include on a new certificate.
Are maintenance shops refusing to work on older aircraft? It's not a widespread problem, but the several isolated cases that have sprung up mean that AOPA must maintain a close watch on the issue.
It started last August when one chain of FBOs in the West told customers it would no longer work on aircraft older than 18 years. Several other shops have reportedly taken the same position.
"This is strictly a business decision by these FBOs," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "One insurance company offers a discount if the shop won't accept older aircraft. But all companies will still write insurance allowing a shop to work on any-age aircraft."
Because the General Aviation Revitalization Act protects manufacturers from most lawsuits on aircraft older than 18 years, there is a perception that the next set of "deep pockets" for the attorneys to attack is the maintenance shops. Some shops have decided to save a little money on insurance by refusing to work on older aircraft.
But when you consider that 82 percent of the piston-engine fleet is more than 18 years old, it seems highly unlikely that most shops are going to reject working on some 55,000 aircraft to compete for servicing the 10,000 manufactured within the past two decades.
"Nevertheless, AOPA will do whatever it takes to help defend our members' ability to maintain and fly their aircraft," said Cebula.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has adopted a new security-screening program to catch explosives, incendiaries, weapons, and other prohibited items at direct access points to air carrier airports, including general aviation access points.
The program is called Aviation Direct Access Screening, and it involves random checks aimed at finding prohibited items intended to be smuggled on board commercial aircraft. Some of the larger air carrier airports have been doing random screening checks since October 2006, but all air carrier airports will do so in the near future.
"AOPA has met with the TSA to discuss what this means for general aviation," said Rob Hackman, AOPA director of security and regulatory policy. "While GA access points will be randomly checked with all other points of entry, GA is not being targeted."
AOPA was informed that TSA inspectors understand that GA operates differently than the airlines. The TSA will not prevent GA pilots from carrying items in their aircraft that may be prohibited on airline flights — officials are just attempting to ensure that those items do not end up on commercial aircraft. AOPA continues to watch the situation and asks that members report any issues that arise as a result of security screening in the future.
AOPA kicked off this year with a push to remind pilots to "lock up and look out" by following AOPA's Airport Watch tips every time they go to the airport — whether they are flying or shooting the breeze.
In January, the association mailed new Airport Watch signs to nearly 5,300 public-use airports across the country for display at prominent entry points to the facilities. The signs encourage pilots to report suspicious activity through 866/GA-SECUR(E), a toll-free hotline answered by the Transportation Security Administration.
"Now more than ever, it is important for GA pilots to incorporate the commonsense security tips of Airport Watch into their flying routine," said Rob Hackman, AOPA director of security and regulatory policy. "Every time we finish flying, we must make sure we lock our aircraft and hangar, and look out for anything or anyone that seems out of place."
Visit AOPA's Airport Watch Web site to watch a security video or order Airport Watch brochures or decals.
More than 450,000 joint replacements are performed annually in the United States. But worries about FAA medical certification can make the decision to have a joint replaced more stressful for pilots. Rest assured, it's possible — and easier than you think — to get back in the left seat.
Take, for example, Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh and AOPA's Project Pilot spokesman. Lindbergh was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 21 and was unable to walk by age 30. He had both knees replaced and just a few years later re-created his grandfather's transatlantic flight.
The FAA allows first-, second-, and third class medical certification after a joint replacement. Give your aviation medical examiner (AME) copies of your medical records — your hospital admission history and discharge summary, along with a report of your operation and current status report from your treating physician regarding any limitations to physical abilities.
If you aren't using any disqualifying pain medication and have a good range of motion, the AME can issue your medical certificate right then.
The Coast Guard was a little quick last year to propose pulling the plug on loran. AOPA objected, advising that the government should have "looked before it leaped" on shutting down a system that still might play an important role in the nation's navigation and airspace surveillance system.
This year, the Coast Guard took a more studied approach by asking for public comments on the future of loran.
"But the first question we have to answer is what kind of complementary system we need for GPS," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Once we know that, we can then make an intelligent decision about loran-C or deploying enhanced loran."
The issue becomes particularly important in the future as the FAA decommissions many VORs and radar systems, and transitions to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast as the primary surveillance system for air traffic control. Because ADS-B requires GPS to report an aircraft's position to ATC, a GPS failure could leave pilots without electronic navigation and air traffic controllers blind unless an alternative positioning system was available.
Even with the Wide Area Augmentation System, the government has yet to develop procedures to ensure that GPS is available for aeronautical operations 100 percent of the time. Today's single-frequency system has some degree of vulnerability to accidental or intentional interference.
"General aviation needs robust positioning systems that ensure we can always navigate in instrument conditions, including making approaches to most airports," said Boyer. "We have that today with GPS and VORs."
But the FAA's long-range plan is to decommission most VORs. And for the future, VORs can't provide aircraft position information to the ADS-B system. An enhanced loran system is one alternative for backing up GPS for ADS-B and system navigation.
"Until a long-term GPS-only strategy is determined, loran should continue operating," said Boyer.
"Whatever back-up system is selected, it must be affordable, and GA pilots must be allowed a minimum of 15 years to transition to the new system."
AOPA has opened the seventeenth annual Max Karant Awards for Excellence in Aviation Coverage competition for reporters working in the news media.
The awards recognize fair, accurate, and insightful reporting on general aviation in five categories — print, television (hard news), television (feature story), television (program length), and radio.
Submissions must have been published or broadcast from January 1 through December 31, 2006. Up to three entries or series of entries may be submitted. Postmark deadline is April 16, 2007. There is no entry fee.
The competition is judged by the Karant Awards Committee, composed of media and aviation experts.
The Karant awards honor the best of "fair, accurate, and insightful" reporting on GA in the general (non-aviation) media. They carry an honorarium of $1,000 in each category. The awards are named for the late Max Karant, founder of AOPA Pilot magazine and the association's first senior vice president.
Awards will be presented at AOPA Expo 2007 in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 4.
Celebrate the start of the flying season at Sun 'n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida, from April 17 through 23, with a friend or family member who's always dreamed of becoming a pilot. AOPA will be featuring its Project Pilot program, which is designed to spread the joy of flight to nonpilots by pairing them with a pilot Mentor who can help them through the ups and downs of learning to fly.
After taking in all the aircraft on display, swing by AOPA's big yellow tent to learn how you can become a Mentor and sign up a student. You'll receive information specifically geared to walk both of you through the process step by step. Plus, you can enter the AOPA Project Pilot sweepstakes to win $1,000. For details, go to the Web site. (No purchase necessary. Purchase will not increase your chances of winning. Void where prohibited.)
At the tent, you'll also have the opportunity to renew your membership, learn about aircraft insurance, and get your aviation-related questions answered by the experts.
On Friday, April 20, AOPA will celebrate its fourth annual AOPA Day at Sun 'n Fun with prizes and guest speakers such as AOPA President Phil Boyer, AOPA Director of Medical Certification Gary Crump, and AOPA Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. Watch for AOPA's SurPRIZE Squad, which will be on the prowl that day to hand out AOPA memorabilia and some Garmin handheld GPS units.
Mark your calendars and cross your fingers for clear weather on June 2 — AOPA's annual Fly-In and Open House.
It's your chance to tour AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, and meet those who work tirelessly to protect your freedom to fly, inform you of the latest general aviation news, and provide helpful safety tips. Plus, learn about the association's latest advocacy efforts directly from AOPA President Phil Boyer.
As always, AOPA will host an aircraft display with the newest aircraft on the market and offer more than 100 aviation exhibits. For more information, visit the Web site.
Remember those cold winter days at the airport, when grizzled veteran pilots would gather round and share their hard-won wisdom? If so — or even if not — the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has good news: Those days are back.
The foundation is proud to present Real Pilot Stories, the modern-day equivalent of those valuable hangar-flying sessions. Pilots who really have "been there, done that" bare their souls to help the rest of us become better pilots. Each true story is told in the pilot's own voice and includes valuable insight gained from experience. The stories are shared online on the Air Safety Foundation's Web site.
The first three stories in Real Pilot Stories relate a new instrument pilot's near-fatal first encounter with ice over the Appalachian Mountains; a horrific density-altitude crash in the Utah mountains during the summer; and a brief but terrifying dance with a snake in the cockpit over the West Virginia mountains.
As with all Air Safety Foundation safety materials, Real Pilot Stories is free and available to all pilots, and more stories will be added at regular intervals.
More than one-quarter (26.6 percent) of all fatal accidents in the past 10 years occurred during maneuvering flight, which includes buzzing, formation flying, aerial work, stalls/spins, canyon flying, aerobatics, and normal flight operation. Any type of flying performed close to the ground — in the traffic pattern, for example — or involving steep turns and aerobatics is considered maneuvering flight.
Learn what tends to go wrong and causes accidents with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Maneuvering Flight — Hazardous to Your Health? Safety Advisor.
Brush up on your aircraft systems knowledge with two Safety Advisors: Engine Operations and Propeller Safety.
The Safety Advisors review the basic operations of engines and propellers and provide tips on maintenance, preflight considerations, troubleshooting, and other things to look out for in order to have a safe flight.
Visit the Air Safety Foundation's Web site to download these and other free Safety Advisors.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's just-released 2006 Joseph T. Nall Report shows a decline in the number of fatal weather-related accidents for 2005.
The foundation targeted weather- and thunderstorm-related accidents after a spike in the number of those accidents in 2004. The foundation rolled out an online course, Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC, to educate pilots about these accidents.
Although weather-related accidents decreased, the overall 2005 accident rate increased to 7.2 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, compared to 6.5 the year before.
The rate of fatal accidents also increased in 2005, from 1.3 to 1.4 per 100,000 flight hours.
"While the sky certainly isn't falling, the record that we chalked up in 2005 could stand some improvement," said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
Because pilot education is the best way to help reduce the number of GA accidents, the foundation will be producing a new online course about maneuvering flight in 2007 to combat an increase in the number of fatal maneuvering flight accidents.
Check out the Air Safety Foundation's free online safety materials to refresh your piloting skills and knowledge bank.
A limited number of paper copies of the Nall Report are available by calling 800/USA-AOPA.
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.
North Carolina. Monroe: Daniel Field Airport Support Network volunteer Larry G. Gardner knows that community support and public relations help keep his airport healthy and vibrant. For the past 15 years, the airport support group has thanked the community for its support by hosting the annual Boshears Fly Fest, Fly-In and Airshow, which Gardner helps organize. The 2006 fall show was the largest yet, with fuel at dealer cost for all attendees. A pilot certificate scholarship worth $6,500 also was given away in memory of a local aviator. Winston-Salem: Andy Dale, ASN volunteer for Smith Reynolds Airport, helped his local airport support group, the Winston-Salem Aviation Association (WSAA), organize a public showing of the general aviation film One Six Right, a documentary about Van Nuys Airport in California, as a way to promote the airport and GA in the community. WSAA provided pizza and beverages at the showing, the local FBO provided popcorn, and the Forsyth County Airport Commission provided the meeting space to show the film. Dale reports the event achieved more than he hoped; not only did the WSAA recruit more members, but also it increased the public's awareness of GA.
Washington. Ellensburg: For the past few years, Bowers Field ASN volunteer Jack Dugan has been working with others to make the airport a centerpiece of the community. His efforts may pay off in the form of a new airport park. Dugan's vision for the park, which he presented to the Bowers Field Airport Advisory Board and a member of the city's staff, includes pristine space provided by the airport for viewing wildlife, mountain scenery, and sunsets. The city of Ellensburg and the county, which sponsors the airport, are working on a joint plan to make the park a reality — and shed a positive light on aviation in the county, as Dugan suggested.
We know the facts: Once an airport is closed, it won't come back. We know the problem: Airports across the country continue to face encroachment, noise complaints, and other threats to their existence. So, what's your plan if your airport is threatened?
AOPA offers help for local pilots and airport supporters to put a plan into place before an airport is faced with threats of closure or operational restrictions.
Does your airport have an Airport Support Network volunteer? Find out online. If not, nominate yourself or a fellow AOPA member.
If there is a volunteer for your airport, get in touch with him or her and offer to help. An airport has never been saved because of one person.
Does your airport have an airport support group? The ASN staff can help you establish one.
Does your airport have a voice in the local political process? We offer tips on talking to politicians and forming political action committees.
Whether your airport is threatened or thriving, your help is needed to keep general aviation airports open and accessible. Start today by signing up to be the ASN volunteer at your field. Visit the Web site to learn more.
In early 2006, a 700-acre parcel of land adjacent to Mariposa-Yosemite Airport in Mariposa, California, was sold to a real estate developer. The developer proposed to build 24 half-acre residential lots directly under the approach/departure path to the airport and within a half-mile of the runway threshold.
AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Bob McHugh immediately sprung into action to educate local elected officials and county staff on the incompatible-land-use issues. McHugh explained that the plan violated state code, the county's airport master land use plan, and the California Department of Transportation's (Caltrans) aviation division guidelines on compatible land use.
McHugh met with the developer's attorney to discuss these issues, and the attorney said he would work to make the development acceptable to all parties.
As 2006 came to a close, the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution worded to protect the airport from development. The county then passed a comprehensive land use plan in accordance with Caltrans' guidelines to further protect the airport.
Thanks to McHugh's initiative, he was able to bring all parties to an agreeable conclusion and protect the airport. McHugh's efforts are a perfect example of how the ASN "early warning system" works: When you hear about a potential threat, act immediately. Your chances for success improve drastically when you are able to stay ahead of a proposal.