How bad could the Bush administration's user-fee proposal be? Here are some of the proposed costs that would directly impact your flying. The avgas tax would increase nearly fourfold — from 19.4 cents per gallon to 70.1 cents per gallon. And the tax on jet fuel would escalate from 21.8 cents per gallon to 70.1 cents per gallon. You would be charged a fee each time you flew into Class B airspace. We don't know what the charge would be yet, but it would apply to any general aviation aircraft flying in any of the 30 Class B terminal areas. In addition, the FAA has proposed some 13 new or increased fees that would impact pilots, aircraft owners, and mechanics at various times throughout their aviation lives. Registering an aircraft would cost $130, plus $45 a year for renewal. Issuing any pilot certificate would cost $50; replacing a certificate would be $25. Many other fees haven't been set yet.
Nine out of 10 AOPA members have told us that this would reduce, curtail, or end their flying. Clearly, we must fight this proposal. AOPA has developed a strategic battle plan, and we will enlist your participation.
A message from AOPA President Phil Boyer
Our battle plan is much more sophisticated than just asking all of you to write to your congressman immediately. Our strategic plan calls for bringing pressure to bear on certain members of Congress at specific times.
In the coming months, each of you will be called to help, but in a highly segmented fashion. And when the final bills are up for vote by the entire Congress, we will issue a national call to action.
Let me explain how this battle will progress so that you can understand when and how you will be called upon to help us fight.
What the administration calls the "Next Generation Air Transportation System Financing Reform Act of 2007" is, at this point, nothing more than a proposed bill sent to Congress. And the first places it will be vetted are in the aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the aviation subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The House aviation subcommittee hearings were held on March 14, and I testified on behalf of our members.
Your AOPA legislative affairs staff and I have been lobbying hard for more than two years against the administration's claim that it needs user fees.
Over the past couple of months, I have asked some of you who reside in certain districts to contact your elected officials. These officials are members of key committees in both the Senate and House.
As the proposal moves through other committees, we will call on others to weigh in at the most effective times. And a lot of committees will have interest in this bill, including the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, plus committees with jurisdiction over the military and homeland security.
Whenever you send something to Congress, please send me a copy (e-mail to [email protected] or fax to 301/695-2372), and more important, send me whatever response you get. We are tracking every single member of Congress. We will hold each one to his or her promises.
And now my promise to you. We will use every resource we have to defeat the administration's FAA refinancing bill. And, keep in mind, AOPA members have responded to our call for political action committee (PAC) contributions, giving us a war chest of funds to help fund the re-election campaigns of "our friends" in Congress.
We will win. And we will do it with the help of each of you, the 410,000-plus members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The Bush administration claims that it needs a huge tax increase on general aviation and new user fees for the airlines in order to pay for NextGen — the FAA's modernization plan for the air traffic control system. But during a March hearing in the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies, the truth came out: The current system works; the Bush administration's proposal is what's broken. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel, who was representing the administration, admitted that the current excise-tax-funded aviation trust fund could pay for NextGen, as long as there was a continued general fund contribution. "Once again, AOPA's analysis has been ratified by the federal government," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. And a Government Accountability Office representative said that the administration's proposed funding bill couldn't pay for NextGen without borrowing money. "So which funding system is 'broken'?" Boyer asked.
The FAA is once again pushing a bad proposal that could put small repair stations out of business and increase maintenance costs for aircraft owners.
The proposal would require all repair stations, regardless of size or complexity, to expand their current quality control systems to meet international standards. By the FAA's own estimate, the new quality systems would burden about half of the small repair stations about $34,500 each.
"AOPA believes that many small shops will not be able to absorb the cost of complying with this mandate, particularly if they are a one- or two-person shop," AOPA wrote in its formal comments to the proposal.
Further, AOPA said that many of these repair stations may, after surrendering their certificates, continue to operate as individual mechanics or under inspection authorizations. They would not be exposed to the degree of surveillance currently directed toward FAA-certified repair stations, which would only reduce the agency's safety surveillance of the industry.
The proposal also calls for a "type rating" system that doesn't make sense for general aviation. The preamble to the proposal says that a repair station rated for Boeing 737s could not unilaterally add a Boeing 757 rating to its capability list. The FAA would require type ratings for different models of GA aircraft. In other words, a repair station that is authorized to work on Cessna 172s could not work on 182s, 206s, or 210s unless these models were added to the shop's capability list, which would presumably require FAA approval.
AOPA has remained steadfast in its opposition to the changes ever since the FAA first proposed them in 1999.
The National Air Tour Safety Standards Final Rule went into effect March 15. With that comes an increase in the minimum number of hours required for private pilots to conduct charity fundraising flights — from 200 to 500 hours.
"AOPA had aggressively opposed this because it limits the number of pilots available to provide charity fundraising flights," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs.
Also, under the new rule, operators conducting nonstop commercial sightseeing flights within a 25-statute mile radius of an airport must obtain a letter of authorization from the FAA by September 11.
See AOPA's online brief for complete details of the new requirements for fixed-wing and helicopter charity and sightseeing operations.
On March 27, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) charged the FAA with developing a system to identify fraud and to periodically spot-check medical applications for false information.
This action comes from a 2005 investigation in which the Inspector General's Office cracked down on Northern California pilots, finding 3,200 of them held current medical certificates while receiving disability benefits from Social Security for medical conditions that may have disqualified them. Further investigation resulted in the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuting more than 40 pilots who had allegedly provided false information on their FAA medical certificate application.
"The issue is not about receiving disability benefits," said Gary Crump, AOPA director of medical certification. "The issue is the intentional falsification of medical applications. A pilot who has reported a medical condition for which he receives disability payments on his airman medical application, and the FAA has granted him a medical certificate, has absolutely nothing to worry about."
Have questions? Call AOPA's medical staff at 800/872-2672 or e-mail [email protected]. AOPA's interactive TurboMedical online form is also an invaluable tool aiding pilots in complying with the FAA's safety medical standards.
An unflattering news story regarding general aviation airport security that aired in Houston in March has sparked questions about GA security. Sen. John Carona, chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, invited AOPA to testify before the committee in March. AOPA Director of Security and Regulatory Policy Rob Hackman informed the committee about numerous government reports that state GA poses a minimal threat to security. He also discussed several national initiatives, including the Transportation Security Administration's threat-based approach to GA security, and pilot screening and flight-training background checks. During the hearing, Carona commended AOPA's efforts to enhance GA security.
New York legislators had proposed to prohibit anyone under age 17 from operating an aircraft within the state, but New York pilots made their ire known to state representatives. And the legislators have listened. During New York Aviation Day in March, AOPA learned that Assembly Bill 3424 had been removed from consideration. The bill would have prohibited anyone under the age of 17 from operating an aircraft or applying for a pilot certificate in New York. "Vocal New York pilots were the key to preventing this requirement," said AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro. "Legislators specifically told me that they were pulling the bill because they had heard from pilots who opposed it." Pecoraro and Craig Dotlo, AOPA's Northeast regional representative, also began discussions with legislators aimed at repealing the student pilot background-check law. The association is currently suing the state, challenging the constitutionality of the state law.
A Senate bill could help protect New Jersey airports. Pressures from residential development have cut the number of New Jersey airports by almost half since 1950, when there were 82; today, only 48 exist. But Senate Bill 1975 would remove them from the "endangered" list. AOPA is supporting an amended version of the bill that would prohibit local governments from using eminent domain to condemn private property — including privately owned airports.
AOPA alerted Minnesota pilots in March about Senate File 608, which proposes increased levels of insurance far above what the majority of light-aircraft owners purchase. Minnesota is one of only six states that require minimum levels of aircraft insurance. The bill also calls for "absolute" liability for aircraft operations — liability assigned regardless of fault or negligence. This legal concept typically is limited to only the most hazardous operations, such as using explosives. "That essentially puts light aircraft in the same category as dynamite," said AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Greg Pecoraro, who asked the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee for several revisions, including a reasonable level of minimum liability coverage. A companion bill in the House has already been revised to mitigate some of the impact on aircraft owners.
AOPA will host the seventeenth annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House on Saturday, June 2, featuring more than 100 aviation exhibitors, more than 40 aircraft on display, a day full of seminars, and much more.
Among the seminars are ones featuring Rod Machado, columnist for AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines, and award-winning AOPA Air Safety Foundation programs, plus many other outstanding aviation speakers. AOPA President Phil Boyer will talk with members about the future of general aviation, explaining what your association is doing to keep flying safe, affordable, and fun. You also may want to tour AOPA headquarters and meet the folks who work tirelessly to protect your right to fly.
Know someone who wants to become a pilot? Be sure to invite him or her to the AOPA Fly-In to learn more about learning to fly.
Plan now to join us Saturday, June 2, at Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and a variety of beverages, light snacks, and meals will be available from vendors throughout the day. For fly-in procedures, driving directions, or a list of seminars and exhibitors, visit AOPA Online.
AOPA President Phil Boyer recently met with Glenn Plymate, daughter Debra, and son Jeff at the Northwest Aviation Conference & Trade Show in Puyallup, Washington. Glenn and his children (all pilots) have established the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial Endowment at the AOPA Air Safety Foundation with more than $100,000 to date, as a memorial and tribute to Glenn's wife of 56 years. She was enthusiastically involved in aviation and was his flying partner, as well as an exceptional mother. Their goal is to raise at least $550,000.
Pilots are invited to join in this unique campaign where each tax-deductible contribution will be matched with an equal donation from Glenn Plymate, and because of the magnitude of the goal, an equal contribution from ASF, netting a three-for-one impact for pilots who donate toward the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial Endowment.
Call ASF at 800/955-9115 for more information about this special matching-gift-challenge campaign and the Erral Lea Plymate Memorial Endowment. If you wish to learn more about Erral Lea Plymate, visit the Web site.
As a number of unfortunate incidents have demonstrated, it's always vital to know where you are, where you're going, and how to get there safely when you're operating on the airport surface. To that end, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Runway Flash Cards are a great way to brush up on airport signage and runway and taxiway markings before your next flight.
The front of each card displays a typical airport sign or pavement marking. The back identifies the sign or marking, places it in context, and explains what action pilots should take upon encountering it.
The cards are available in three formats: an online Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation, a downloadable PowerPoint presentation, and a printable PDF document. Choose the one that best suits your needs at the Air Safety Foundation Web site.
It's no secret that thunderstorms and airplanes don't mix. But with the summer flying season just around the corner and the atmosphere heating up, steering clear of storms can be easier said than done. Sure, air traffic controllers can help you avoid the nasty stuff — but do you really know what you're getting (and not getting) from ATC weather-avoidance services?
Unfortunately, around convective activity, the penalties for misunderstandings can be severe. Pilots who've survived encounters with thunderstorms recount harrowing experiences — being pelted with hail, involuntarily climbing or descending at thousands of feet per minute, slamming violently against seat belts, and generally holding on for dear life. Airplanes have emerged from storms with doors blown off, leading edges smashed in, windshields broken out, and airframes distorted beyond repair...and those were the lucky ones. Others have been torn apart in midair or hurled to the ground out of control.
Such tragedies are more common than you might think. In a recent year, 25 percent of all fatal weather-related accidents involved encounters with thunderstorms. Amazingly, in all those accidents, the pilots flew into areas of extreme convective activity despite being in contact with ATC.
That statistic spurred the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to develop the Weather Wise: Thunderstorms and ATC online course. Designed to emphasize the dangers of convective activity and shed light on the ins and outs of ATC weather-avoidance services, the course includes re-creations of real-world thunderstorm accidents and discusses some important changes in the terminology ATC uses to describe precipitation. It also provides tips on verifying what weather-avoidance services ATC is providing and tactics for gleaning weather information from controller interactions with other pilots.
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.
Colorado. Englewood: When the city of Centennial proposed annexing land from the county to allow rezoning in favor of a residential community, Bob Doubek, the ASN volunteer for Centennial Airport, sprang into action. Doubek worked closely with AOPA, the Colorado Pilots Association, Silver Wings Fraternity, and Robert Olislagers and airport staff to defeat the measure during public hearings in February. The developer withdrew his application at the March 5 City Council meeting. AOPA sent a letter to the city explaining the importance of protecting the land from noncompatible land use. The development would have placed more than 1,600 housing units and a retail center on 380 acres, most of which fall within the Airport Influence Area and Restricted Development Area, presently zoned commercial or industrial. Arapahoe County, which sponsors the airport, also opposed the rezoning.
Ohio. Willoughby: Willoughby Lost Nation Municipal Airport has been under attack for many years, but thanks to solid support from pilots and businesses, Lake County officials want to acquire the airport from the town of Willoughby and continue investing federal funds in it. ASN volunteer Gary Swanson has been greatly involved — along with a large group of avid airport supporters — in showing the Willoughby City Council and mayor that citizens do support the airport, and local businesses value its significant economic contributions to the region. More than 150 airport supporters attended a fact-finding meeting staged by an anti-airport contingent. The groundswell of supporters outnumbered the anti-airport group 3-to-2. Lake County is awaiting FAA funding to proceed with the purchase, which likely will seal the deal for the airport's future for the near term.
Washington. Prosser: Although not everyone can convince his airport sponsor to hire him as a contract consultant to revitalize the airport, the ASN volunteer at Prosser Airport, Cormac Thompson, did just that. Thompson was a fixture on the field for nearly 30 years as an FBO owner; today his goal is for the town of Richland and neighboring communities to see the value of the airport and its potential economic contributions to the region, which is located in the heart of Washington's majestic wine country. Thompson's first task when he took the position in February was to begin work filling available lease space and attracting a full-time FBO. Meanwhile, he is on site to enhance users' experiences and increase the town's economic interest in the airport. Plans are under way to relocate the runway and expand it lengthwise to accommodate runway protection zones.
For the second time in the past few years, airport supporters in Gilmer, Texas, have risen to the occasion when funding for new projects was needed. Most recently, Fox Stephens Field received an $800,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for several improvement projects, such as expanded visitor parking and perimeter fencing, plus an additional $1.3 million for a new taxiway. When the city of Gilmer said it could not provide the necessary matching funds, approximately $190,000, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Stephen E. Dean engaged community business leaders and neighbors to raise the funds to proceed with these projects. Dean was able to coordinate a deal in which the Gilmer Industrial Foundation donated the land for the new taxiway, which covered $100,000 of the city's matching funds. The rest was raised by private and corporate contributions.
Airport Support Network volunteers received a copy of AOPA's new DVD Local Airports: Access to America earlier this year. This DVD is designed to help volunteers promote, protect, and defend community airports to local elected officials, businesses, and neighbors. This DVD also sends a strong message to the federal government: GA airports are proven economic engines to the communities they serve, supporting jobs, revenue, and commerce.
Despite those facts, the FAA and the Bush administration have plans to significantly reduce funding for some GA airports by asking sponsors and states to contribute more matching funds. Sponsors may be offered money by the FAA for approved projects, but they do not have to accept it. The major obstacle is the ability of the local municipality to contribute matching funds; today that is 5 percent of the FAA grant. In the new FAA funding proposal, that amount would double to 10 percent. Although states often pick up the tab for 2.5 percent of that 95-5 split, this proposal would double the financial burdens on state and local governments to support our national transportation system. Now more than ever, we need AOPA members to be vigilant supporters of their airports. To learn more about ASN, visit us online.