It was an extraordinary display of bipartisan support for H.R.2881, the House version of an FAA funding bill.
The four top members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and aviation subcommittee went before the House Ways and Means Committee to urge the tax-writing committee to keep aviation excise taxes, reject the idea of user fees, and fairly distribute the costs of funding the FAA.
"We have come together on a very strong and effective bill," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.). "It provides a historic $68 billion for the needs of aviation over the next four years." Sitting beside him were ranking member Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), and subcommittee ranking member Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.).
Oberstar said the T&I Committee believed general aviation should pay a "little bit more than they have in the past," and that the GA fuel tax increase recommended to the Ways and Means Committee was "right and fair."
Rep. John Mica said, "The problem with a user-fee system is that it is difficult to apply, particularly to general aviation. That's why Mr. Oberstar and I agreed that we would increase some of the fuel taxes that [general aviation] pays, but we're not being oppressive."
Both Oberstar and Mica noted that the existing excise tax system and the tax rates they were recommending in H.R.2881 would fund current FAA needs and pay for NextGen.
Mica said that NextGen could be funded with a limited increase in taxes, and "the user would pay on a reasonable basis."
"It seems like you've reached a pretty good balance here," said Ways and Means Committee member Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "Just seeing the four of you tells me that you've put together a balanced approach and you aren't disproportionally shifting the burden of paying for the system from one group to another group, especially the small guy."
AOPA President Phil Boyer also testified that "H.R.2881 gets it right." That bill would keep airline passenger taxes the same and modestly increase general aviation fuel taxes to ensure robust funding for airports and money for air traffic control modernization (NextGen). GA pilots want to be part of the solution and are willing to pay more for NextGen, Boyer told Congress.
Some of Delta Air Lines' best customers are telling corporate bigwigs why they are wrong. More than 3,000 so far have responded to the recent e-mail broadside, blaming airline delays on general aviation and the current FAA funding system.
"The scheduled carriers' own hub-and-spoke route system is the rotten apple in this barrel," wrote an Arkansas pilot. "When you and your Air Transport Association colleagues insist on figuratively cramming 16 lanes of traffic into a four-lane road two or three times a day, what do you expect will happen?"
Delta had sent messages to its frequent fliers, claiming that the current tax system is unfair to the airlines, and that GA is somehow responsible for traffic delays.
Here's the truth: Most airline delays are because of the airlines' own scheduling practices and weather. So says the Department of Transportation. GA flights are less than 4 percent of the traffic at the nation's 10 busiest airports.
Thanks to modern technology you can go paperless in the cockpit, but beware of some caveats. The FAA has issued Advisory Circular 91-78, covering portable or installed electronic flight displays, also known as electronic flight bags (EFBs), to clarify its policy. The AC says that EFBs need to be the functional equivalent of paper reference materials and that information used for navigation and performance planning has to be current and valid. While the document touches on the benefits of EFBs, it also says it's a good idea to carry paper backups. The responsibility falls on the pilot to decide what is needed to maintain safe flight operations. Bear in mind that pilots should also be ready to explain their decisions if questioned.
For the third year in a row, the FAA is proposing to eliminate hundreds of instrument approaches that it feels are underutilized or redundant. The action would not decommission actual navaids, just eliminate the approaches. AOPA is conducting a detailed analysis to make sure the move would not eliminate all IFR-, ground-based, or satellite navigation access to airports, or result in higher instrument minimums.
A federal judge sent a strong message that states cannot preempt the federal government by forcing flight school students to undergo criminal background checks. The issue was not about security, but rather what part of government has the authority and responsibility for aviation security.
The lawsuit stated that Congress enacted legislation to create "a single, uniform system of regulation for the safety and security of aviation, to be maintained by the federal government." And if states were permitted to enact their own aviation security laws, it would create a patchwork of dissimilar and conflicting laws across the nation, "frustrating the purpose of a uniform and consistent system of safety regulation," the suit said.
AOPA fought and won a similar battle in Michigan and prevented a bill in the California legislature from becoming law.
If you are returning from a Mexican siesta or Caribbean sojourn, be advised that the U.S. government plans to watch general aviation aircraft more closely.
A part of a broader piece of security legislation, which President Bush has signed into law, is a measure that will require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to determine which aircraft - registered foreign or domestic - flying into the United States must furnish passenger manifests before departure. Currently, aircraft do this upon arrival only.
In addition, the new statute calls for the TSA to conduct threat or vulnerability assessments at GA airports and authorize a federal funding program for security improvements at those airports.
"Time after time, government analysis and studies make it clear that there are no specific threats to national security from general aviation," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "However, Congress and the security agencies have requested that additional steps be taken to reduce vulnerabilities as part of the nationwide approach to strengthen security."
These provisions are a part of the 285-page new law. AOPA has been working with the TSA to ensure that its actions do not adversely affect pilots.
Pilots planning to fly to the Caribbean and over Hawaii this fall may not have government charts. Despite a strong push from AOPA, the FAA still hasn't committed to producing replacements after the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) stops publishing Flight Information Publications (FLIP) and other popular charts in October.
"The FAA must take action to provide equivalent products, otherwise there will be no publicly available government source of aeronautical information for Hawaii or the Caribbean and Central and South America," according to Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs.
On August 30, the "Mickey Mouse" air defense identification zone (ADIZ) pattern around Washington and Baltimore, which was difficult to navigate and enforce, became a 30-nautical-mile radius circle around the Washington VOR/DME. This freed up four public-use general aviation airports and 1,800 square miles of airspace and left 15 public-use airports still covered by the ADIZ restrictions. Of these, three are in the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), closer to the city, and will still be under heavy restrictions. In addition, there will be VFR speed restrictions inside and immediately surrounding the ADIZ airspace. Current charts will be valid until that date, and new charts will be revised accordingly.
"This is part of an incremental process to reduce and hopefully eliminate overly burdensome flight restrictions in the future," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Pilots using certain GPS receivers to navigate the complex airspace around Washington, D.C., have been receiving images that make the airspace look even more confusing. That's because the 60-nautical-mile-radius VFR speed-limitation ring around the Washington, D.C., air defense identification zone (ADIZ) is being depicted on some in-flight displays with graphics similar to that of a temporary flight restriction (TFR). "The speed ring is not a TFR. It simply limits VFR aircraft to 230 knots, and that must be made clear on cockpit displays," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "AOPA is also working with the FAA, GPS manufacturers, and data vendors to create a standard depiction for the speed ring that does not resemble those used for TFRs."
The FAA is modifying a huge swath of airspace in the Phoenix area without listening to local pilots. In its final rule on the Phoenix Class B airspace redesign, the FAA rejected most of the recommendations made by AOPA and local pilots. The only positive change - one supported by AOPA - is that the ceiling of the Class B airspace will be lowered from 10,000 to 9,000 feet msl. The changes go into effect October 25. "It is unfortunate that the FAA chose to ignore our plan, which was much simpler and addressed concerns raised by local pilots," said Heidi Williams, AOPA director of air traffic services. "The GA users' plan would have aligned many of the sectors with ground features or navaids, making it much easier for pilots to locate sector boundaries and remain in the appropriate airspace."
Aircraft owners who purchase their aircraft outside of North Carolina will be exempt from the state's use tax if Gov. Mike Easley signs Senate Bill 540. AOPA supports the exemption, which is part of a larger tax bill. "At a time when some states are trying to tax out-of-state aircraft, North Carolina serves as a shining example that affirms the value of general aviation," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "Aviation does not recognize state lines, and those who purchase aircraft outside their state should not be penalized."
More than 150 aviation enthusiasts concerned about the possible Beaumont/Southeast Texas tracon consolidation voiced their opinions and questioned FAA officials during a public meeting in Port Arthur, Texas. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who called the meeting, joined the crowd in expressing concerns to the FAA. Poe had introduced a bill that would place a temporary moratorium on consolidating tracons. The bill is currently before the House aviation subcommittee, of which he is a member. During the meeting, he said the FAA needed to make sure the consolidation would not erode safety or operational efficiency. AOPA Southwest Regional Representative Shelly Lesikar deZevallos attended the public meeting to express the association's concerns about pilot services and how a consolidated tracon would handle airspace operations in the event of system or equipment outages.
The Northeast has some of the busiest airspace in the country, and AOPA doesn't want the Air National Guard taking unnecessary chunks from general aviation. The proposed Adirondack Airspace Complex near Fort Drum, New York, would be located less than 150 nautical miles from the Condor military operations area (MOA), which the military also wants to expand. In formal comments, AOPA said one MOA would suffice for all of the proposed aerial operations. The Adirondack proposal also includes a dynamic airspace concept, which would allow the military to only use parts of the complex without making the entire chunk of airspace active. AOPA does not oppose the dynamic airspace concept, however neither the FAA nor the proposal offers any guidance on how the military would design or manage this.
When Nellis Air Force base contacted AOPA about recent pilot incursions of the Nevada test and training range (NTTR), AOPA immediately suggested implementing an ATIS frequency that will alert pilots to which ranges are hot and which are cold. In the meantime, VFR pilots, both local and transient, should be aware of the NTTR area and understand the hazards associated with inadvertent violations of the restricted airspace. An incursion may be unintentional, but passing through impacts military operations and weapons deliveries and may cause accidents as many high-speed military aircraft operate on the range daily. There can be severe penalties for careless mistakes, so take some time to read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's online Safety Hot Spot: Critical Airspace to learn how to identify and avoid prohibited and restricted airspace.
As the debate continues to simmer over user fees and how to finance the FAA, AOPA has more clout than ever to push for H.R.2881, the current legislation in the House of Representatives. "We draw our strength from members," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This new record once again shows that we're on the right track." Since Boyer took the helm of AOPA in 1991, membership has grown more than 33 percent.
From the first solo cross-country to the instrument rating and beyond, aeronautical charts are a fundamental part of flying. For VFR pilots, they help make sense of a world that, viewed from thousands of feet up, can seem unfamiliar and disorienting. For IFR flyers, they're a lifeline to terra firma, spanning the gulf between an abstract realm of headings, altitudes, and frequencies and the real world of airports, terrain, and traffic.
Obviously, an understanding of aeronautical charts is one of the keys to safe flying. But knowing what's on the chart is one thing. Knowing how to interpret and use it in the real world is something else entirely.
Enter the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's latest minicourse. IFR Chart Challenge: VOR Approach is the first in a new series of interactive courses aimed at helping pilots grasp the finer points of aeronautical charts and the procedures connected to them. The course is based on the VOR Runway 34 approach at Westminster, Maryland - chosen, incidentally, on the basis of a NASA ASRS report on an incident that took place there. Course-takers make their way through a series of real-life scenarios related to the approach, making decisions about how best to proceed (Fly the procedure turn? Descend below MDA?) under the circumstances at hand.
Whether you're an instrument-rated pilot looking for a quick refresher on nonprecision approach procedures, or a VFR-only pilot curious about "how the other half lives," the course is a great way to spend around twenty minutes. It's free, and available online.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's newest live safety seminar, Regulations: What Every Pilot Should Know has begun its nationwide tour, and aviation attorneys across the country are stepping up to the plate to help educate pilots.
From frequently asked regulatory questions to the newest FARs and the federal rule-making process, the seminar covers a wide variety of topics, and - thanks to the response to ASF's call to help educate pilots - most of the showings will feature an audience Q&A session with an aviation attorney.
The free, no-registration-required seminar only runs through mid-November. Visit the Web site.
Picking up a load of ice in a light aircraft is a seriously frightening experience. And every year, a few unfortunate aviators pay for the experience with their lives.
Heath Wells came perilously close to being one of them. On December 26, 2005, while en route to Bedford County Airport in Bedford, Pennsylvania, he entered icing conditions in a Cessna 172.
In a first-hand audio account on the ASF Web site, he and air traffic controller Terry Pitts recount the fateful flight. The riveting 12-minute tale - punctuated with actual ATC audio - carries important lessons for pilots who might be tempted to brave icing conditions, as well as a real-life demonstration of how ATC resources and pilot reports can help save the day in an emergency. If you're up for a chill, check it out 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.
Kansas. Lawrence: When a local developer approached the city of Lawrence's planning commission for permission to develop an industrial park in an area that included the Lawrence Municipal Airport's runway protection zone (RPZ), the airport advisory board contacted the ASN volunteer, Larry Kellogg, to provide some factual information so an informed and reasonable decision would be made.
Kellogg contacted AOPA which advised construction in the RPZ could jeopardize future federal funding. He and the advisory board then engaged the FAA in the matter, which expressed apprehension over the proposal. Kellogg advised the developer to resubmit his plat taking into consideration the FAA's concerns, specifically excluding the RPZ from any development plan.
The city is now planning to meet with the developer to ensure the airport is protected.
Kellogg's early warning proved beneficial already; he will continue to monitor the plats offered by the developer and communicate with AOPA and the FAA.
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Airport Support Network during this year's AOPA Expo, AOPA Pilot magazine has dedicated a feature story to the personal efforts of several volunteers across the country whose dedication to their community airports have made a difference to all AOPA members. The stories you read on this page every month and in this issue's feature (see " America's Airports: Promote, Protect, Defend," page 76) capture the spirit and motivations of all ASN volunteers, not just of those whose names are listed.
Every day AOPA sees the efforts of the nearly 2,000 member volunteers who have stepped forward to promote, protect, and defend America's community airports. Without these crucial advocates in the field, AOPA members nationwide would suffer the consequences of complacency and inaction: airport closure. AOPA relies on these volunteers to provide us with early warnings, local knowledge, and boots on the ground to protect the most valuable commodity in general aviation: our community airports.
AOPA owes a debt of gratitude to these volunteers who have helped your association win key victories in our quest to preserve airports for the past 10 years. Join us in thanking your fellow members by sending an e-mail to your local airport's ASN volunteer, saying thanks for his or her selfless dedication in service to all GA pilots. Contact your volunteer by visiting the Airport Support Network Web site, and clicking on "Find Your Airport Volunteer."
If your airport doesn't have a current volunteer, you can sign up yourself or someone you know by clicking on "ASN Volunteer Nomination Form" on the ASN main page.Volunteer of the Month: Seth Riklin
As many ASN volunteers can attest, general aviation airports continue to be a media target for sensational stories. Seth Riklin, ASN volunteer at Sugar Land Regional Airport outside of Houston gained firsthand familiarity with this threat to general aviation earlier this year when a local Houston television station aired a report "unmasking the security lapses" at three of the areas six GA airports, including Sugar Land.
The reporter tried to sensationalize a security story for ratings week. AOPA's media relations and ASN staff contacted Riklin before the story aired, alerting him of the reporter's intentions. Riklin is a business attorney, whose well-spoken nature and advocacy training was aided by a quick review of AOPA's online media training course. He worked with AOPA staff to develop talking points for the airport management to prepare them for the attack to come. Thorough preparation is the key to deflating the sensation that the uninformed reporters seek to create, and the information contained in AOPA's Airport Watch program helped airport management prepare for a lengthy interview that resulted in little that was useful to the reporter's interest in exploitation.
While the story aired with the reporter's original agenda, the coverage of Sugar Land was minimized. Riklin's efforts in aiding the airport management in dealing with the media opened the door for wider discussions that have helped improve the experiences of AOPA members at the airport. Riklin's advocacy has been helpful in focusing airport management on the value of general aviation for the airport, as the airport progresses with its award winning redevelopment that has made it one of the top corporate destinations in the country. Riklin has been a ready resource for Joseph Esch, the director of business and intergovernmental relations for the city, and Phillip Savko, the aviation director for Sugar Land. Thanks to Riklin's efforts in the media and on the field, he and fellow airport supporters have helped Esch and Savko make Sugar Land Regional Airport a crown jewel of this fast-growing community. The airport's open house this past summer gave thousands of Houston area residents their first opportunity to tour the first stages of the airport redevelopment, including the new 20,000-square-foot terminal facility, U.S. Customs facilities, and the 100 new GA hangars to be ready in September 2008.