When not flying for the affairs of AOPA, President Phil Boyer can be found with his Waco biplane or his wife's Cessna 172.
I write this column as Congress returns after almost a month of vacation, and it is hard to predict whether or not the FAA funding legislation will be finalized by the end of September, when the current bill expires. The Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees still have to vote the bill out, and whether or not it will come to a full House and Senate vote this fiscal year is in doubt.
The Congressional recess allowed me an almost two-week break from the office and D.C., instead of my normal one week off prior to Labor Day. So what does your association leader, accompanied much of the time by his wife, do with time off? Most AOPA members with a passion for aviation would answer, "Fly, of course." Time off in this job doesn't necessarily mean vacation, but a chance to do some of the work-related things I can't get to when heavy activity on the legislative or regulatory side is taking place in the nation's capital.
First on my agenda was a birthday celebration in the West involving one of the key supporters of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and a member of our board of visitors. Using the company airplane we flew to the "left coast" with a fuel stop and overnight in a small town in central Illinois. A typical Midwestern general aviation airport, with two runways, and a clean and neat terminal building also found me holding the equivalent of a "mini-Pilot Town Meeting" as I explained to a half dozen pilots the AOPA assessment of the user-fee situation and the associated politics. The airport is just outside the congressional district of Representative Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), a key advocate for House Bill H.R.2881, which we support — no user fees.
After attending the celebration it was time for the actual vacation part since my next scheduled appointment was with the editorial board of the Eugene, Oregon, Register Guard early Thursday morning. This location provided me the opportunity to spend time in the area I grew up in and visit the Oregon Coast. Sunday afternoon, I lined up for final approach to Runway 34 at Newport, Oregon. It was one of those rare and beautiful VFR days with the Pacific Ocean on our left, and the evergreen trees of the Coast Range off our right. It's a view those driving a car on Highway 101 never experience. During the three days in the Newport area, I did what so many pilots do, visited some of the local airports. Siletz Bay is a state-owned airport that I recall using years back with my family to visit the beach — since it's almost walking distance to the sand and ocean. Gone, however, was the small business that I often thought would be a great opportunity when I retire — giving sightseeing flights in my Cessna 172. Driving up the coast I discovered a great air museum and airport at Tillamook, Oregon, known to some of you by the famous cheese factory there. This was in addition to stopping back at Newport a couple times to visit with some of the local pilots.
Thursday morning came too fast, and the flight to Eugene was made before the FBO opened at Newport. At this nontowered airport, I used the new FSS number dedicated to picking up IFR clearance (888-766-8267) to get into the air, and landed with plenty of time to make my 9 a.m. appointment at the local newspaper to discuss the FAA reauthorization bill. The local congressman, Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), recognizes the importance of small airplanes and has aided both the airlines and GA at Eugene's Mahlon Sweet Field. After meeting the manager of the FBO and talking about the owners, whose family I knew from my days there in the 1960s, it was on to Helena, Montana.
We spent the night at this capital city and I had a morning meeting with the local newspaper editorial board plus I did two radio interviews. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, represents Montana, so this stop and the explanation of how user fees could devastate general aviation was an important message to get in the local newspaper. A short flight around noon and I was in Great Falls for a newspaper meeting there. The good folks at Holman Air allowed me the use of the FBO courtesy car to visit the newspaper and put forth our AOPA position again.
Late in the afternoon it was Montana to Milwaukee, where after dodging around some convective weather right at the airport I dropped off the airplane at a Cessna Service Center for some service bulletins that needed to be addressed. This gave me a chance to visit family for a couple of days, and on Sunday morning it was home to Frederick.
But I had been looking forward to returning to Frederick all week, since the weather was supposed to be good, the winds not too strong, and I had a delightful three days flying my biplane. A tour of the Potomac River and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, one morning, another trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and some local sightseeing allowed me to exchange the yoke-and-nose wheel of the company airplane with the a stick-and-tailwheel of my Waco. Friday afternoon through Sunday morning prior to Labor Day, I visited with Hal and Sandy Shevers, the owners of Sporty's at Batavia, Ohio. Both are great supporters of GA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
And Labor Day, I didn't fly, but finished a project I had started sometime ago: To supply a trickle charge to my biplane battery, so it would be ready at any time I had the chance to fly.
Business, personal, and pleasure flying — that's the value of general aviation. Yet there is no way to assess the enjoyment of piloting our airplanes in any of these categories.