The House got it right - an FAA funding bill that would modernize the air traffic control (ATC) system, increase airport funding, and do it all within the existing tax structure. And no ATC user fees!
The members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee listened to the evidence presented by AOPA, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Department of Transportation's inspector general and concluded that the current aviation excise tax system can easily generate the revenue necessary to run the FAA and build the next-generation ATC system (NextGen). They kept taxes the same on the airlines and proposed a modest tax increase for general aviation (see " FAA Funding Debate: Home Stretch," page 85).
AOPA supports H.R.2881. When the right time comes, we'll be asking you to tell your senators and representative that you want H.R.2881.
Nearly $13 billion would be available for NextGen and other FAA capital improvements. That's more than $1 billion beyond what the administration proposed in the FAA's bill.
Airports would be slated for $15.8 billion in improvements over the course of the program - some $4 billion more than what the FAA proposed. The Transportation Committee adjusted some of the funding formulas to ensure that smaller GA airports - which have no other significant source of capital improvement money - would receive a reasonable amount of these Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds.
Closer to the pocketbook of most pilots, the Transportation Committee will recommend a modest increase in aviation fuel taxes to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the ultimate authority to set taxes.
Jet fuel taxes would increase from 21.8 to 30.7 cents per gallon, and avgas taxes would go from 19.3 to 24.1 cents per gallon. "That's less than a nickel increase for avgas and is based on the rate of inflation since the last reauthorization in 1998," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It's a price worth paying to take our aviation system to the future. And it's a whole heck of a lot better than the 263-percent tax increase and user fees that the FAA wanted." The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the FAA funding bill on June 28. It will be considered by other House committees before being sent to the House floor for a vote.
There is a competing bill in the Senate. That bill (S.1300) includes user fees, and two powerful senators - John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) - are pushing it. Senator Rockefeller wants a GA user fee so badly that he has threatened to make sure that "all commercial airlines will get priority for landing" at the busiest airports if he doesn't get the user fee. Senator Lott says it's S.1300 or "no bill."
While there are no guarantees, H.R.2881 is likely to move through the House without major changes, particularly if pilot support for H.R.2881 remains strong. Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) are adamantly opposed to user fees, as are most members of the committee. Additionally, there is very little support for GA user fees in the full House.
In the Senate, however, there are strong advocates both for and against user fees. It is impossible to predict whether the user fee section will survive to a final vote, but Senators Rockefeller and Lott have plenty of ways to persuade other senators to adopt their point of view, not the least of which is the ability to block any FAA funding bill from going to a vote if they don't like it.
There is a third bill, which the FAA drafted, and it's the most onerous of all - user fees and huge tax increases. It's also all but dead, since neither the House nor the Senate has acted on it.
As you can see, user fees are in the Senate bill, but they are not in the House bill, H.R.2881. Both bills will continue to move through their respective chambers and ultimately to votes in the full House and Senate. Then a conference committee will work to resolve the differences between H.R.2881 and S.1300.
That's why we have to keep letting Congress know that H.R.2881 is what GA pilots want.
The release of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is a giant step forward, but it's far from the end of a 12-step process.
The bill must now be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee, which will actually set the taxes on aviation fuel and passenger tickets. The Committee on Science and Technology will also have a say, and the Committee on Rules will determine whether the bill gets to the House floor for a vote.
At different points during the bill's journey toward that floor vote, amendments could be offered that might change some provisions of the legislation.
Meanwhile, another FAA funding bill is making its way through the Senate, where it is currently under review by the Senate Finance Committee after coming out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. This bill, too, could be modified at any point.
After the full Senate approves its version of the bill, and the full House votes on the FAA reauthorization bill, both bills go to a conference committee made up of selected lawmakers appointed from the House and Senate.
The conference committee will reconcile the differences between the two versions of the bill. Sometimes unexpected or "stealth" measures can slip in during conference.
From the conference committee, the final bill goes back to the House and Senate for another vote. If approved by both bodies, it then goes to the president, who can sign it into law or veto the legislation.
"As you can see, the fight is far from over," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "and we have to be ready to challenge any attempts to dismember the House bill."
AOPA has proposed a four-point plan to help the FAA combat a small number of falsified pilot medical certificates. AOPA President Phil Boyer told Congress on July 17 that while the problem was very small, AOPA was concerned and would work with the FAA to solve it. "Pilots are law-abiding people, and they don't want to defraud the government," said Boyer, testifying before the House Aviation Subcommittee. "And they don't want to fly unsafely." Boyer said that only 0.25 percent of all general aviation accidents were caused by medical incapacitation, and only nine accidents in nine years were caused by the incapacitation of a pilot flying with a fraudulent medical certificate.
The steep spiral has stopped as Lockheed Martin tries to get the flight service station (FSS) system back to level flight. A recent survey conducted by AOPA among pilots shows that there were no significant changes in briefer professionalism, knowledge of local geography, and familiarity with equipment when compared with previous surveys. Nearly half rated briefer meteorological knowledge as "poor" or "very poor." But things could be slowly getting better. Lockheed Martin officials say that 80 percent of its briefers have now been trained on the new FS21 information system, 11 of 16 satellite stations have been upgraded to the FS21 system, and the remainder should soon be active. Lockheed Martin's statistics show that the company is more consistently achieving its contractual obligations.
AOPA has filed formal comments in opposition to a military proposal that calls for changes to the Condor Military Operations Area (MOA) near Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine. "Placing high-speed, low-altitude military aircraft into airspace that is regularly occupied by slower moving, less-equipped general aviation aircraft increases the potential for midair collisions," wrote Pete Lehmann, AOPA government analyst, in a letter to the FAA.
The military training airspace currently begins at 7,000 feet, but the proposal from the Massachusetts Air National Guard would lower the floor of that airspace to 500 feet.
Air traffic controllers from Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center have stated that radar coverage and communications with aircraft - both military and civilian - are intermittent to nonexistent below 7,000 feet in the footprint of the Condor MOA due to radar limitations. This would increase the safety risk. In its letter to the Air National Guard, AOPA requested that the military conduct an environmental impact study before implementing the proposed airspace changes.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has signed House Bill 985, which will help community airports access federal improvement funds with fewer local dollars by increasing the state's contribution to the matching funds. "This will allow airports that previously couldn't afford important improvements to spend a little of their own money to get grants to cover the rest of the cost," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. The Florida Department of Transportation also now has the authority to grant State Infrastructure Bank loans to airports for immediate repair of infrastructure damage caused by an emergency such as a tornado or hurricane.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed legislation into law that will help improve the state's air transportation system. House Bill 3440 will help city economic development corporations expand the use of funds available to them for hangars, airport maintenance and repair facilities, air cargo facilities, and related infrastructure located on or adjacent to airport facilities. The bill clarifies and broadens the definition of transportation facilities to include structures necessary to airports.
During the past few years, Hilton Head Airport has faced issues involving runway extension for increased safety, better airline access, treetop removal, GA landing fees, mandatory VFR flight paths, and hangar rental. That's why AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn traveled to the South Carolina community to meet with local and state officials and attend the local Airport Appreciation Day. He spoke with Beaufort County Councilman Stu Rodman, the county aviation board chairman Dave Ames, and state Rep. Richard Chalk about the importance of the airport.
The local airport provides a huge economic benefit to the entire region, AOPA President Phil Boyer told the Aurora (Illinois) Economic Development Commission. Boyer said that, on the national level, GA accounts for more than 1.3 million jobs and $150 billion in economic activity. Aurora's airport pumps more than $84 million into the northeast Illinois region. GA carries more than 166 million passengers a year, making it the nation's largest "airline," transporting more people than American, United, and Northwest Airlines combined. In addition, GA takes people to communities that the airlines never serve.
AOPA Title Services, provided by AIC Title, has now made it easier than ever to order your title search. An informative new Web site provides valuable aircraft-related information regarding escrow services, title services, document services, international registry, and more. As an added feature, now you can order your title search online in an easy, secure process. Make sure you protect your ownership rights during your next aircraft purchase.
With more than 250 years of combined experience, the AIC staff is among the world's most professional and knowledgeable in handling both domestic and international transactions. Be sure to mention you are an AOPA member to receive your discounted price. Visit the Web site to learn more about AOPA Title Services.
AOPA offers its members exclusive benefits such as the AOPA Legal Services Plan.
For $29 a year, AOPA members can be assured of having legal counsel as outlined in the plan in the event of an enforcement action, U.S. Customs action, or aircraft accident. Members may use an AOPA panel attorney or select their own. The plan also covers help with aircraft purchase or sale, review of aircraft rental and leaseback agreements, and review of hangar or tiedown agreements. For more information about AOPA's Legal Services Plan, visit AOPA Online or call us at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).
AOPA Online Travel, powered by Orbitz, provides AOPA members with a wide selection of low airfares, as well as deals on lodging, cruises, vacation packages, and other travel. Now you can plan your travel and be notified of changes no matter where you are with the free service OrbitzTLC. Orbitz is the first and only travel site with an expert team of air traffic controllers, weather analysts, travel journalists, and other specialists who monitor nationwide travel conditions all day, every day. Its team interprets and gathers FAA, National Weather Service, and other data to provide you with real-time information so you're more aware of events that could affect your travels. Plus, they'll be ready with alternate arrangements should your travel plans go awry. The OrbitzTLC Team will proactively send free updates about your travel plans to your cell phone, PDA, or e-mail, letting you know about flight status, weather delays, and more. You can also have your alerts sent to as many as six other people. Bookmark the Web site and make your travel plans today.
In case you haven't noticed, most new airplanes rolling off the assembly lines these days are packing serious computing power. And it's not just the new birds: Even tired old trainers are being outfitted with panels that used to be the stuff of science fiction.
Few would argue that shoehorning a bunch of computer hardware into an instrument panel changes anything fundamental about flying. But a decade or so into general aviation's electronic revolution, it's becoming apparent that the influx of advanced technology has had more - and perhaps less - of an impact than most would have imagined.
That's the overarching theme of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's newly revised special report, Technologically Advanced Aircraft: Safety and Training. ASF recently completed an in-depth analysis of accidents between 2003 and 2006 involving glass cockpit TAA of both old and new airframe designs. The conclusion? Glass cockpits carry multiple safety benefits for GA pilots, but training - and the mindset of the pilot - must evolve alongside the technology if those benefits are to be fully realized.
"TAA are neither as good as proponents say nor as bad as detractors contend," ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg commented recently. "These aircraft provide situational awareness tools that have dramatically improved aspects of GA safety. But those tools are not enough to overcome a pilot's faulty decision making or a lack of experience in how those aircraft are operated. Poor judgment will always be poor judgment, regardless of the aircraft being flown."
In addition to examining the TAA safety record at both macro and micro levels, the report looks at training practices for transitioning pilots, important differences in the handling characteristics of new-design aircraft, and field experience with ballistic parachute deployments. Find the report on the ASF Web site, or request a printed copy by calling 800/USA-AOPA.
So far this year, the GA safety record looks like an improvement over 2006 - with one exception. According to FAA statistics, the number of runway incursions through the end of May was up nearly 17 percent over the same period in 2006. That's bad news, but it's also a good reminder of the need for recurrent training on the finer points of airport surface operations.
If you find yourself stopping now and then to question the meaning of a runway sign, or perhaps holding an internal debate about a taxi clearance, it's a good time to visit (or revisit) the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Runway Safety online course. Designed to provide a comprehensive review of safe surface operations, the course examines the causes of runway incursions and accidents, reviews airport signage and ATC communications, and presents strategies for maintaining situational awareness. It also includes a gripping audio/visual recreation of a real-life incident.
You can find it online.
You may not be flying behind a glass panel, but if you've got a GPS, a tablet PC, or a PDA, there's a good chance you're part of the growing contingent of pilots who use (or want to use) datalink technology. Near-real-time weather in the cockpit at a reasonable cost is a real boon for GA pilots - but there's more to it than just punching a button and waiting for the Nexrad picture to appear.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Datalink minicourse is a quick, easy, and free way to get up to speed. The course covers what you need to know about the technology: how it works, the kinds of information it can provide, and how to use that information safely in the cockpit. 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.
Maine. Biddeford: Since being appointed as the ASN volunteer for Biddeford Municipal Airport in December 2006, Al Lyscars has been busy helping to grow local support for the airport. Al and his fellow airport supporters created the Friends of Biddeford Airport (FOBA), a local pilot, hangar owner, and community group that already has been instrumental in lobbying the city council to take a closer look at the airport's value to the region. Lyscars is assisting with the creation of a new Web site for the Friends of Biddeford Airport, using information from AOPA's Web site and www.gaservingamerica.org.
Illinois. Morris: Michael Kenaga, the ASN volunteer at Morris Municipal Airport, knows that landfills are key attractants of birds, and placing one within 10,000 feet of the airport's primary runway is a bad idea. Kenaga testified before the local county council against the proposed landfill. Kenaga tailored his comments to his non-aviator audience, noting that the VOR approach path is the equivalent of a highway running into a city and that locating a landfill under this "aviation highway" will draw a high concentration of birds in conflict with the arriving aircraft. Such an arrangement is contrary to FAA advisory circular publication 150/5200-34. In response to the opposition, the landfill group has now withdrawn its application. Incredibly, a second proposed landfill, located within the ILS approach corridor, is going to hearings as of this writing, but Kenaga will be standing ready to act again.
California. Fresno: Fresno-Chandler Executive Airport's sixth annual fly-in and airshow was sponsored by local radio station KJWL, whose owner is an avid pilot and AOPA member. One of the event's key organizers and on-site "go to" leaders is ASN volunteer Don Neal. Neal's goal for this year's event was to create greater awareness of the airport among Fresno citizens, despite the objections of the city's administration. Neal spoke to many AOPA members and pilots about AOPA's resources to help support community airports as well as exclusive member benefits such as AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner, ASF online courses, and more. This year's event broke all previous attendance records with between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors to the airport.
Greg Soter, businessman, Master CFI, and AOPA Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer at Provo (Utah) Municipal Airport, has been spreading the word to elected officials, the media, and opinion leaders that user fees, a 261-percent fuel tax increase for general aviation, and putting airlines - instead of Congress - in charge of the FAA are absurd proposals.
Soter's well-crafted guest editorial to the city's key newspaper served as a springboard for a flurry of outreach activity, including meetings with Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) to explain how the Bush proposal would weaken general aviation. When the Senate's version of the funding bill was introduced (S.1300), Soter wrote to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and is a critical player in the bill's funding process. He then brought the issue to the attention of the president of Utah Valley State College, the busiest flight training school in the region, who also wrote Hatch urging him to maintain the college's and community's vitality by keeping general aviation vibrant and thereby opposing user fees.
Soter's efforts perfectly illustrate the value of member activism. While he says he "just stepped up to do the logical thing," AOPA relies on this kind of member action - whether at our community airports or on federal issues - to be successful, as Soter knows well.