Congress passed and President Bush signed a $14.6 billion appropriations bill for the FAA for fiscal year 2008. But that doesn’t mean the FAA funding battle is over. Far from it.
That’s because the Senate has yet to pass an FAA authorization bill that would set aviation taxes—and possibly user fees—for the next four years. The way things sit right now, the government’s authority to collect aviation taxes—and spend from the aviation trust fund—will expire at the end of February. And even though Congress appropriated $3.5 billion for the Airport Improvement Program, it did not give the FAA the authority to issue new contracts to actually spend any of that money on airports.
“The Senate must put FAA funding at the top of its agenda this year,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “We can’t begin to resolve the issues of airport congestion and air traffic control modernization until the Senate passes an authorization and tax bill to complement the House FAA funding bill (H.R.2881) passed last September.”
The FAA appropriations bill was rolled into the so-called omnibus funding bill for all federal agencies. Congress resorted to the omnibus bill because of disputes with the White House over the size of the budgets for various agencies and funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As part of the omnibus appropriations bill, Congress extended the existing FAA authorization until February 29, 2008. If Congress doesn’t act by then, the federal government would have to stop collecting aviation fuel taxes and passenger ticket taxes. No new money would flow into the aviation trust fund. The FAA wouldn’t shut down, but would likely have to scale back to its core functions.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said that, in his opinion, “user fees are dead.” In a videotaped address to more than 400 pilots attending a recent AOPA Pilot Town Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Nelson said that the Senate is working hard to reach final agreement on the issue of FAA funding.
He reminded pilots that he had coauthored an amendment to strip user fees from S.1300, the Senate Commerce Committee bill to reauthorize the FAA budget and spending. Although the Nelson-Sununu amendment failed by just one vote, Nelson said it “signaled that user fees are dead and it signaled that they are going to be out of the final FAA reauthorization bill. When this bill gets to the floor, I don’t expect that I’ll have to offer the amendment again.”
“While it’s encouraging to hear Sen. Nelson’s assessment, in politics it isn’t over until the final vote,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “The airlines haven’t given up on user fees and more taxes on general aviation, and you can bet their lobbyists will be buttonholing senators as soon as they’re back in Washington.
“AOPA will be working even harder on Capitol Hill, and when the timing is right, we’ll be asking all of our members to weigh in with their senators.”
They’re listening, but pilots aren’t reporting. The FAA and Lockheed Martin created the toll-free hotline (888-FLT-SRVC) to discover glitches pilots are experiencing with flight service and then use the information to fix them. The problem is that pilots are not reporting their complaints or compliments through the hotline.
“Last summer, calls were topping 130 to 150 a week. Now the number of complaints ranges from 10 to 30 a week, on average,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “As Phil Boyer heard at a recent Pilot Town Meeting in Florida and from calls coming directly to AOPA instead of the hotline, we know more than 30 pilots a week are experiencing problems with flight service.
“We demanded this toll-free number as a way to help fix the flight service station (FSS) system, but it won’t be effective unless pilots start reporting what’s working and what’s not. The FAA and Lockheed can’t fix glitches they don’t know exist.”
Lockheed and the FAA have assured AOPA that they are working to improve the system and want to know what problems pilots are experiencing—dropped calls, long hold times, poor briefer knowledge, or other snags.
In addition to reporting on your telephone briefing experience, you can take another step to smooth the process. Download AOPA’s AFSS Telephone Briefing Flight Planning Tips to have handy every time you call FSS.
Pilots will soon be able to get all notices to airmen (notams) for a given flight from electronic sources, thanks to a change in the status of local notams.
Effective January 28, 2008, all new local, or L, notams were reclassified as D notams and added to the national notam system. In addition, each new D notam is preceded by a keyword that indicates the area affected, such as navigation lighting, runway, ramp, or airspace. That means for the first time pilots can now get all relevant notams, including those that affect only their destination airport, without calling flight service. In the past, pilots who used online briefing sources did not receive local notams, which can include runway closures and other important operational data.
“AOPA has been advocating for this change for a long time,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “This helps simplify and consolidate information gathering for pilots while alleviating some of the call burden on flight service.”
Although new local notams became part of the national system at 0500 UTC on January 28, existing notams will be entered into the system as FSS is able to validate, reclassify, and publish them. While there is no formal timeline for completing this transition, most L notams should have been reclassified within four months. Existing D notams that have not expired or been updated to include a keyword will then be reissued within the next 30 days.
The change marks the first stage of a three-part plan for updating the notam system. Over the coming years, the FAA also plans to merge the Department of Defense notam system with the civilian system and to fully digitize all notam information to include graphics. The final phases of the projects will not be completed before 2010.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has implemented a program to scan GA aircraft for potential nuclear hazards as they enter the United States.
The agency already scans more than 90 percent of cargo containers, and also scans a percentage of ships, trucks, and cars entering the country for radiation with the eventual goal of scanning 100 percent of all incoming goods, people, and vehicles.
The GA screening program for international arrivals took effect December 30, 2007.
Arriving aircraft will be asked to shut down their engines, auxiliary power units, and certain avionics. Officers will then scan the inside and outside of the aircraft. Passengers and crew may be asked to disembark during the scan. The entire procedure should take between five and 15 minutes and is not expected to cause arrival delays.
Pilots should report any significant delays or other issues that arise during the screening to AOPA at 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).
AOPA warned the city of Biddeford, Maine, in a recent letter that it could face serious consequences if a proposed airport closure referendum on the November ballot succeeds. AOPA pointed out the economic value of Biddeford Municipal Airport to the community and the airport’s important place in both the national and state transportation systems. The letter also reminded the city that it has received state and FAA funding totaling more than $1.3 million. That money comes with a range of grant obligations that include keeping the airport open for at least 20 years.
AOPA is urging the city to work with the state department of transportation and the FAA to review the ramifications of closing the airport, and to hold public meetings to identify community concerns and educate the public about the airport and the realities of the closure process.
Access to Victor airway 444, which general aviation pilots use to fly from Canada to Fairbanks and northern Alaska, should not be limited. That’s why AOPA submitted comments telling the FAA and the military to split the Delta Temporary Military Operations Area into a high and low MOA to allow GA access to the special-use airspace. The only alternative IFR route would require a detour of nearly 390 nautical miles, with a minimum en route altitude of 10,000 feet and two crossings of the Alaska Range. This is not practical or safe for many GA aircraft.
Despite ongoing calls by the mayor of Crystal, Minnesota, to close Crystal Airport, one of six general aviation reliever airports owned and operated by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), a recent vote ensures this critical field will continue to play an important role in the Twin-Cities aviation system. Crystal serves as a reliever airport for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Wold Chamberlain Airport. The commission voted 12-3 to approve the AOPA-supported Crystal Airport Long-Term Comprehensive Plan. Crystal Airport’s future has been uncertain for years, but the plan allows for more GA facilities and services. For several years, AOPA has worked closely with legislators, the MAC, local pilots, and AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Kevin Rebman, to protect the airport.
Air Safety Foundation courses can help lower your out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an accident.
The AOPA Insurance Agency, AIG Aviation, Inc., and AOPA joined the AOPA Air Safety Foundation initiative aimed at improving pilot safety while helping to lower a pilot’s out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an accident. This year, USAIG and Phoenix Aviation Managers have also adapted the program to select policies available to their clients. Through this collaboration, these three carriers offer accident forgiveness and deductible waiver programs to support their client pilots’ participation in the AOPA Air Safety Foundation program.
Available on select insurance policies underwritten by AIG Aviation, USAIG, and Phoenix Aviation Managers, Inc., this coverage enhancement waives a portion of the policy’s deductible and prevents the policy renewal rate from increasing as a result of the accident.
For complete program information, visit the Web site, or call the AOPA Insurance Agency, 800-622-AOPA (2672).
General aviation security is one of AOPA’s top priorities. To ensure pilots, flight schools, airport tenants, and businesses do their part to secure their aircraft and airports, AOPA teamed up with the Transportation Security Administration to develop the new online course, General Aviation Security.
The interactive course is divided into tracks for aircraft owners, renters, flight schools, and FBOs. For flight school and FBO employees, the custom tracks take you through the TSA’s annual recurrent security awareness training.
Adopting principles from AOPA’s Airport Watch program, the course shows you examples of suspicious activity at airports and ways to handle a variety of scenarios.
Because the types of GA airports run the gamut, a one-size-fits-all approach to security doesn’t work. That’s why AOPA’s course contains links to Airport Watch and the TSA’s Airport Security Guidelines. With these resources, you can customize the type of security practices you need to secure your aircraft and airport.
AOPA is sponsoring a safety seminar and a presentation for aspiring career pilots at the Women in Aviation International’s annual conference in San Diego, March 13-15.
Rod Machado will present an informative and humorous safety seminar, “Defensive Flying—Five Strategies to Keep You Safe in the Air,” from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 13. Machado is a columnist for AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines. The presentation is free and open to the public.
If you’re thinking about launching a career as an airline pilot, don’t miss Wayne Phillips’ presentation, scheduled for 2:50 to 3:40 p.m. on Friday, March 14. Phillips is a contributing writer and Career Advisor columnist for AOPA Flight Training’s new “Career Pilot” section. You must register for the WAI conference in order to attend Phillips’ presentation.
The conference will be held at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center. For more information or to register, see the Women in Aviation International Web site.
AOPA and local pilots have fought a long battle for Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida, and now those efforts have paid off with the opening of a $4 million general aviation terminal. This is the city’s first major investment in Albert Whitted since the airport was threatened with closure in 2003. “What a difference four years makes—from talk of closing the airport to a firm commitment by the city to make this the best waterfront airport in the United States,” said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports, who attended the opening ceremony to thank Mayor Rick Baker and the city council for their efforts.
If you’ve ever taken one of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s interactive online courses, you know they’re a fun, free way to learn (or review) things that could make you a safer pilot. For those who haven’t taken a course, though, there are a few things to consider.
First, let’s clear up a common misconception. Some pilots run for the hills at the sight of the word “course,” picturing themselves sitting at the computer for a whole semester, pulling all-nighters, cramming for exams...you get the idea. But even the longest ASF interactive course takes less than 90 minutes, and most fall in the 45-minute range. Still need convincing? You can ditch class whenever you want. Course progress is automatically saved, so you can pick up right where you left off.
Not that you’ll want to quit. At ASF, we’re proud that our interactive courses don’t follow in the grand tradition of the educational snooze-fest. We stick to the important information, and use graphics, video, and interactivity to keep things fun. In addition, many of our courses qualify for credit in the FAA Wings program and meet the “accident forgiveness” requirements of certain aviation insurance providers.
So check out the interactive courses area of the ASF Web site and see what catches your eye. With 20 courses to choose from (and more on the way) on topics like GPS, mountain flying, thunderstorm avoidance, IFR approach charts, and aging aircraft, you’re sure to find something interesting.
The general aviation accident rate continues its decade-long decline, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. So concludes the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s recently released overview of GA accident statistics, the 2007 Joseph T. Nall Report. The annual report, which analyzes accident data from the previous year, is recommended reading for pilots who want a high-level overview of the state of aviation safety and the pitfalls to avoid in their own flying.
Good news first: The year saw historic lows for both total and fatal accidents (down 8.3 and 6.5 percent, respectively). Pilots also had 33 percent fewer fatal maneuvering accidents than in the previous year. On the down side, however, there’s been no reversal in the negative trend in weather-related accidents, and—as if to counterbalance the reduction in maneuvering accidents—there was a significant increase in the number of descent and approach accidents.
Regular Nall Report readers won’t be surprised to learn that pilot error remains far and away the largest cause of accidents—or that the lion’s share of those accidents (40.3 percent) happened during landing.
So, where does all the data point? To continued emphasis on pilot education. ASF recently rolled out a live safety seminar (“Top Five Mistakes Pilots Make”) designed specifically to give pilots a “more bang for their buck” guide to avoiding the deadliest cockpit errors. In addition, the coming year will see the foundation release a live seminar on takeoffs and landings, as well as interactive courses on topics as diverse as aerodynamics, aeronautical decision-making, and IFR charts.
To download a copy of the Nall Report, visit the Web site. A limited number of printed copies are available; to request one, call 800-USA-AOPA.
In the 1990s, public-use airports were closing at an average rate of two per week. Over the past 10 years, thanks to the efforts of the AOPA Airport Support Network, AOPA member volunteers at almost 2,000 airports across the country have played an integral role in helping AOPA slow that trend. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA Online.
Ohio. Huron: Just as home values are subjected to increased taxes, so are airports and other businesses. The fact is municipalities rely on taxes to operate essential and basic public facilities and services such as schools, police departments, etc. When you throw an airport into the mix, things suddenly get more divided, which is what occurred in Huron, Ohio when Erie County decided to offer a reduced tax base to 200 business entities. Six of those were challenged by the school board, including the reduction for the privately owned, public-use Hinde Huron Airport (88D). The ASN volunteer at 88D, Benjamin Gleason, contacted AOPA and other aviation groups to see what could be done to combat the school district’s attack on the airport. Gleason worked with AOPA’s Pilot Information Center to develop ideas on how to present the airport’s cause in the best light possible including weighing its value as a business versus its worth as a property for comparative uses. After a month of local airport supporters writing letters, making telephone calls and attending meetings, along with the help of AOPA, the school board abandoned its pursuit and Hinde Huron Airport was able to come to an agreement with the county that would not force the owners to sell.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: While the government controls public airspace access, local municipalities often regulate the airports sitting on their land. Local government economics are often the driving force behind taxes, rates and fees, including hangar leases and land valuations.
AOPA recommends members protect their interests by joining the AOPA Legal Services Plan. Starting at $29 per year, you are eligible for a free annual review of your hangar or tiedown lease plus reduced rates for access to attorneys in your area trained in aviation specialties.
California. Watsonville: The Watsonville Airport Pilots Association and AOPA ASN volunteer Rayvon Williams, have formed the Watsonville Regional Airport Promotion-Political Action Committee (WRAP-PAC) to ensure their airport has friends in the political arena. WRAP-PAC provides a sanctioned resource for airport supporters to offer financial backing to local candidates for the City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and other public offices that affect Watsonville Airport. The PAC’s 2007 efforts included successes on several levels. In May, the city council members who received donations from the WRAP-PAC cast the determining vote to prevent a stacked deck committee that would formulate a biased Airport Land Use plan. And to ensure this vote is not overturned in the near future, WRAP-PAC held its annual donation dinner in November 2007 raising thousands of dollars to continue supporting local pro-airport candidates. According to Williams, Watsonville’s WRAP-PAC has been a key driver in protecting the airport from several potentially detrimental votes.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Does your airport have a Political Action Committee? Local elections occur more often than federal ones and offer greater opportunity for constituents to make a difference. If airport supporters are not actively supporting local candidates, we cannot expect them to support our airports. AOPA offers a step-by-step guide for forming your own Political Action Committee—see Section 3 of AOPA’s guidebook, “ Obtaining Community Support for Your Airport,” available online to learn how you can help protect your airport.
Are you voting this May?
With all the attention on the presidential and congressional elections, voters often overlook local elections, particularly since many do not take place in November. Some state and municipal elections coincide with federal elections, but those that do not usually offer the greatest opportunities for constituents’ voices to make a difference.
AOPA encourages members to get to know their local politicians and use their votes to elect officials whose decisions directly impact their airports. Your congressional representatives may be haggling over users fees now, but it is your local delegation that decides if homes can be placed next to your airport or if local taxes and fees should be levied as we saw in the stories above (see “Airport Action”). In many local districts, turnouts are low for off year and non-November elections. A district with 18,000 eligible voters may only see a turn out of 2,000. Imagine if airport supporters were mobilized; your single vote could make a pivotal difference. Whatever kind of jurisdiction you live in, there are local elections. Visit your municipal government’s Web site to learn when they take place and who the candidates are so when election day comes, your vote counts. For more help or to learn more about the Airport Support Network, visit the Web site and sign up today.