The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is the largest general aviation organization in the world; a not-for-profit individual membership organization of more than 414,000 members, nearly three-quarters of the United States’ pilots. Each year, general aviation contributes more than $150 billion to U.S. economic output, directly or indirectly, and employs nearly 1.3 million people whose collective annual earnings exceed $53 billion. It is also important to note that in a poll conducted on the night of President Elect Obama’s election, more than 60% of Americans said they understood that general aviation (all flying other than military or commercial airlines) is a vital part of America’s transportation system.
Strong leadership is needed to direct the FAA and respond to the challenges being faced by the aviation industry and ensure that the air transportation system continues its role in the economic revitalization of the country. AOPA recommends that the Obama Administration’s choice for FAA Administrator has technical and people-management, including labor relations skills, combined with an understanding of the aviation industry and has the political acumen necessary to lead the organization. There is also a need for the next Administrator to concentrate on unifying, not dividing the aviation community as a foundation for the development of policies and planning for the future success and viability of the aviation industry.
A top issue for the aviation industry is enacting long-term financing that makes federal investments in safety, modernizing the air traffic control system, FAA operations, airport improvements and government aviation research efforts. AOPA strongly supported the approach contained in H.R. 2881 during the current Congress that used the time tested system of passenger transportation and general aviation fuel taxes. We encourage the new Obama Administration to support adjusted aviation taxes as the means to finance the FAA and its associated programs and not revisit the policies of the Bush Administration and their attempt to establish user fees and remove Congressional responsibility for oversight of the FAA. This is a top issue for AOPA members who have made it clear they are adamantly opposed to user fees for any segment of the aviation industry.
For nearly two decades the FAA has been in the process of migrating from a ground-based air traffic control system to a satellite based system that relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation, aircraft position and precision timing. However, this modernization effort (often referred to as NextGen) must be better defined to include the plan for specific ground and aircraft equipment, costs to the government and to aircraft operators, schedules and the benefits of NextGen which have yet to be clearly articulated. The absence of this type of planning has generated important unresolved issues with the FAA’s rulemaking and initial contract for implementing the Automatic Dependant Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system that ultimately replaces ground based radar with GPS signals as the primary means of air traffic surveillance. However, the primary beneficiary of this initiative is the FAA and general aviation aircraft owners are being asked to spend more for the equipment than the benefits they will obtain. AOPA urges the Obama Administration transition team to request the current management of the FAA to delay any further action until all of the issues identified in a special Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee have been resolved to the satisfaction of aviation users and air traffic controllers.
An essential component of the nation’s air transportation system that is vital to the economic viability of communities across the country is the network of airports. The importance of airports and runways was illustrated recently when the FAA commissioned new runways at three major airline airports, greatly increasing capacity and improving efficiency for the aviation system. But it is not just airline airports, general aviation facilities are an important part of the U.S. infrastructure and should not be left out of any infrastructure initiative. While most political attention is directed at airline airports, the threats to general aviation airports continue to grow as local governments consider restrictions on operations, evaluate potentially incompatible development of the land adjacent to airports, or attempt to sell and redevelop the airport property itself. AOPA urges the Obama Administration to fend off threats to this critical infrastructure by a robust federal airport grant program and to be proactive in protecting critical components of our nation’s infrastructure through policies and enforcement of federal airport grant provisions.
While data garnered from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that aviation’s green house gas emissions on a global scale are imperceptible through 2050, there is a need for leadership from the Department of Transportation and the FAA as interest in the environment effects aviation. AOPA urges the Obama Administration to be prepared to address proposed policies, regulations and standards that target aviation gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions, and aircraft noise.