The chairmen of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee recently introduced a new FAA funding bill. The proposed Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2009 would authorize nearly $70 billion for the agency for four years without creating new aviation user fees.
“It would be very wise to put this program in place,” AOPA President Craig Fuller said. “It does come with some increased fuel charges to private aircraft, but that is far better than the user fee approach that was debated over the past few years. We’re hopeful that there is certainty of funding for general aviation over the years ahead.”
Fuller testified on FAA funding before the aviation subcommittee, pointing out that, unlike past years, the entire industry supported the FAA funding bill. “I think it is important and impressive that we are here today in agreement on FAA reauthorization,” said Fuller. “We’re all unified, all believing from our unique perspectives that the FAA reauthorization needs to go forward for a four-year period, not only to give certainty to the agency, but to give certainty to all of us who fly in the system, and who invest in the system.”
The FAA funding bill introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) is nearly identical to H.R.2881, the FAA funding bill introduced in 2007 and supported by AOPA. That bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Congress has continued aviation taxes and FAA funding through a series of temporary extensions since the previous authorization legislation expired last year. The current extension expires March 31.
Once the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 is approved by the Transportation Committee, other committees will hold hearings on the tax portion of the bill and other issues. Then the full House will vote on the legislation and send it to the Senate for approval.
The Transportation Security Administration’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) took fire at a recent congressional hearing. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), a pilot and AOPA member, asked AOPA President Craig Fuller about the impact of the security program on general aviation. And Boswell opined on the unnecessary hassles and expenses LASP would impose.
“We don’t see any threats of the kind that are being imagined that produced this regulation,” said Fuller. LASP would impose airline-like security procedures on any aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds. Fuller noted, “If one segment of general aviation can be unjustly regulated, then any segment can face the imposition of unfair regulatory burdens.”
AOPA sent a “National Pilot Alert” to all pilots urging them to comment on the TSA security plan. In just the first day, 165,000 members reviewed the issue and the docket saw a 25-percent increase in comments.
During his testimony before the House aviation subcommittee, Fuller pointed out that a King Air 90 would be exempt from the regulation, but a King Air 200 would have to implement airline security procedures. Noting that he had flown both King Airs, Fuller added, “We have an aircraft in our fleet that takes off at 13,870 pounds and carries 4,000 pounds of fuel. There are two of us up front, and four or five in the back. We know exactly who is in that aircraft. It is inconceivable to me that the people who fly that type of aircraft over the weight limit are really going to have to be subject to a security system and a security program similar to what large commercial aircraft would have to use.”
He said that AOPA and its members were dedicated to making sure that the general aviation fleet and airports are secure. He reminded Congress of AOPA’s Airport Watch program that’s “worked exceedingly well.” And he noted that aviation leaders and pilots around the country have testified against the TSA program.
As the implementation strategy for NextGen—the modernized air traffic control system—starts to take shape, AOPA is heavily involved to ensure general aviation pilots’ needs are met.
The association has joined a task force of industry leaders to study the FAA’s NextGen implementation plan. The group was created by RTCA, a not-for-profit corporation that develops consensus-based recommendations for the aviation industry. AOPA President Craig Fuller currently represents pilots and aircraft owners as an RTCA board member.
According to the FAA’s plan, NextGen will be phased in over two decades while the ATC system is switched from ground- to satellite-based navigation. Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) will become the backbone of the new system, and GPS/WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) approaches will become more prevalent. Both are intended to reduce the limitations imposed by ground-based navigation and increase the National Airspace System’s safety, efficiency, and capacity.
The task force will begin analyzing the FAA’s mid-term (or 10-year) NextGen implementation plan. The plan includes good news for GA pilots: adding precision approaches at thousands of rural airports and upgrading ATC services at small facilities. But there are also some early warning flags. The plan suggests transitioning from a first-come, first-serve basis to a best-equipped, first-serve basis.
“The FAA’s plan contains some controversial proposals, so it is critical that the task force comes to a consensus on what is best for the aviation industry as a whole without excluding any one segment,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “As part of the task force, AOPA will make sure GA pilots aren’t forced to the back seat. This new system must be accessible and affordable for all pilots.”
AOPA began advocating for a satellite-based ATC system in 1990. Even though AOPA faced tough criticism at the time, the association did not give up, and now the industry embraces the idea.
Satellite monitoring of 121.5 MHz emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) ended on February 1, but existing 121.5 MHz ELTs continue to meet the FAA’s regulatory requirements.
Even though the satellites no longer monitor 121.5 MHz signals, the search and rescue community will still respond when notified through other means. ELTs were originally intended to use 121.5 MHz to inform air traffic control and pilots monitoring the frequency of an emergency. It will continue to serve in that role in a limited capacity, relying on fellow pilots and ground-based radio facilities to monitor the signals.
An upgraded ELT, the 406, will be monitored by satellites and contains a 121.5 MHz ELT within it. When linked to a GPS, it provides precise coordinates to search and rescue responders, narrowing the search area.
U.S. aircraft owners have the option of replacing their 121.5 ELTs with newer models that broadcast on 406 MHz. The new ELTs cost about $900 plus installation. Because of AOPA’s efforts, it’s up to aircraft owners and pilots to decide whether to buy and install new ELTs, use handheld personal locators, or stick with their existing 121.5-based ELTs. Those who continue using the 121.5 MHz ELT should consider carrying other equipment such as personal locator beacons, cell phones, or other devices in addition to using flight plans and radar services. Pilots should take as many steps as possible to improve their chances of being located in case of an emergency.
The decision to continue flying with 121.5 MHz ELTs or upgrade to the 406 MHz ELT should be based upon a number of factors, including the type of flying they do, the equipment they carry, and the type of terrain they overfly.
President Barack Obama’s visits to Chicago means pilots flying in the area will have to be aware of new flight restrictions affecting one of the nation’s busiest chunks of airspace. Obama is expected to go to Chicago several times each year, so pilots should become familiar with the airspace restrictions in order to keep themselves out of trouble.
The FAA has established a 30-nautical-mile-radius temporary flight restriction (TFR) for his visits, encompassing much of the Chicago Class B airspace and shutting off part of the shoreline along the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan.
The TFR has an inner 10-nm-radius GA no-fly zone, which will affect general aviation flights arriving and departing Chicago Midway International Airport.
Gateway airports have been established to allow pilots to be screened and receive a waiver before flying into Midway when a TFR is in place. Pilots may stop at Rockford International (RFD), Greater Peoria Regional (PIA), and South Bend Regional to be screened by the Transportation Security Administration. All passengers and crewmembers on board must supply government-issued photo identification to TSA officials. Pilots departing Midway during the TFR must also be screened. See the FAA’s Web site (www.faa.gov)to apply using the special event waiver format. All applications must be submitted at least 48 to 72 hours prior to departure.
Pilots should exercise extreme vigilance when flying in the area while the TFR is active. Download a copy of the intercept procedures to carry with you in the aircraft, and take the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Know Before You Go: Navigating Today’s Airspace online course.
New airplanes subject to state tax
For years, Florida has levied a six-percent tax on the sales price of certain visiting general aviation aircraft. The tax affects pilots who bring aircraft to Florida within six months of purchase, and can be especially onerous if the aircraft was registered in a state without aircraft sales taxes—or sales taxes less than Florida’s 6-percent. In the latter case, pilots are required to pay the difference between the tax in their home state and the Florida tax.
AOPA worked hard to overturn the tax in the last Florida legislative session, but proposals were rejected. Now, three bills have been introduced in the legislature to try to overturn or ease aviation taxes. AOPA is supporting H.B.51, introduced by Rep. Ralph Poppell (an AOPA member), and S.B.300, introduced by Sen. Stephen Wise. These bills, if passed, would exempt visiting out-of-state aircraft from the tax. Another bill, H.B.469, introduced by Rep. Tom Grady, would limit sales tax on airplanes to $25,000 within the state. AOPA will continue to work for these bills’ passage with Poppell, Wise, and Grady in the new legislative session, which began on March 3. Apart from the excessive nature of the tax, AOPA will also be emphasizing the adverse effects it has on Florida’s economy
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.
The time for change has come at Winter Haven Municipal Airport at Gilbert Field and it will affect pilots’ pocketbooks. City officials have planned to increase hangar lease rates—a challenge pilots face at general aviation airports as they experience periodic updates to their lease agreements.
Members of the Winter Haven Pilots Association, including ASN volunteer Janeen Kochan, were very concerned when they heard about the proposed increase.
Kochan has been proactive in helping to spearhead discussions among local pilots and city officials, asking questions such as, “What is the justification for the fees?” “How do these airport fees compare to similar airports in the area?” and “Is the current revenue generated by the airport going back into the airport account?”
As AOPA suggested, Kochan prepared the group to speak with one unified voice when talking with the airport sponsor to understand why rates were to be increased and to offer solutions or alternate options.
“Because hangar and tiedown leases are a contractual business agreement, it’s very difficult for AOPA to get involved. However, we do encourage pilots to communicate with the lessor to get the background on any changes and seek more favorable terms,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airports.
If you’re looking for additional guidance, the AOPA Legal Services Plan provides lease review and critique services to its participants. If just one person is a participant, he or she can exercise this particular benefit and then share the information with other pilots at the airport.
If airport revenue is down, pilots should be on the lookout for an increase in rates to cover the shortfall. Some increases are justified and benefit the airport, while others may be in violation of federal grant assurances and established FAA policy.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: As a tenant, it is important to be aware of both the lease expiration and renewal dates. Change cannot always be avoided, but it is possible to try and proactively negotiate lease terms. For more information, read AOPA’s Guide for Hangar/Tie-Down Lease Agreements.
When plans for a new development will encroach upon an area that restricts airport growth and functionality, the airport support group is encouraged to voice its concerns. And that’s exactly what ASN volunteer Denny Presley and pilots based at Tracy Municipal Airport did.
With support from AOPA, Presley—a local pilot and Tracy Airport Association board member—told city officials that building homes too close to the Northern California airport is bad public policy that threatens investments in the airport and creates noise and safety concerns for homeowners.
Despite comments from Presley and other airport supporters, the city approved a plan to build more than 2,200 homes, an aquatic center, and a commercial district within one mile of the airport, a busy field with more than 120 based aircraft and 60,000 annual operations. In fact, the densest residential development of the proposed project lies within the airport’s protected zone.
AOPA reminded city officials, in a September 2008 letter, that they have accepted federal funding for airport development that obligates them to prevent development that could threaten airport operations or safety. In addition, AOPA encouraged the city to consider that the development would not be compatible with the state’s soon-to-be-updated land-use planning guidelines.
Presley, an ASN volunteer for nearly seven years, will remain active in the airport’s preservation as AOPA is concerned the airport data gathered during the environmental impact analysis, including runway lengths, is not accurate.
While Presley has been working hard to protect the airport as an economic asset, another group has also stepped up in opposition of the development. Although unrelated to Presley’s efforts, the Tracy Regional Alliance for a Quality Community has the same goal—to make sure government acts in the public interest and follows the law. The council ignored every issue citizens raised, including violations of the California Environmental Quality Act and the city’s general plan. Therefore, the group will challenge the city’s actions in court.
“We’re hoping that with all the pressure that’s being put on the developers that plans for the development will fall through,” said Presley. “We’re all working to ensure the land use is compatible with the airport’s current and future operations.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO: For more details, read AOPA’s Guide to Airport Noise and Compatible Land Use.
For each of the past several years, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation has reached an increasing number of pilots with its innovative brand of online and in-person safety education. And the trend continues: In 2008, the foundation logged nearly 390,000 online course completions—more than twice the previous year’s total. That number included almost 200,000 individual users, 46,000 of whom were first-time course takers.
“More than one third of all U.S. pilots took at least one of our courses in 2008, and we’re extremely pleased to see the course completion numbers improve by more than 100 percent,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. “But our mission is to make all of the half-million or so general aviation pilots better, safer flyers, so we’re not resting on our laurels. We will continue to explore new ways to reach those pilots who have not yet tried our courses.”
ASF offers more than two dozen free online courses on topics ranging from airspace and aerodynamics to mountain flying, GPS, thunderstorm avoidance, IFR charts, and more. The selection will expand in 2009 with the addition of brand-new courses on topics like radio communications, cold weather operations, weather, and night flying.
Attendance at ASF’s in-person safety seminars also increased in 2008. Nearly 43,000 people at some 200 different locations turned out to see ASF’s expert presenters discuss the top five mistakes pilots make and share tips on making first-rate takeoffs and landings.
Haven’t taken a course or been to a seminar yet? Make it a point to change that this year: It’s a great way to keep your head in the game, particularly if flying money is in short supply. In the words of one pilot, “The learning tools, especially the ASF interactive courses, are just about the best and most comprehensive way to learn, as well as be informed on all of the most pertinent issues involving flying safely.” Check it out online.
Tentative schedule; visit the Web site for confirmed information.
In flying, time is money: Once the Hobbs meter is running, most pilots want to get under way as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that sometimes leads them to perform attention-hogging tasks (such as GPS programming) while taxiing. One way to avoid that temptation is to use a ground power switch—a button on the instrument panel that powers up certain avionics independent of the master switch. It allows you to pick up clearances, program the GPS, et cetera, without putting as much load on the battery, or starting the engine. That means better situational awareness, safer airport operations, and more economical flying.
From the first solo cross-country to the instrument rating and beyond, aeronautical charts are a fundamental part of 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.
That’s where the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s Chart Challenge series of online courses comes in. Aimed at helping pilots grasp the finer points of aeronautical charts and the procedures connected to them, the free courses walk pilots through real-world instrument approach scenarios, asking them to make decisions about how best to proceed (Fly the procedure turn? Descend below MDA?) under the circumstances.
To test your knowledge, choose from three different types of approaches: VOR, ILS, or RNAV. Don’t expect a cakewalk, though: The courses are designed to make even experienced instrument pilots stop and think. Are you up for the challenge? It only takes 15 or 20 minutes to find out: Just go online and scroll down the page. You’ll find all three Chart Challenges, as well as many other interactive courses.