Jan. 5, 2004 - AOPA's top priority for 2004 is to protect the scores of general aviation airports under threat across the country. At the same time, the association will fight any effort to impose user fees on GA pilots for using the national airspace, and will work to have the "permanent" security-related temporary flight restrictions lifted. AOPA will also seek answers to constantly rising aircraft insurance costs, and will look for more innovative ways to keep the cost of flying down.
"Year in and year out, our members tell us they're concerned about the number of airports under threat," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It's their number one worry.
"But we can't become fixated. We'll keep our scan going - we'll deal with all of these issues and any other unforeseen problems that arise."
At any one time, AOPA staff members or Airport Support Network volunteers are handling some 400 airport issues. In some cases it's threatened closures, in others its access restrictions, security or noise issues.
As AOPA heads into 2004, the association has added qualified staff to the airports department, and designated special staff members to work on the ever-shifting "Top 10" airports under threat.
The second-most prevalent concern among AOPA members is the possibility that user fees may be imposed on GA pilots. For that reason, AOPA was the only major aviation organization that didn't support 2003's FAA reauthorization bill - because it went from having total protection against a privatized air traffic system to no written protections at all. Congress has promised to pay close attention to and hold hearings on the issue during 2004, and AOPA will be there on Capitol Hill, arguing that air traffic control is an inherently governmental function that must be provided without additional fees.
2004 is an election year, so AOPA's Political Action Committee and Legislative Affairs department will be working throughout the year to ensure that once the votes are counted in November, as many pro-GA senators and representatives as possible will be seated in the new Congress.
AOPA will also redouble its effort to have the government lift longstanding security-related temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).
"While it's currently not an issue for large parts of the country, these 'permanent' TFRs have become a painful way of life for pilots in the Baltimore-Washington area, the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, and a dozen other locations scattered across the country," said Boyer. While some progress was made in 2003, AOPA plans to continue urging the FAA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense to re-evaluate the need for those restrictions.
"We must make more progress to get rid of TFRs before they become permanent, or "PFRs!" said Boyer.
Two other, thornier issues remain on the agenda for 2004 - the increasing cost of aircraft insurance and the rising cost of flying itself. They are thornier because they are controlled by businesses, not government, and the sound of 400,000 voices speaking as one is often not as loud as the sound of shareholders demanding increased profits.
But AOPA's 5% FBO Rebate Program, the 5% discount from Sporty's Pilot Shop, and new, lower rates negotiated by the AOPA Insurance Agency are all ways that AOPA is working to contain costs.
"First and foremost, AOPA is a member-driven organization," said Boyer. "We're here to defend the interests of our members, and have high hopes and ambitions for the coming year."