The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) this week submitted comments to FAA's latest draft of its key planning document, the FAA Flight Plan 2006-2010. The following topics were top on AOPA's list of comments: User fees; airport issues; Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) approaches for Global Positioning Systems (GPS); and general aviation (GA) safety.
"While the FAA incorporated many of AOPA's previous recommendations in this update, there are still issues that must be addressed," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The FAA should never forget that GA is a critical 'customer' - especially since the GA pilot is the only one who pays the bills out of his own pocket."
The Flight Plan is the FAA's strategic planning document, setting goals for the agency and how to measure its progress in achieving them. And much to the FAA's credit, it has involved its critical stakeholders - the flying community - in the process.
AOPA's comments to the FAA included concern about the FAA's "funding crisis" and potential user fees.
"AOPA does not agree with the contention that the funding system is 'broken,'" said Boyer. While the Flight Plan doesn't directly state that the current system should be replaced with user fees, "it certainly lays the groundwork," Boyer said. "It is imperative that the FAA look at its costs and that it identify ways to reduce the funding needed to provide essential services. For example, the recent decision to modernize flight service station operations at lower costs is a model for how they need to act in the future."
Another core issue for AOPA is protecting airports.
"Keeping airports open and operating must continue to be a major role of the FAA as pressures increase to close general aviation airports located in metropolitan areas," stated AOPA in its letter. "If some of the projections for expanded use of general aviation becomes a reality, access to non-air carrier airports is essential to the success of the growth."
The association also believes that the addition of GPS-WAAS instrument approaches to more GA airports would help improve safety and operating efficiencies. AOPA called for rule changes to allow that to happen, noting that current regulations, designed for air-carrier airports, prohibit precision instrument approaches into many GA airports. Requirements for full-length parallel taxiways and extensive clear zones, for example, are not necessary for safe instrument operations at non-air carrier airports and are frequently impossible to implement at many GA airports.
AOPA also wants the FAA to highlight the long-term GA safety improvements in its list of successes. In the last decade, there has been a 25-percent decrease in general aviation accidents. "The working partnership of the general aviation community with the FAA has achieved much of this safety improvement," AOPA said.
"The Flight Plan must include the severe impact airspace security restrictions have on general aviation operations and the air traffic control system," AOPA said. While the FAA doesn't control security restrictions such as presidential TFRs and the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), "the agency cannot continue ignoring their effects on the aviation system."
AOPA also told the FAA that the agency must do a better job of disseminating airspace information, particularly security-related restrictions. That means improvements to the notam system. The FAA must also take the lead to make international navigation data available to users, since the Department of Defense is withdrawing its charts and databases.
With more than 406,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation association, working to protect the interests of general aviation. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of AOPA.
August 19, 2005