Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta
Secretary Mineta and AOPA President Phil Boyer
Tampa, Fla. - Before a crowd of some 1,000 general aviation pilots and enthusiasts, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced Thursday that he has directed the FAA to extend the comment period by 90 days and hold an AOPA-requested public meeting on its plan to make the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) permanent.
Mineta's announcement, made during the opening general session of AOPA Expo 2005 in Tampa, was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience, as was the news that more than 17,900 individual comments - many of them written by AOPA members - had been filed to the docket.
Mineta thanked pilots for their comments and pledged to pay attention to their concerns, but he also urged them to be accountable for their actions in the air and do a better job of understanding and following security requirements that are in place. "Americans expect us to do a better job," he said. "It is an issue of accountability and the general aviation community needs to work harder to police its members."
Mineta also addressed an issue that's top-of-mind for many general aviation pilots - user fees. Answering a question from an audience member, Mineta said that solving the FAA's future funding problems "is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution."
"I can tell you right now from my perspective [the solution] will not be user fees," Mineta added to resounding applause. Mineta also said that he would support AOPA's recommendation to continue using fuel taxes as the most effective and fair means of funding the FAA.
At that point AOPA President Phil Boyer jumped in, asking if he could tell his staff working on the user-fee issue to stand down. Mineta smiled, acknowledging that the battle is not yet won and encouraging AOPA to stay vigilant.
Even so, Mineta said he expects all users of the aviation system, including GA, to experience "some pain" as the FAA finds ways to cut costs, ensure its future funding, and modernize the aviation infrastructure. But he promised that any changes would not sacrifice safety or the quality of services aviators rely on.
The secretary also answered tough questions from the audience about Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding, outsourcing of FAA services, and the encroachment on airports.
Mineta recalled visiting Washington Dulles International Airport in the 1970s as a member of Congress. At that time the airport seemed far removed from Washington, D.C.; today it is surrounded by commercial and residential development.
"Then the person who bought a house two days ago complains about the airport," Mineta said. "That's something I've never understood." He added that it is important for general aviation pilots to work to educate local and state officials about the value of GA and the need to protect airports. And he said the Department of Transportation (DOT) would continue to put pressure on local agencies and withhold funding from airports that don't comply.
And Mineta had good news for GA airports that rely on federal AIP funds, saying that he expects that program - and most other aviation programs - to be fully funded in the current DOT appropriations bill. Mineta has long been an advocate of the AIP program, leading the charge that made privately owned public-use airports eligible to receive AIP funds while still a member of Congress.
On the issue of future outsourcing of FAA functions such as air traffic control, Mineta said that the FAA and DOT are looking for ways to increase employee productivity and cut costs, efforts that could include implementing new technology or outsourcing some functions. But, he added, the federal government would continue to retain control of important functions by setting and enforcing standards on contractors and ensuring that any outsourcing would not damage quality or safety.
Mineta ended his appearance on another positive note, saying he looks to the next decade of flight with a "very, very optimistic view of aviation in general, and especially general aviation."
With more than 407,000 members, representing nearly two-thirds of all pilots in the United States, AOPA is the largest, most influential aviation association in the world. AOPA has achieved its prominent position through effective advocacy, enlightened leadership, technical competence, and hard work. Providing member services that range from representation at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, advice, and other assistance, AOPA has built a service organization that far exceeds any other in the aviation community.
November 3, 2005