The June 23 announcement of the resignation of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta is a big loss to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and general aviation (GA). His resignation will be effective July 7.
"During the 16 years I have been the president of AOPA, Norman Mineta always had an open door for us," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Whether it was during his tenure as a U.S. representative for San Jose, the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee and the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, or as the secretary of Transportation, he always welcomed and valued what we had to say regarding GA.
"If he saw a friend across a crowded room, he'd always reach out with a warm greeting and treat you like the only person in that room. Too often those in politics or government are only looking for all the right hands to shake or ears to bend. Norm truly valued personal relationships - and I will miss that," Boyer lamented.
"It is critical that the Bush Administration chooses a successor who has the same level of understanding of the value of general aviation as Norm consistently displayed. He understood the importance of GA pilots and promoting safety. That's one reason he has repeatedly opposed user fees on GA."
The first time Mineta directly told AOPA members that he would not fund the FAA with user fees was at AOPA Expo in Tampa, Fla., this past November. "I can tell you right now from my perspective [the solution] will not be user fees," he said. Mineta has been the only secretary of Transportation to speak live to AOPA members at AOPA Expo.
He reiterated his stance on FAA funding again during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in March, saying, "There would not be any user fees," further explaining, "User fees impact safety. Our department is all about safety!"
Mineta worked closely with AOPA to protect GA immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. "He called us right after 9/11 to tell us how the government was going to get the National Airspace System back up and running," Boyer said. "He talked to us about getting GA back in the air and sought our input."
Mineta also understood the importance of funding GA airports through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which gives federal money to airports in the form of grants for maintenance and improvements.
While he was a member of Congress, he led the charge that made privately owned, public-use airports eligible for AIP funds.
But there is something Mineta told AOPA members he couldn't understand: encroachment, and why airports that existed before new houses ended up getting the short end of the stick.
"A person buys a house next to a busy airport and in two days complains about that airport," he told members at AOPA Expo 2005. "That's something I've never understood." He explained that while GA pilots worked to educate their elected officials, he would do his part by having the Department of Transportation put pressure on local agencies and withhold funding from airports that didn't comply with land-use requirements.
Mineta's recognized role in support of GA goes back more than two decades. In 1987, AOPA honored Mineta's ongoing contributions to the advancement of general aviation by awarding him with AOPA's prestigious Hartranft Award. And the association worked with him in 1997 when he chaired the National Civil Aviation Review Commission.
"Norm has spent a career working extremely hard to advance aviation," Boyer said. "On a professional level - as well as personal - his departure is a major loss. He always sought me out in a crowd, offering a warm handshake and smile. In that regard, he was unique - especially given the stature of his position. We wish him the best as he enters this next phase of his remarkable life."
The more-than-408,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has represented the interests of general aviation pilots since 1939. General aviation includes all flying except the scheduled airlines and the military. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. pilots, and three-quarters of the GA pilots, are AOPA members.
June 23, 2006