If you used GPS for navigation this year, you may be an unwitting beneficiary of efforts by AOPA and other aviation advocates to preserve your freedom to fly.
Apple Maps aside, both consumer and aviation GPS units continued providing reliable location data to pilots, farmers, drivers, and others this year—an unremarkable fact, unless you consider that a high-powered mobile-satellite network conditionally approved to operate on frequencies adjacent to those of GPS could have interfered with the weaker GPS signals and made navigation unreliable.
Staff at AOPA work continuously to protect pilots from proposals that could detract from the utility and fun of general aviation—and to advance policies that will help pilots fly more, and with confidence. In 2012, the association fought several proposals that could have harmed the GA industry and kept pilots on the ground more. At the same time, staff worked with lawmakers, regulators, and other aviation groups to promote policies and regulatory changes that benefit pilots and aircraft owners. Check out four bad things that almost happened this year—and four good things that did.
- User fees. The year started out with a rude awakening for any aviation advocates hoping for a reprieve from the specter of user fees: On Jan. 13, the White House posted its response to a petition by close to 9,000 people urging the president to take aviation user fees off the table. The title? “Why We Need Aviation User Fees.” The president followed up in February with the fiscal year 2013 budget, which included a proposal to impose a $100-per-flight fee for turbine aircraft that use air traffic services. But opposition to the proposal remained strong in Congress, where GA caucuses in the House and Senate help educate lawmakers about GA and its importance to the nation. Members of Congress spoke out early against the proposal in a letter bearing 195 congressional signatures, and House members heard testimony about the potentially crippling burden of the proposed fee. A united front staved off the fee another year, but AOPA and other aviation groups are preparing to renew the fight in 2013.
- Launch of a GPS-crippling mobile network. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted wireless venture LightSquared conditional permission to use powerful ground transmitters for its mobile-satellite network on frequencies adjacent to those used for GPS, AOPA and others raised concerns that the network might interfere with GPS. Testing in 2011 confirmed that the signals were incompatible with GPS; while LightSquared blamed existing GPS signals for the interference, a broad spectrum of organizations formed a coalition to protect GPS. After a yearlong effort, the FCC said in February 2012 that it would suspend the LightSquared network. In May, the mobile-satellite company filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11. By fall, the hedge-fund-backed company had returned to the FCC with a new proposal. Will this one pose a threat to GPS? AOPA is pushing for answers as we move into 2013.
- ‘Luxury’ taxes on Maryland airplane owners. Marylanders in the market for an airplane might have pushed back their purchase if a luxury surtax on the sales of aircraft had gone forward in 2012. AOPA staff testified against the proposal, which would have added a 1-percent luxury surtax on purchase sums above $35,000 on “motor vehicles, boats and planes.” For items more than $90,000, the surtax would have been $550 plus 2 percent of the amount above $90,000. The state’s legislative session came to a close without action being taken on the tax.
- Doubled fees for aircraft and pilot registrations in Illinois. When a bill was introduced in Illinois that would have doubled registration fees paid by aircraft owners and pilots, AOPA urged lawmakers to vote it down, arguing that the undue tax burden could drive aviation industry from the state. The bill moved forward without the provisions that would have doubled registration fees.
Gains for pilots
- Pilot’s Bill of Rights puts protections in place for aviators. A pilot under investigation by the FAA may be confused about his or her rights, or unaware of the information used in an enforcement action. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights, signed into law Aug. 3, guarantees pilots greater protection: The law requires the FAA to give pilots facing potential enforcement action access to investigative reports, ATC recordings, and any relevant information for 30 days before the enforcement action could move forward. Pilots now also have the option of appealing a decision in federal district court, among other protections. Introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Pilot’s Bill of Rights also calls for an advisory panel to dig into the notam system and a committee to review medical certification.
- Aviation tax exemption boosts GA in Florida. While AOPA fought harmful aviation tax proposals in some states, the association was advancing an aviation-friendly tax policy in Florida. The association worked with the Florida Aviation Trades Association to craft and insert language into an omnibus economic-development package to enact a sales-tax exemption for GA aircraft repairs and equipment. The bill, which was signed into law in March, makes aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight of more than 2,000 pounds eligible for a tax exemption previously available only to airplanes weighing more than 15,000 pounds.
- Knowledge test reform plan moves forward. Knowledge test questions will better measure an applicant’s grasp of practical concepts under recommendations of the Airmen Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee released in 2012. AOPA and other groups had requested the formation of the panel, which reviewed knowledge testing in response to concerns about unannounced changes to some tests. The FAA said it will implement most of the recommendations in the report; an advisory committee formed late in the year, co-chaired by AOPA, has begun work to implement reforms.
- FAA and industry launch effort to make aircraft safer, cheaper. The certification requirements of Part 23 drive up the cost of airplanes, stifling sales and discouraging prospective pilots from flying. AOPA, the FAA, and other groups think they hold the key to cheaper, safer airplanes with the work of the Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee. The group, whose recommendations will go to the FAA in spring 2013, is hashing out details of a proposal designed to double safety and cut certification costs in half. With lower certification costs, pilots can expect to see more new, innovative airplanes. Owners of existing aircraft could also experience the benefits in the form of more affordable equipment available for installation.