From Customs and Border Protection stops of innocent pilots nationwide to the local impact of a special-use airspace complex, AOPA staff members updated attendees of the Montana Aviation Conference Feb. 27 through March 1 on the association's involvement in issues that affect pilots.
AOPA had a major presence at the annual event, which drew pilots, airport managers, maintenance technicians, and others in spite of subzero temperatures and a foot of snow. Staff members discussed current AOPA advocacy initiatives and issues with attendees and fellow panelists, and a keynote address by AOPA President Mark Baker capped off the three-day event.
AOPA Northwest Regional Manager David Ulane staffed a display booth with Regional Representative Mike Ferguson, who developed the Montana Aviation Conference 30 years ago when he was Montana Aeronautics Director as a way to increase collective advocacy, communication, and collaboration in the state. This year the event was put on by Montana Aeronautics Division Administrator Debbie Alke and staff.
Other AOPA attendees included Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Greg Pecoraro and Vice President of Communications Katie Pribyl. Pecoraro participated in a panel Feb. 28 and discussed issues including AOPA's third class medical petition, stops of pilots by armed Customs and Border Protection agents and federal airport system funding, topics that resurfaced in questions at Baker's keynote the following evening.
Another topic of discussion at the conference was the proposed Powder River Training Complex, which could quadruple the size of the existing military operations areas over Montana and parts of Wyoming and South Dakota. AOPA pledged to take concerns on the airspace expansion to the Department of Defense, the FAA, and Congress, and to continue its engagement with state partners on the issue to ensure that general aviation continues to have airport and airspace access while military training needs are met.
In addition to discussions of advocacy, attendees heard stories from Apollo 8 Commander and AOPA member Frank Borman about the early days of supersonic flight and space travel. Borman spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about his experiences.