My editors, otherwise great people, twisted my arm to write something about my long and happy relationship with AOPA Pilot magazine as being appropriate to this seventy-fifth anniversary of AOPA. It took a great deal to pry me away from my usual format of trying to provide legal guidance to aircraft owners and pilots that is related to their flying activities. This little trip down memory lane took me way back—farther than I care to admit. Yet it was a pleasant trip.
I can hardly believe that my first column appeared in the January 1965 issue. It was titled “A Dangerous Myth: Renter Pilot Insurance.” At that time, most pilots who rented aircraft from the local fixed base operators believed that the FBO’s insurance on the aircraft protected the renter pilot. The column related a pending court case. An FBO’s insurance company sought recovery from a renter pilot for damages caused when the pilot attempted to abort a takeoff from a small uncharted landing strip, crashing in the process and substantially damaging the FBO’s Beechcraft Debonair. To the pilot’s chagrin, the lawsuit ensued. My column was an attempt to expose the then-prevailing myth and seek remedies. Since then, the problem has been solved with widely available individual nonowner and renter-pilot insurance covering both hull and liability, which we were instrumental in pioneering with Avemco, our official insurer at the time.
Later that year, I wrote “U.S. Taxes and Flying Clubs.” That column happily reported the enactment of the Excise Tax Reduction Act, which eliminated the 20-percent federal dues tax being imposed on flying clubs because they were deemed to be “social, athletic, or sporting clubs” under the Internal Revenue Code. Many flying clubs—in order to shield themselves from federal income tax on any profit that they might make—sought IRS recognition as exempt from the tax as nonprofit “clubs organized and operated exclusively for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofitable purposes.” The IRS had ruled that when clubs did so, they in effect admitted that they were “social, athletic, or sporting clubs” for the purpose of the excise tax on club dues. Catch 22! We supported the Excise Tax Reduction Act that cured that.
My October 1965 column provided my first effort at a “Guide To VFR Weather Minimums” that essentially is still correct, but since then there have been important changes captured in the more current June and July 2013 columns on “VFR Weather Minimums, Parts I and II.”
Faithful readers of this column will recognize my perennial topic on “FAA Enforcement Procedures,” which first appeared in November 1965 and was co-authored by my friend Len Thornton, who was then the FAA’s Miami area counsel. This persistent problem of FAA enforcement caused me some sleepless nights pondering relief for pilots and owners who overwhelmingly were first-time inadvertent “offenders” of complex and unreasonable regulations, where there was hardly ever a serious compromise of aviation safety. The so-called offenders could not find it worthwhile to incur the legal expense of defending against the FAA, a government organization that seemingly had unlimited resources to prosecute them. I finally came up with the Legal Services Plan, inaugurated in 1985, which spreads the risk of these legal fees for the unlucky few over the larger population of aircraft owners and pilots. We took quite a risk at first, but the plan has been successful from day one, and has been expanded over the years beyond just FAA enforcement.
The last column of that year, December 1965, was “U.S. Avgas Refund Procedure Changed.” That was a time to be remembered fondly by pilots and aircraft owners. At that time you could take a credit on your federal income tax return for federal gas taxes you paid during the year—four cents on each gallon pumped into your aircraft. The credit technically was available for each gallon of gasoline used other than as a fuel in a highway vehicle. My column reported a new simplified procedure for claiming the gas tax refund. Unfortunately, that refund no longer exists.
Many columns have been written since that first year, and I still manage the Legal Services Plan. And I plan to continue my monthly column. Happy anniversary to the many members of AOPA who I will continue to serve.
John S. Yodice started flying in 1960 and began writing for AOPA Pilot in 1965.