Regulatory reforms, including third class medical reform and changes that will make it easier and less expensive to install modern safety equipment in older aircraft, are key to ensuring the future of general aviation, AOPA President Mark Baker testified before the Senate Aviation, Operations, and Security Subcommittee.
“General aviation is at a critical juncture where regulatory changes, medical reform, and grassroots efforts can strengthen this important American industry,” Baker told the subcommittee during an April 28 hearing, “FAA Reauthorization: Aviation Safety and General Aviation.”
“GA safety has dramatically improved in recent decades, and we strongly believe it will continue to improve through education and technology rather than through more stringent government oversight, policies, or regulations,” Baker added, and he asked the subcommittee members to support GA by helping to create an environment that will foster industry growth.
In his statement, Baker noted that third class medical reform has the potential to keep people flying while improving GA safety by giving pilots more tools to assess their fitness to fly, keeping them in airplanes they’re familiar with, and fostering honest relationships between pilots and their primary care doctors.
Baker urged the panel to support swift passage of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which would allow thousands more pilots to fly without needing to obtain a third class medical and would provide additional protections for pilots facing enforcement actions.
He thanked senators and subcommittee members who have already signed on as co-sponsors of third class medical reform legislation, including Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Daniel Sullivan (R-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Baker also touted GA safety efforts, including the work of the AOPA Air Safety Institute and industry-government groups such as the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee in which AOPA plays a prominent role. He also pointed out the importance of current efforts to regulate unmanned aircraft and changes being made to the pilot certification process that will make knowledge and practical tests more relevant to today’s aviators and equipment.
But, he added, GA needs additional reforms that will allow the industry to make smarter, better aircraft. The effort to streamline Part 23, which governs aircraft certification and alterations, has been in the works since 2008 but change has been proceeding slowly. And it’s not enough to change the regulatory process for new aircraft, he said.
“Because the average age of the general aviation fleet is now 45 years—compare that to a car built in 1970 before safety features like airbags and crumple zones—we must also make it easier to bring new safety equipment into older aircraft,” he said.
In addition to Baker, the subcommittee heard from representatives of the FAA, NTSB, and Regional Airline Association. Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who is widely known for successfully ditching an airliner in the Hudson River in 2009, also testified.