Addressing the big issues that will affect the way we fly for decades to come requires a big commitment, and 2015 has been a year marked by steady progress on some of the biggest issues of all.
Early in the year, the general aviation community banded together to urge the FAA to address barriers to Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipage, starting with cost. In January, AOPA led 14 GA groups in urging the FAA to take aggressive steps to make workable, affordable solutions available to GA aircraft owners. The association also organized a series of stakeholder meetings to help shed light on some of the barriers to adopting ADS-B technology. Over the following weeks, the FAA resolved a number of technical issues that were hampering equipage while manufacturers began offering lower cost ADS-B Out solutions for a wide range of light GA aircraft.
February marked the introduction of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, legislation that includes third class medical reform as well as protections for pilots facing enforcement actions. AOPA spent the next 10 months building support for the legislation in the House and Senate, and in December the bill passed the full Senate, bringing third class medical reform closer to reality than ever before.
“AOPA and the aviation community have been trying to reform the third class medical process for more than 25 years, and it’s only through a combination of dogged persistence, vocal member support, and a willingness to compromise that we’ve been able to bring it this far,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, who noted that AOPA members contacted their elected officials about the legislation more than 94,000 times in 2015. “We’re closer than ever before, but we’re not at the finish line yet. This continues to be a top priority for the general aviation community, and we’ll keep working on it every day until we get it done.”
Efforts to safely integrate drones into the National Airspace System also made big leaps forward in 2015, with AOPA advocating for rules that will protect pilots without stifling growth and innovation in the unmanned aircraft sector. In February, the FAA announced a proposed rule to govern the operations of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing 55 pounds or less. AOPA weighed in on the development of the rule and later asked the FAA to close gaps in the proposal in order to protect manned pilots.
Later in the year, AOPA helped to determine the future of recreational drone operations, serving on an FAA task force to establish registration requirements for recreational UAS weighing over 250 grams or about .55 pounds. The resulting registration system was put into effect Dec. 21 just ahead of the Christmas rush with its predicted sales of up to 400,000 recreational drones.
On the fuel front, AOPA continues to serve as a leading member of the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative, a government-industry group working to identify an unleaded avgas replacement. Four potential fuels underwent extensive testing in 2015, and the most promising are set to move to full-scale testing in engines and aircraft early in 2016.
“Finding a viable replacement for leaded avgas is a long-term effort, and one AOPA has been actively engaged in from the start,” said David Oord, AOPA vice president for regulatory affairs. “This is not a glamorous subject, and it can be highly technical, but working to ensure that we get a solution that meets the needs of GA pilots and aircraft owners is critical for the future of flying. That’s why we’ve made it a priority and will continue to work with government and industry to ensure we get the best possible solution.”
AOPA also saw the House General Aviation Caucus reach an all-time membership record in 2015, with 274 representatives taking part in the group that seeks to discuss and understand GA issues.
When it comes to making an impact on the way we fly, it’s not just national issues that make a difference. AOPA is equally hard at work on the state level and at local airports to keep GA flying.
In 2015, AOPA’s state legislative affairs team and seven regional managers monitored hundreds of pieces of state legislation, taking an active advocacy role on dozens of them. Among the state legislative victories racked up in 2015 were a fly-away tax exemption in Missouri; pro-GA education, land-use, and aviation infrastructure improvement legislation in Iowa; GA airport funding and tower marking measures in Texas; property tax cuts on business aircraft in Nebraska; an aircraft sales-and-use tax exemption in New York; liability protection for private airfield owners in West Virginia and Oregon; aviation funding reforms in Michigan; increased funding for airport projects in Ohio; a requirement that aircraft excise taxes be used exclusively for airport improvement projects in Washington; and a sales-tax exemption for GA aircraft maintenance in South Carolina.