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Navigating change in 2017Navigating change in 2017

From improving pilot training and certification to streamlining cross-border flying and opposing difficult-to-detect restricted airspace, AOPA’s advocacy team worked hard in 2017 to enhance the utility and safety of general aviation.

A general view of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., Oct. 4, 2013. File photo by Jonathan Ernst, REUTERS.

Many of those projects remain works in progress, being undertaken in cooperation with the FAA, government security agencies, and other members of the aviation community. Here is a look at several of AOPA’s advocacy initiatives that moved forward in 2017, and a glimpse of what that progress holds in store for the future.

Taking on temporary restricted areas

One of AOPA’s top advocacy priorities in 2017 was to ensure that FAA initiatives to regulate airspace take into account the needs and concerns of general aviation pilots, promoting safety, and avoiding the introduction of new risks into the airspace system.

This focus took on special importance when several proposals to make use of uncharted temporary restricted areas—a form of airspace not used in many years—were introduced to accommodate a range of special airspace activities from technology testing to military training.

A pilot can’t avoid restricted airspace if he or she can’t see it on a navigation chart, leaving even the most conscientious and safety-aware pilots vulnerable to committing an airspace incursion. Complicating the problem further of uncharted flight restrictions is that “nowhere in the FAA guidance provided to pilots is the definition of a temporary Restricted Area detailed,” wrote Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic, in a May 18 letter to the manager of the FAA’s Airspace Policy Group.

Although AOPA emphatically opposes temporary restricted areas as an “unacceptable hazard” in the airspace system, the association made recommendations on a number of fronts to mitigate their risks to GA pilots, and to educate pilots about this seldom-encountered class of airspace. Some of the recommendations were to modify the format of notices to airmen about temporary restricted areas so that they are more likely to come to the attention of pilots; accelerate the FAA’s capability to transmit information about temporary restricted areas over the NextGen program’s Flight Information Service-Broadcast (FIS-B) network, currently expected in 2020 or later; convene a safety panel to re-evaluate the risks inherent in using special activity airspace; and add language to the Aeronautical Information Manual defining temporary restricted areas and temporary military operations areas. Those additions are now expected in spring 2018.

Cross-border flying

The flexibility and utility of GA aircraft lend themselves well to international travel, including destinations far from major hubs with U.S. Customs officials available. To streamline the cross-border process, AOPA works collaboratively with U.S. Customs and Border Protection on innovative methods for improving and complying with the agency’s policies and procedures.

To help pilots prepare for this kind of travel, AOPA in 2017 released Cross Borders, a new publication to make planning and executing cross-border flights easier for GA pilots.

Technology plays an ever-expanding role in streamlining cross-border travel, as AOPA President Mark Baker and Acting CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan discussed during a Sept. 27 meeting. In a letter following up on the meeting, CBP noted that its Office of Field Operations began evaluating a modernized mobile Outlying Area Reporting Station technology in the Northwest Angle of Minnesota in August, “to enable travelers to more easily report arrivals to CBP.” The technology “has been well received by international travelers and has improved OFO operations in the area,” the letter said, adding that CBP plans to deploy the technology to other areas starting in spring 2018.

Nobuyo Sakata, AOPA director of aviation security, noted that experiments toward implementing biometric identification technology—which Congress has mandated—also are progressing. CBP has briefed AOPA about new facial recognition processes being developed that could eliminate the need for CBP officers to “swipe and handle” travel documents, significantly improving entry for international travelers “while still maintaining high standards of security.”

“Although the current focus of biometric technology research is on commercial aviation at several major airports, AOPA continues to advocate for a risk-based approach to GA cross-border operations, and looks forward to the benefits of trusted traveler programs and new technologies being extended to GA,” she said.

Leading the way on airman certification standards

AOPA continued to play a leading role in the rollout and refinement of the integrated airman certification standards (ACS) for the FAA written and practical tests for pilots and aviation mechanics that began in 2016.

Last June, the first revisions took effect for the private pilot-airplane and the instrument rating-airplane that were the first ACS volumes introduced in 2016. Also in June, the new commercial pilot-airplane ACS was introduced as the FAA continued putting forth practical test standards replacements enhanced with “task specific knowledge and risk-management elements” in each area of operation and task.

Each ACS volume provides a single source set of standards for knowledge and practical testing.

The ACS development process continued to move forward at year’s end when the FAA published a notice seeking additional members for the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee Airman Certification System Working Group chaired by David Oord, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs.

The working group’s original task focused on developing the ACS publications for the private pilot, commercial pilot, airline transport pilot, and instructor certificates, and the instrument rating in the airplane category. Later, the group took on the aircraft mechanic certificate with airframe and/or powerplant ratings.

Its next task will be to provide advice and recommendations to the committee “on the continued development and maintenance of standards, training guidance, test management, and reference materials for airman certificates and ratings in the airplane category, to include Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Airline Transport Pilot, Instructor, Remote Pilot, and Aircraft Mechanic certificates and the Instrument rating, adding the rotorcraft, powered lift, and glider categories, and expand the scope to add the Sport Pilot and Recreational Pilot certificates in all categories.”

For additional information about the ACS concept and content, see the FAA publication Airman Certification Standards: What’s New and What’s Next? on the agency’s website.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, FAA Information and Services, Pilot Training and Certification

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