Advocacy for aviation in the states moves forward on many fronts. Challenges change from year to year, but top priorities for AOPA’s state advocacy team always include ensuring that general aviation airports are funded at appropriate levels, keeping aviation taxes reasonable, and working to expand the access GA aircraft provide to business and personal travel and hard-to-reach recreational areas.
Major steps forward were taken on those fronts and more in 2016, said Jared Esselman, AOPA director of state government affairs. Esselman was recently named to the National Conference of State Legislatures' NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures Board of Directors, becoming the first representative of AOPA to hold a seat on the board of the world’s largest association of lawmakers.
Recently he highlighted achievements from AOPA’s 2016 state advocacy agenda.
When a New Jersey transportation funding bill that contained a 23-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase was signed into law in October 2016—ending a political deadlock that had dragged on for months—a joint effort by AOPA and other aviation organizations to spare aviation fuel from the tax hike succeeded. The effort, which included educating elected officials and rallying AOPA’s 1,700 members in the Garden State to contact their lawmakers, put a stop to the possible diversion of aviation tax revenue to other uses, which AOPA pointed out, could jeopardize future FAA airport grant funding.
In New York State, advocacy built on a 2015 sales tax exemption that gave aircraft owners an incentive to make the Empire State their base. This time the gains came in the form of a $230 million increase in capital budget funding for airports above previous five-year-budget allocations.
“All of these funds were dedicated to upstate airports from which a large number of AOPA’s members fly,” said AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins.
Increasing general aviation access to floatplane landing sites, backcountry airstrips, or private airfields stimulates local economies and promotes tourism. AOPA and the Seaplane Pilots Association made those points last month in meetings in Columbus, Ohio, with lawmakers and officials from Gov. John Kasich’s administration to discuss making Ohio more friendly to seaplanes.
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources will initiate rulemaking to allow seaplane landings on Buckeye Lake, Indian Lake, Long Lake, Salt Fork Reservoir, and other places later.
“AOPA believes protecting the freedom to fly means protecting the freedom to fly from the water,” said AOPA President Mark Baker, who serves on the Seaplane Pilots Association board.
Management planning provides fresh opportunities for aviation advocates to work with government officials on GA access issues. That’s especially key in Alaska, where aviation plays a key role in the everyday life of all state residents—and where the National Park Service is working on a management plan for much of the 13-million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the nation’s largest national park and the most remote national park in the state.
“Working with other aviation groups, AOPA was able to persuade planners to set aside provisions to require pilots to register to fly into backcountry locations,” said AOPA Alaska Regional Manager Tom George. AOPA will continue working with the National Park Service on the management plan.
Weather information is always a priority for pilots in Alaska, a state that occupies an area one-fifth the size of the continental United States, but has the lowest density of weather-reporting stations. AOPA is addressing the situation with numerous initiatives. One that is producing early results is an effort to increase the filing of pilot reports.
“Working with the FAA Alaska Flight Service Program, AOPA and other groups spent 2016 looking at the pirep system, and encouraging pilots to file more reports. Last fall, flight service reported significant increases in pireps received over the same months the previous year. We will do more to improve how pireps are filed and distributed,” said George.
From coast to coast, AOPA and its aviation allies worked to preserve tax exemptions that help hold down the costs of aircraft sales and maintenance. Tax increases were fought, and advocates worked to ensure that tax revenue from aviation was allocated to support airport systems (not diverted to highways or other nonaviation infrastructure).
Those efforts gained strength in California, where the legislative aviation caucus has grown from nine original members to 21 now, said AOPA Western Pacific Regional Manager Melissa McCaffrey.
Safety was promoted with efforts to protect aviation facilities such as Missouri hospitals’ helipads from state regulation that inadvertently created flight-safety hazards by requiring pedestrian barriers.
In the Northwest, AOPA played an important role bringing together civilian and military airspace users of airspace in four states when Warren Hendrickson, AOPA Northwest Mountain regional manager, directed the first meeting of the Powder River Council. Discussion at the Nov. 16 session centered on the multiple demands on airspace of the Power River Training Complex that spans portions of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
The Washington State Aviation Alliance “has had a 100-percent successful track record for aviation legislation passed in Olympia since its inception in late 2014,” Hendrickson said. AOPA was a member of the organization’s founding steering committee.
The Washington Legislative Aviation Caucus is the largest in the region. And in Vancouver, the Pearson Field Special Flight Rules Area took effect after a multi-year effort in which AOPA participated.
Grassroots advocates in several states even stepped up its efforts to spread the word about aviation’s prominence in their localities by launching petition drives to make catchy aviation motor vehicle license plates available to aviation’s supporters, pilots, and nonpilots alike.