AOPA leaders said general aviation is experiencing a tremendous amount of growth while becoming safer, but cautioned that the damaging impact of an FAA directive prohibiting flight training in experimental aircraft without a letter of deviation authority (LODA) or in limited and primary category aircraft without an FAA exemption remains a high priority.
“People are out there flying,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “There’s an aviation boom, and I expect it to continue.”
Baker looked back on BasicMed, which was signed into law five years ago and allows pilots to visit their local doctor for medical certifications rather than an aviation medical examiner. “You did great,” he told AOPA members, adding that over 65,000 are qualified to fly under BasicMed.
He noted that safety concerns did not materialize since BasicMed became effective. He called on other countries to ink reciprocal agreements based on the program’s success. “Now it’s time to take this to the rest of the world,” Baker suggested.
However, he wasn’t as complimentary toward the FAA. The administration recently required owners of experimental aircraft in which pilots receive training, or the instructors who provide that training, to obtain a LODA. “ This whole thing has been a bit of frustration. I called [FAA] Administrator Steve Dixon Sunday morning and said, ‘This is wrong. It doesn’t add anything to safety. We want more flight training, not less training.’” Baker said flight training was “still considered compensation, even if it’s your buddy, and all they get is a warm beer.”
AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Murray Huling encouraged members to contact their representatives and support two pieces of legislation countering the onerous training interpretation that affects scores of pilots attending EAA AirVenture in experimental, warbirds, or exhibition aircraft. “We’re asking all of our members to reach out to your legislators to ask them to support these two bills, H.R.4645, and S.2458,” introduced by pilots Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.).
Huling updated members on the Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative that AOPA has been “heavily involved in” for several years as an alternative to leaded fuels, as well as initiatives for the FAA to provide “real-time updates on military operating areas.”
AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden said he was encouraged by what might be an unintended benefit of coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions. He noted that pilots appeared to have hit the books to gain flying proficiency while they weren’t allowed to travel freely. “We have never had a year that is this safe” through July, said McSpadden. He said pilots appeared to have engaged with aviation education and worked on building their skillsets during the downtime. He cited five things as keys to safer GA activity: “Knowledge, training, proficiency, equipment, and culture. Those things are what makes pilots safer.”
AOPA You Can Fly Executive Director Elizabeth Tennyson was upbeat about the high school science, technology, engineering, and math aviation curriculum. The initiative is on track to provide thousands of young people an entry to aviation careers and has also increased inclusion and diversity. More than 20 percent are female, and more than 40 percent are people of color. “Last year we had about 8,000 kids in just over 32 states. So far this year, we have 275 schools in 43 states and almost 500 teachers signed up to teach this program,” she explained.
Tennyson also said AOPA was “working hard” to raise the standards in fight schools and reduce the number of flight training dropouts with the AOPA Fight Training Advantage, an app that adapts and paces flight training to an individual’s needs.
AOPA Foundation Executive Director Melissa Rudinger reminded members that You Can Fly initiatives, including over $1.1 million in flight training scholarships awarded in 2021, were made possible by generous donations. She explained how a hot air balloon donation to a church group helped launch her aviation career when she was a youth. Donations to these programs are supported and matched by the Ray Foundation during the You Can Fly Challenge through December 31.
AOPA Senior Vice President of Media, Communications, and Outreach Tom Haines said activity has steadily increased at the top 77 airports in the United States, and “in many cases, we’re seeing numbers higher than those in 2019.” Haines was also encouraged by a recent General Aviation Modifications Inc. announcement for supplemental type certificates (STCs) authorizing the use of G100UL high-octane unleaded avgas in a limited number of models of Lycoming engines mounted on Cessna airframes. He explained that it was “a step forward in getting rid of leaded fuel,” although more testing is needed before other engine and airframe models could be included in the STCs.