Conversations with my in-laws would be a lot easier if I were an accountant. Whenever we meet, they kindly ask, “how are things going at work?” Their eyes glaze over as I try to explain the transition from a ground-based navigation and surveillance system to one that is satellite-based. They smile and nod, and I quickly change the subject to the weather.
In a previous post I detailed the organization of AOPA’s Government Affairs and provided a broad overview of how the division works. Now, I’d like to dig a little deeper and provide insight as to how an individual Advocate carries out the mission of Government Affairs.
I work as the Manager of Airspace and Modernization for AOPA’s Government Affairs. In this role, I am responsible for developing, implementing, and advocating AOPA’s position as it pertains to the National Airspace System and how pilots operate in it. Very simply, I work the issues that happen in the airspace. This includes instrument flight procedure development, NAVAID and airway management, obstruction evaluations, the transition to a satellite based airspace system, and a handful of other topics. My actual day to day work falls into three broad categories.
Analyzing and Reporting
The majority of my time is spent researching, analyzing, and reporting on the issues that fall under the banner of Air Traffic Services. Before I can advocate on an issue, I need to understand it inside and out. I need to identify what the potential impact or benefit to general aviation is and what course of action will affect the result we’re looking for.
My coworker, Melissa McCaffrey, has the unenviable task of analyzing and reporting on thousand-page environmental studies. These reports detail the potential environmental impact of an airspace boundary modification, for example. While 90% of the document has no relevance to our membership, key pieces of information are often buried in unassuming sections and need to be ferreted out so we can develop comments in opposition or support.
Each week, I spend between 10 and 20 hours in meetings. Most of these meetings happen at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but I often travel around the country for meetings on regional issues. Occasionally the meetings are single day, single issue events. More often, they are ongoing, committee type efforts.
Recently, I have been selected as co-chair of a committee that is tasked with making recommendations to the FAA on improvements to the U.S. NOTAM system. It’s exciting, important work that will impact the lives of any pilot who uses NOTAMs. One of the challenges with this, and many committees, is that we (general aviation) are outnumbered. In a room of 2 dozen participants, there might be only 1 or 2 other individuals who represent some segment of general aviation. Thankfully, these committees are usually consensus-based efforts. This means the group works to achieve a workable solution that is palatable to all versus a perfect solution that is ideal for some. Having strong working relationships with other stakeholders is critical under the consensus process.
So much of what we do is reliant on having a strong network of knowledgeable, influential people. Not just in the FAA, but throughout other associations and stakeholder groups. This isn’t the shady kind of back room deals or insider information, but knowing who can assist me in addressing an issue.
Consider a recent example. A member called in to report a disparity between the textual description of a TFR and the FAA provided graphic. Thankfully, I had a great contact in the FAA’s System Operations Security office that was able to quickly correct the issue and prevent pilots from inadvertently entering a TFR.
It’s difficult to define my job to someone who isn’t familiar with aviation. I think the easiest way to explain it is that I work to promote, preserve, and protect the freedom to fly. The cool thing is, that happens to be AOPA’s mission statement.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does this match with what you imagined Government Affairs employees did?