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A stop at Skyport

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I’ve spent the past few days traveling around Texas—a big state with a substantial concentration of general aviation pilots. My latest stop was Redbird Skyport, a facility that opened just last November at San Marcos Municipal Airport between Austin and San Antonio. I really enjoyed being back at the facility I visited just a few months ago while it was still under construction.

We had a full house as we discussed ways to grow the pilot population during a stop at Redbird Skyport in San Marcos, Texas.

It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about AOPA’s efforts to grow the pilot population and change the paradigm for flight training because that’s the same mission that led Jerry Gregoire and his Redbird team to dream up and build this facility.

At AOPA we want to encourage more flight schools to do what works. Our extensive research has shown us exactly what that is, and we believe that if more schools focus on the keys to success, more students will complete their flight training and we’ll ultimately have more pilots.

We’ve created the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards to spotlight the schools and instructors that do it right. (You can nominate a training program for the awards by answering a few questions at www.aopa.org/ftinitiative. )We want to share what we’ve learned and encourage more schools to adopt successful practices.

But we also hope to see innovation, and that’s where facilities like Skyport, which its developers call a training lab, comes in. Incorporating the known success factors into your school is a good place to start. But expanding on those factors with creative ways to improve the experience further is even better.

As we say at Flight Training magazine—a good pilot is always learning. And so is a good instructor, a good school, and a good association for that matter.

At Skyport the focus is on creating a new type of training experience, with heavy integration of flight simulators and a professional atmosphere to keep training fun and keep students moving forward. I was really impressed by what a difference it makes to include simulators from the very start. It clearly enhances the student experience and contributes to a very high student retention rate.

Just as we at AOPA are sharing everything we learn about the training experience, the Redbird Skyport team has pledged to share what they learn with the rest of the general aviation industry—and that’s good news for everyone.

A taste of the West

Friday, February 10th, 2012

This morning I left the wintry weather in Frederick for a smooth flight to Fort Worth, Texas, where I’m enjoying a true western experience. While I’m here I’ll be hosting a Pilot Town Hall to bring local AOPA members up to date on all the important issues affecting general aviation.

Around here, steer have the right of way.

I always enjoy these events. They give me the opportunity to share what AOPA is doing when it comes to important issues like FAA reauthorization, upcoming elections, NextGen, protecting GPS, and growing the pilot population. But just as important, my travels around the country give me the opportunity to learn what matters to pilots in different places. Perhaps the most striking thing about these trips is that pilots everywhere worry about the same issues. Will I continue to have access to airports and airspace? How can I make my flying more affordable and enjoyable? What can I do to make sure that general aviation thrives now and into the future?

The other reason I’m here in Texas is to start making plans for AOPA’s Aviation Summit 2013. Typically, Summit moves between the East and West coasts. But members in the middle of the country have made a compelling argument for Summit to be held in their part of the world, and we’ve listened. So, in October of next year, we will be in Fort Worth.

Drover's like Rocky (center) make sure the "wild west" experience doesn't get too wild.

I’m excited to see all that the area has to offer. And already our team is making big plans.

Naturally Summit will focus on key developments in the general aviation community. We’ll feature leaders and decision makers who help guide the future of GA, and we’ll share the latest innovations from headsets to aircraft. And, as always, there will be a few surprises in store.

In these parts, cattle roam the streets and cars get out of the way.

There will also be all kinds of fun opportunities. If you’re not from this region, you may never have seen a rodeo in person. We can change that. This morning I am visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards where cattle literally roam the streets, cowboys ride bucking broncos, and enormous bulls put human strength to the test. It’s an age-old art form, and no one does it better than the experienced folks here in Fort Worth.

Of course, a trip to the rodeo is just one of the unique adventures on offer. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes AOPA’s Aviation Summit. I’ll be keeping you up to date as we continue to develop our plans for next year’s Summit. For now, though, I’ll take my lead from the local cowboys and “git along.”

User Fees…..Really??!!

Monday, January 16th, 2012

So, the Obama Administration budget negotiators last year suggested a $100 per flight operation user fee during the debt ceiling negotiations — Congress said, “no.”

Then, the Obama Administration budget team suggested last year that the Super Committee consider the $100 per flight operation user fee — Congress said, “no.”

During this debate last year, one of our energized AOPA members noticed that The White House set up an online system allowing citizens to petition The White House on issues of the day.  If you get enough people to sign the petition, someone from The White House will review your sentiments and respond. 

Well, almost 9,000 people “signed” the petition calling on The White House to abandon it’s user fee dreams.

Then, on Friday the 13th the grim reaper appeared.  The White House official who reviewed the petition issued a written statement saying basically, thanks for your willingness to pay for air traffic control services through aviation fuel charges, but we really want to go and create a whole new bureaucracy that can collect $100 for every flight operation requiring ATC….oh, we are willing to exempt some of you…so, don’t worry….just trust us…you will really like our plan!

Sorry, this remains a non-starter with us!

When you look around the world you find that once the user fee bureaucracy gets built it needs to be fed more and more revenue just to be self sustaining.  So, plans that are narrowly directed soon spread to more aircraft and the fees go up.

And, what’s the rationale?  One business aircraft pilot and member wrote me and explained that he might take a plane to an airport to pick up a passenger, deliver the passenger to his or her chosen airport and return to the home field.  Three legs would be $300….maybe more than the pilot made!

Honestly, The White House statement was not that much of a surprise….they just won’t let go of this bad idea and we expected to see it in the President’s Budget in February.  What was a surprise was the timing.  But, hey, thanks for the headstart.  We will build opposition to this idea yet again.  If only our budget bureaucrats would work as hard at actually passing the FAA Reauthorization legislation that provides funding for important projects around the country that will produce jobs as opposed to building a user fee bureaucracy.

Of course, doing real policy work during a very political year might be expecting too much!  I suspect this is only the most recent example of policy by pollster.  No one really did the policy analysis here, but the pollsters told the campaign team that taking yet another shot at businesses using aircraft is a great idea.  By the way, those pollsters might want to check with the workers who build the best aircraft in the world to see how they are liking this campaign theme!

Here’s our AOPA ONLINE story that broke late last week….click here.

A Trip to Hawaii for the AAAE Aviation Issues Conference and More!

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

A few days ago, I headed to the annual Aviation Issues Conference sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives.  It’s the 26th annual conference and most of them have been held in Hawaii.

Given that this very desirable destination is not one I get to very often, I arrived a few days early for meetings with our AOPA members.  It has been a fascinating few days!

Events started with a one on one meeting with an avid aerobatic pilot, AOPA member and President and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, Mark Dunkerley.  Mark has a wonderful perspective on aviation in the whole region and it was a pleasure having the time with him at the beginning of my visit.

It was especially nice because Mark issued an invitation immediately accepted to take a flight in Hawaiian Airlines’ very first aircraft, a Bellanca built in 1929.  This was a remarkable experience.  A few photographs are shared here from our flight.  To really understand this amazing aircraft and Mark’s vision in rebuilding it, you must watch his video — just CLICK HERE.

Later in day in Honolulu, we organized a Town Hall meeting with the help of Hank Bruckner, the general aviation officer in the State of Hawaii’s Airports Division.  Attendance was excellent and the wide ranging discussion was very enlightening.  Our fellow GA aviators in Hawaii face some remarkable challenges for a state that has utilized aviation throughout it’s history.  All airports in the State are owned by the State and this presents some very unique challenges.

In developing our new network of AOPA Regional Managers, we’ve asked AOPA’s John Pfeifer to take the lead with Hawaii where our GA community can really use some support.  One great thing going for us is a group known as the General Aviation Council of Hawaii.  This  group is committed to advancing GA issues and is effectively lead by Rob Moore.

Rob also plays a key role as the chief flight instructor at Galvin Flight, a flight training organization that has been operating since 1930!  Galvin Flight is based at the Kalaeloa Airport.  Rob and some of his members gave me a tour of this facility which the State of Hawaii took over from the military in 1999.  The plan has been to develop it as the leading general aviation airport in the state.  Progress has been very slow.  This clearly represents a great opportunity, but a good deal more commitment by the state is needed if the vision for this airport is ever going to be realized.

Tower at Kalaeloa Airport

The ramp....lots of opportunity!


                       After these very informative discussions in the Honolulu area, it was time to move on to the big island of Hawaii, where the AAAE meeting is being held along the Kohala Coast. 

Today, I had the chance to address the AAAE board and policy committee and tomorrow the 300 plus participants will hear a presentation from several of us on the issues impacting general aviation.  The opportunity to address the leaders who run our nation’s airports is important for there a critically important relationship between those of us who fly and those who manage our airports.

Many thanks to Chip Barclay and his fine team at AAAE for the invitation and the organization of this very fine program.

One hundred years of transcontinental flight

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

This morning I am in Long Beach, California. Situated right on the water, it’s a major port as well as a great place to fly. I am here to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the first transcontinental flight.  Cal Rodgers launched from Sheepshead Bay, New York, determined to cross the continent. It was no easy task. He suffered multiple crashes and serious injuries, and before all was said and done, he lost the sponsorship that had allowed him to undertake the flight.

Cal Rodgers flew the "Vin Fiz" from New York to California, landing in Long beach 100 years ago.

But Long Beach leaders had the foresight to recognize that completing a transcontinental flight was important and could, some day, change the way we travel. They offered Rodgers, who was recovering from injuries suffered in one of his many crashes, $5,000 to complete his flight in Long Beach. And so he did, landing in the Pacific surf and making history.

I don’t know if Rodgers and the Long Beach leaders who helped him complete his dream could have imagined where we would be today, 100 years later.

Today flying across the continent, and even around the world, has become routine. Thanks to modern air travel, we can cross vast oceans, trackless deserts, and the tallest peaks without any of the dangers or hardships travelers have faced throughout human history.

If you are reading this, chances are you are a pilot, or at least have a strong interest in aviation. But for millions of Americans, aviation is something more abstract—and many of them have never even heard of “general aviation.”

Fifty thousand people greeted Rodgers when he landed in the surf at Long Beach.

But here’s an idea to keep in mind, and share with the non-pilots in your life. Even Americans who never set foot in an aircraft depend on general aviation. Anyone who has received an overnight package has benefited directly from our general aviation system. Law enforcement, fire fighting, emergency medical transport, traffic reporting, disaster relief, search-and-rescue operations…all of these things are made better and more efficient through the use of general aviation.

One hundred years ago, powered flight was brand new. There was no GPS to help you find your way; no weather services to help you avoid storms; and no air traffic controllers to monitor the skies. There weren’t even any airports. Back then, aviation was reserved exclusively for the most daring among us.

That is no longer true. In fact, today almost anyone can become a pilot. I have met individuals who learned to fly in their teens and others who learned in their 80s.

Rodgers suffered multiple crashes and serious injuries along the way, but he ultimately completed his transcontinental flight.

Learning to fly can be challenging and earning a pilot certificate is a big accomplishment. But you don’t have to be a genius to do it. You don’t have to be a math wiz. And you don’t have to be rich to be a pilot or own an airplane—in fact many wonderful, reliable airplanes can be had for less than the price of a new car.

And there’s something else everyone should know about flying, something that drove early aviators like Cal Rodgers, and something you can only fully experience when you are at the controls. FLYING IS FUN. Really fun! Taking off and climbing effortlessly above the Earth is one of the most joyful experiences you can have. The spirit soars and you are free.

Humankind has dreamed of flight since we first looked up and marveled at the birds. Today, the power of flight is within the grasp of each of us.

I encourage anyone who has ever dreamed of flying to take action.

A map of Rodgers' flight. Note the number of crashes along the way.

Getting started is easy and AOPA can help with the tools and information you need. Visit our website at aopa.org. Then come to the airport, talk to pilots, and take an introductory flight. You’re sure to discover that the joy of taking flight is as powerful and transformative now as it was 100 years ago.

Speaking and shopping in Atlanta

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

So far, this has been just about a perfect day. Why? Because I got to fly a little, talk with some of my fellow pilots, and do a little shopping for, what else, aviation supplies at Aircraft Spruce.

I started my morning in Frederick, where we loaded up the airplane and were soon headed south toward somewhat warmer weather and a truly warm welcome from the members of the Atlanta Aero Club. At the club’s luncheon, I spoke about the big issues and accomplishments of the year—and there have been some great ones, starting with no user fees and no new state taxes. I also talked a little about the challenges likely to face us in the 2012 elections.

It was no surprise that the club members were well informed about local and national issues—and that they’re ready to get engaged in the election process to help protect our freedom to fly.

Aircraft Spruce

If you're ever in the Atlanta area, you won't want to miss a visit to Aircraft Spruce. You can find just about anything you, or your airplane, could ever need.

After lunch, I headed outside Atlanta to Aircraft Spruce. This place is a wonderland for pilots and aircraft owners and business was booming. With everything from pilot supplies to the latest technological innovations and aircraft parts, it’s the perfect place to do a little holiday shopping for the pilot on your list—even if that pilot is you.

I had a great conversation and tour with Don Arrington, who manages the facility, and several other members of the Aircraft Spruce team. They clearly care about delivering the best products and service to their customers.

Over the next few days I’ll be heading west for more meetings and the chance to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the first transcontinental flight. Stay tuned….

A visit with Don Arrington (left) and some of the team at Aircraft Spruce.

Someone Called Today “Gray Saturday”

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

So, I heard that the day after Black Friday (yesterday) is considered to be “Gray Saturday” (today).  And, on this day, we are supposed to stay out of the giant malls and shop at small, independent stores.

While I know not who comes up with this, it was all I needed.

While others were stuck in traffic, I traveled to my chosen retailer in a relaxed environment.  Upon arrival, the fine people at this establishment had a parking space just feet from their front door and someone actually was out to assist with parking.  On top of this, they served hot dogs and fueled my vehicle while I shopped.

Yes, today was a day for taking out the Bonanza and making a trip to Sporty’s!

It was a nice VFR flight and fun to see our friends there.  It was a short visit for me as I promised to be back in time to catch a movie….but, it was great to see so many people out enjoying their afternoon at an airport.

Of course, there are a few pictures….this first one shows me crossing into Ohio….

The folks at Sporty’s were parking planes near the entrance (and the hot dogs) as we arrived…..

The trip home was definitely faster with a nice tail wind and a 190 kt ground speed.  Crossing from West Virginia into Maryland, there are more and more hilltops with windpower…

A Lot More than “Infrastructure”

Friday, November 25th, 2011

I know they call it black Friday, but all we had here in the Frederick area was blue sky.  So, I headed out low over the West Virginia mountains for a late lunch at The Greenbrier Airport KLWB).  It is a beautiful flight any time of the year.

On the way back, I spied the Point of Rocks Bridge.  This bridge crosses the Potomac and I travel it frequently.  I shot several pictures and then got curious about it’s history.  Wikipedia tells a fascinating story below….

Point of Rocks Bridge

Several ferries crossed the Potomac River at Point of Rocks before the first bridge was constructed there in 1852. This wooden bridge was constructed to carry a double-track narrow gauge railroad from a junction with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to a blast furnace to process the area’s iron ore.  This bridge, which also carried wagons and horses, was destroyed on June 9, 1861 by Confederate forces under General Turner Ashby, the same day the bridge at Brunswick was destroyed.  The second bridge at Point of Rocks was an iron bridge constructed in 1889.  US 15 originally followed Commerce Street and Canal Road, which is now used to access the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, through an at-grade crossing of the B&O Railroad to the Maryland end of the bridge, which crossed the river immediately to the east of the modern bridge.  The 1889 iron bridge was swept away in the March 1936 flood that also destroyed the Potomac River crossings at Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, and Hancock.

In November 1936, MDSRC put together a plan to replace the Potomac River bridges at Hancock, Shepherdstown, and Point of Rocks.  The Point of Rocks Bridge became the first of the three crossings to be started when construction began March 25, 1937; the bridge’s concrete piers were completed and the piers of the old bridge were removed from the river by September of that year.  The new bridge and its approaches, which crossed over the B&O Railroad on the Maryland side, opened December 26, 1937. The camelback truss bridge spans 1,689 feet (515 m) and has a 24-foot-wide (7.3 m) roadway and a pair of 3-foot-wide (0.91 m) sidewalks. US 15 followed a temporary approach to the new bridge along Commerce Street that remained vulnerable to major floods. The U.S. Highway was moved to higher ground on Clay Street when the highway was reconstructed and widened from Point of Rocks to Tuscarora in 1949.

Flying A Route of Early Settlers

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Thanksgiving morning here in Frederick, Maryland was, well…picture perfect!  There was the promise of some wind, but it was a great day to launch my Husky.  Since the day has everything to do with our early settlers, I thought a trip along the Potomac River might be appropriate.

Anyone who has visited Washington, D.C. knows the Potomac runs right through our Nation’s Capital out to the Chesapeake Bay.  But, traveling just a short distance from Frederick, you can reach the Potomac and head away from Washington (a far better idea unless you enjoy military aircraft off your wing). 

The Potomac heads out to historic Harper’s Ferry.  It is at this point that the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers come together. 

There you find a National Park that is described by the Park Service as follows: THE HISTORY OF HARPERS FERRY HAS FEW PARALLELS IN THE AMERICAN DRAMA. It is more than one event, one date, or one individual. It is multi-layered – involving a diverse number of people and events that influenced the course of our nation’s history. Harpers Ferry witnessed the first successful application of interchangeable manufacture, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown’s attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

To view the complete story from the National Park Service, CLICK HERE.

As you follow the Potomac further West, railroad bridges cast shadows on the water.

Looking for a place to land for a cup of coffee, I noticed I was not far from the community of Bedford, Pennsylvania.  This community is the site of the Bedford Springs Resort.  Originally, the resort offered guests in the 1800’s healing waters from the natural springs.  Today, guests have many more options, including golf and other types of liquid enjoyment.  It is a beautiful resort and one we have visited when the Fall colors are at their height and that is a wonderful time to be in Bedford!.

I did get my coffee at the Bedford airport, but no one was around.  So, N24HU departed and climbed to 5,500 where the air was smooth and the tailwind provided a ground speed above 150 knots.

All this, and I was home in time to stuff the turkey!

We have much to be thankful for and this flight reminded me of just how many have toiled to establish and protect the freedoms we enjoy today.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

If you would like to see a short slide show from the flight, CLICK HERE.

Redbird Skyport in San Marcos — Something We All Agree is Exciting!

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Just a few weeks ago, Jim Campbell from Aero-News Network and I sat down for a good long conversation that focused mostly on what we agreed about.  Leading that list is the exciting new development at the San Marcos Airport outside of Austin, Texas.  There, Redbird Flight Simulations has created from scratch The Redbird Skyport and an innovative approach to all things general aviation, especially flight training.

Unfortunately, a long term commitment kept me away from the facility I’d visited while underconstruction. However, our AOPA team was on hand and Editor-in-Chief Tom Haines addressed the gathering.

Today, Jim Campbell’s coverage tells the story of the Redbird Skyport Grand Opening on Aero-TV.  They have provided exceptional coverage and Jim invited me to share it with our readers….I know you will enjoy watching and learning what our friends at Redbird have created!  CLICK HERE TO WATCH ANN-TV’s coverage of the Grand Opening.

Here, too,  is our AOPA Online story from the event by Ian Twombly….CLICK HERE.

This is real innovation in general aviation that all of us should celebrate…and, on that, we really can agree!