Advocacy Archive

The promise of change

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

A couple of weeks back, I sat down one-on-one with the head of Customs and Border Protection, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. He made it clear from the first moment of our meeting that he was not only aware of the pilot community’s frustration with the unwarranted stops and searches of general aviation pilots, but also that he planned to do something about it. During that meeting Commissioner Kerlikowske told me that a top-down review of CBP’s general aviation program had already begun.

Today, in a story that aired on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” program, we got further confirmation that CBP is willing to acknowledge there have been problems and is prepared to make changes. AOPA provided information and perspective to the reporter, and if you haven’t already heard the story, I encourage you to take a listen.

It’s good to know that persistence pays off, that our message is being heard loud and clear, and that law-abiding general aviation pilots can expect their rights to be respected. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re closing the book on this issue. If you have an encounter with CBP on a domestic GA flight, let us know. You can report your experience to us using an online form . We’ll keep watching—and doing whatever it takes—to make sure the promised change really comes.

GA makes strong showing in New Mexico

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Today I’m in New Mexico, where I’ve had the chance to see just how general aviation can prosper when we get pilots and elected officials engaged.

Companies including Aspen Avionics, Bendix/King by Honeywell, and Eclipse Aerospace all have operations in New Mexico, a state where general aviation is represented by more than 4,200 pilots operating out of 61 public-use airports. It’s also a state where general aviation generates more than $700 million each year.

We had a terrific crowd at Cutter Aviation here in Albuquerque to hear Sen. Tom Udall and Gov. Susana Martinez speak about the future and importance of GA to the state and the nation. Here are two elected officials who really understand what general aviation is all about. They recognize that GA provides transportation, recreation, humanitarian relief, business opportunities, and so much more.

 

Sen. Udall speaks to a gathering of GA business leaders, workers, and pilots at Cutter Aviation in Albuquerque.

Sen. Udall speaks to a gathering of GA business leaders, workers, and pilots at Cutter Aviation in Albuquerque.

The event was hosted by GAMA and co-sponsored by AOPA and others—a wonderful way our aviation organizations can work together to rally all segments of the general aviation community.

 

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks about the importance, and future, of general aviation in her state.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks about the importance, and future, of general aviation in her state.

I love being part of events like this because the elected officials who take part in similar gatherings nationwide are always impressed not only by the size of the audience, but by their understanding of the issues and their active engagement to preserve and promote our freedom to fly. I hope next time we’re in your area, you’ll turn out to show your elected officials just how much general aviation means to you.

Why is simple so hard?

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Every pilot I know is looking for ways to keep flying affordable. That’s especially true for those of us who fly for fun. When the return on investment comes in the form of personal enjoyment, every penny saved is a penny we can put toward that next flight.

At AOPA, we know how important controlling costs is to our members, and we’re always looking for ways to help. So more than a year ago, AOPA and EAA jointly filed a petition for a third-class medical exemption. The idea is that pilots who fly certain types of aircraft for many common types of operations would no longer need a third-class medical. Instead, with a current driver’s license they could self-assess their fitness to fly and participate in a recurrent online education program to help them make sound decisions about their health and flying.

It sounds simple enough, and it is. The driver’s license medical standard already exists and has been used safely by Sport pilots for a decade. In fact, a study by the Air Safety Institute showed that there were no accidents caused by pilot medical incapacitation between 2004 and 2011 for pilots using the driver’s license medical standard. None. Zero.

Extending the exemption would save pilots, and the government, a significant amount of money. How much money? We conservatively estimate pilots would save $241 million over 10 years and the government would save another $11 million over the same period.

So why are we still waiting for an answer from the FAA more than a year after we submitted the proposal? Good question.

If you read my column in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, you know my concerns over the inaction of federal regulatory agencies. Too often we see the FAA and other agencies lagging behind the realities of modern flying. Too often, it seems these agencies are handling sticky issues by deciding not to decide.

The evidence in favor of the third-class medical exemption is strong. We have flown similar aircraft under similar conditions for a decade with an outstanding safety record. More than 16,000 pilots have filed comments with the FAA in support of the petition. Sequestration is forcing the FAA to find cost savings, and this certainly seems to be a quick way for the agency to cut a few million dollars from its budget.

And yet we still don’t have an answer. In fact, the FAA won’t even tell us when we can expect an answer. It’s a classic case of taking something simple and making it harder than it has to be.

We don’t know when the FAA will make a decision. But we do know we won’t let the issue rest. I want to thank our AOPA members who wrote in by the thousands to give us this opportunity to make flying easier and more affordable. I promise you our regulatory affairs team will continue to promote this exemption and push the FAA to move forward. At the same time, we won’t ignore the larger problem of regulatory inaction and overreaction that drives up our costs without adding to our safety.

House GA Caucus sets new record

Friday, July 5th, 2013

At a time when general aviation seems to be under constant attack from those who don’t understand us or just don’t care, I’m excited to tell you that there’s a growing group of decision makers who are taking action to both understand and protect GA. I’m talking about the members of the general aviation caucuses on Capitol Hill.

This week, the House GA Caucus set a new record, with197 members of Congress from across the United States taking part. That’s significant because the caucuses must re-form, starting from scratch after every election cycle. Having such widespread participation just seven months into a new Congress is really a significant achievement because when it comes to voting on issues that affect our flying, numbers count. And with Congress deeply divided on so many subjects, it’s heartening to note that the caucus includes individuals from across the political spectrum.

None of this could happen without the commitment of key leaders in Congress, especially Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) and Rep. John Barrow (D-GA), who co-chair the House GA Caucus. They have actively reached out to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and invited them to get engaged on GA issues. They’ve made it clear that the freedom to fly matters to them and to hundreds of thousands of politically active general aviation enthusiasts nationwide.

Congress has the power to make laws that govern virtually every aspect of our flying. So it’s vitally important that our elected representatives understand what GA is, why it matters, and how their actions affect all of us who love aviation. The GA caucuses give lawmakers a forum to discuss the issues affecting general aviation, and caucus members have been extremely influential in the battle against user fees, the fight for FAA funding, protecting the integrity of GPS, ensuring continued access to avgas, and dozens of other issues with long-term implications for the GA community.

During this Independence Day weekend, when we are all celebrating our freedoms, lets take a moment to be grateful for our freedom to fly and all those work to preserve it.

 

Winning in the States

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The recession has hit this country hard. Since 2008, we’ve seen housing prices collapse, major institutions declare bankruptcy, and millions lose their jobs.  

With federal dollars growing scarce and the tax base shrinking, states have been looking for new revenue sources. And it should come as no surprise that they’ve been looking to general aviation to help fill in the gaps.

With that in mind, let me share a number that would be impressive in the best of times and is almost inconceivable today. The number is $0. That’s how much state taxes on GA have gone up in the past five years—zero.

In fact, in many states, taxes on general aviation have gone down. But whether we’re talking about stopping tax increases or cutting existing taxes, it doesn’t happen without the intervention of some of GA’s most effective advocates—AOPA’s state legislative affairs experts and regional managers.

So far in 2013 alone, our experts have helped cut taxes in Indiana, Maine, and Florida, among others. They’ve also helped defeat major tax proposals in Washington, Connecticut, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, and Massachusetts. And they’re currently hard at work on tax issues in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York. Meanwhile, just a few days ago the Louisiana legislature adjourned without taking action on two GA tax bills that AOPA strongly opposed, effectively killing the measures, at least for now.

Even if you don’t fly in any of these states, every win is good news for all of us who love aviation. State lawmakers carefully monitor what’s happening elsewhere. When GA taxes succeed in one state, others try to replicate those measures. At the same time, each win makes GA look less like an easy target for other states seeking new revenue streams.

On average our experts track more than 1,000 bills each year, taking action on several hundred of those. To be effective, our team must meet with hundreds of legislators, testify before dozens of committees, walk the halls of state capitols, and be immediately available to engage with lawmakers virtually around the clock.

What kind of issues do we get involved in?

Well, in Indiana we worked with state lawmakers to write and pass legislation that caps and cuts the state tax on avgas by about 50 cents per gallon. The same law cuts the jet fuel tax by about 29 cents per gallon. To give you an idea just how significant this is, the owner of a Piper Arrow III now saves $36 on every fill up. The owner of a Cessna Citation saves more than $170. At the same time, the legislation created a sales tax exemption on parts and labor for GA aircraft maintenance. At 7 percent, that can cut the cost of major repairs by thousands of dollars.

In Ohio, the situation was a little different. The state Senate passed language that would have imposed a 6 percent tax on top of the wet rate for all GA aircraft rentals. But AOPA got to work with lawmakers to ensure that idea got no further, and a tax increase that could have cut down on flying time for renters and students never became law.

Our work in the states goes unheralded most of the time, but it is vital to the health of GA and the wallets of our members. State-imposed tax burdens, from sales and excise taxes on fuel to pilot registration fees and taxes on aircraft repairs, can far exceed what we pay in federal aviation taxes.

 Regardless of where you live, we’ve got your back. But we also need your support. We know you count on us, and we count on you to stand with us as we fight to protect our freedom to fly.