Politics Archive

I need your help

Friday, September 12th, 2014

It’s time pilots got relief from the costly and outdated third-class medical. This is a pivotal moment in the fight for reform and I need your help right now.

I’m asking you to contact your Members of Congress today and tell them that third-class medical reform is important to you. Just click this link  and ask them to cosponsor the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, legislation that would allow thousands more pilots to fly without getting a third-class medical certificate. It’s something Sport Pilots have been doing successfully for a decade, and it can work for you, too.

We have to be quick because this year’s election cycle means Congress has a limited number of days to act in this session. We have to let our elected officials know that third-class medical reform matters to voters in their home states. Let’s get this done. We’ve waited long enough!

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.

Witness to a fundamental change

Monday, April 1st, 2013

At moments like this, it is useful to step back from some of the day to day debates we engage in and reflect more broadly on the forces impacting the general aviation community and other national interests as well. I think we need to recognize that there are real changes taking place in the way government delivers and funds services…changes that affect all of us!

The FAA’s decision to stop funding operations in air traffic control towers has launched a search for alternative methods to keep these towers open in communities across the country. In some cases, states are stepping forward. In other situations, airport authorities with their own funding sources are indicating their towers will not be allowed to close. In other communities a search for local funding from businesses and operators who benefit by having the tower is underway.

But, it is not just aviation where this is occurring.

In healthcare, the fear of not having the kind of medical service desired has caused a growth of concierge health services for those who can pay for more immediate and personal service.

With the threat of TSA lines getting longer, services are being offered to expedite the clearance process, again for those who can afford to pay.

Obviously, our nation’s highways are seeing an increased use of toll lanes. And, now, even in some areas the tolls vary depending on the traffic conditions or time of day.

With the ease of collecting fees, it seems that charging those individuals who desire a certain type or level of service is becoming more common place.

These changes will most certainly cause people to think differently about the way in which services are being delivered. If communities are going to pay for their own air traffic control services, I suspect hours of operation and the levels of service will be issues that those who pay will want to have more say over and they will look less to the federal government since they seem determined to step away from offering support.

Will this change the way we look at other aspects of air traffic control? Will there be a renewed debate over just how we actually deliver air traffic control services? I suspect there will be such a debate especially as those who operate in the system are being asked to pay more.

The path to modernize our air traffic control system requires aircraft operators to place certain equipment in the planes they fly. This makes sense only if the organization running the air traffic control system has the capacity to provide services that allow those who equip to use the technology….something that is of growing concern to the entire aviation community.

You see, if one day we learn that 149 towers are closing, what’s next?

I really do believe we are more at the beginning of a discussion about the role the federal government plays with regard to air traffic operations than we are at the end of a dialogue.

It has long been the case that the failure to make a decision in Washington, D.C. is in and of itself a decision.

We are implementing very significant changes because policy makers in Washington did not act to avoid sequestration. But, that “decision” will most certainly cause a whole new look at the way services are being provided and funded….and, in this debate, our air traffic control system will come under ever closer scrutiny.

We have the most complex and safest air traffic system in the world because every day the pilots who fly planes and the controllers who guide and direct tens of thousands of operations work together insuring that citizens can utilize over 5,000 public use airports. I continue to believe we have a community that can work together to meet real challenges, but we need to come together now more than ever as the federal government’s role seems very much in flux.

From the front lines

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

I don’t like to sound dramatic, but the reality we’re facing today definitely has a battle-front feel.

GA is under assault, and we have every reason to believe the next attack is coming soon.

Take a look at the facts:

The FAA has opted to close 149 air traffic control towers, chosen primarily because they serve general aviation airports. Not every GA flight or airport may need a tower, but many do, and this wholesale closing doesn’t make sense.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas offered an amendment to a spending bill that would have stopped many of those closures by giving the FAA the flexibility to cut spending in non-essential areas. His amendment had 26 co-sponsors from both parties and wide bipartisan support. Senate leadership, possibly at the direction of the White House, prevented the amendment from ever coming to a vote.

General aviation has been threatened with higher taxes; cuts to weather, medical, and certification services; and user fees.

In fact, user fees have come up in every White House budget since President Obama has been in office—and we have every reason to believe we’ll see them again.

The President’s budget is long overdue, but sooner or later it will be released, and we will be ready.

Our friends in Congress are mobilizing to let their opposition to user fees be known. Last year 195 members of Congress from both parties signed a letter telling President Obama that user fees are unacceptable. A new letter is in the works and we expect even more of our elected leaders to sign on.

At AOPA’s offices here in Frederick and D.C., we’re mobilizing, too. Our “war room” is up and running and our team is busy meeting with elected leaders, FAA officials, Department of Transportation officials, and others. We’re asking tough questions and demanding straightforward answers. We’re analyzing the consequences of their decisions and making sure they understand the true costs of their approach to raising revenue and cutting spending.

And we’re talking to the media. In just the past few days we’ve talked to reporters from CNN, CNBC, Fox News Radio, NBC Nightly News, NPR, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Reuters, and many more. We’ve even worked to connect our members with reporters so they can share their personal experiences and concerns.

Do we want to see wasteful spending cut? Of course we do! That’s in the interests of every American. But “wasteful” is the key word here, and the cuts we’re seeing now are more about inflicting pain than reducing waste.

What did we, as a GA community, do to deserve to be targeted in this way?

Well, we certainly didn’t do anything wrong. We supported millions of jobs, created billions in economic impact, supported a home-grown manufacturing sector, and provided charitable relief to everyone from victims of Hurricane Sandy to individuals in need of specialized medical care.

And yet, our freedom to fly is on the line. It’s unacceptable, and we’re fighting back!
You, our members, are our greatest asset in this fight and we’ll need your strength in the coming battles. We may be asking you to take direct action at times. We’ll give you details about when and how you can help as the need arises.

It won’t be easy and there are no quick victories in this kind of conflict, but together we can, and must, prevail.

 

 

Voters Register Support for GA on Election Day!

Monday, November 12th, 2012

There was a very important Election Day victory for the general aviation community, but it did not involve anyone actually listed on a ballot.  Our victory has to do with the views of voters and a dramatic increase of support for GA from 2008 to 2012.  I will share with you below what we just learned from a new survey taken the evening of the election and the day after….

During the four years since the national elections in 2008, we in the general aviation community have been doing everything possible to advance the notion (and the reality) that GA really matters.  It means jobs, economic growth, and the expression of an important freedom, the freedom to fly.

 Here at AOPA we formed General Aviation Serves America when user fees threatened in 2009.  Our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) advanced “No Plane, No Gain” to share stories of how vital aircraft are for all types of commercial activity.  And, together with a broad based group called the Alliance for Aviation Across America, we worked to encourage state legislators and governors to pass resolutions in support of general aviation.

So, here’s the story.  For a number of years, I have worked with one of the best public opinion researchers in the business who runs a post-election survey to learn all about what voters had on their minds on election day.  The survey is national and has a fairly large sample. But what has always interested me about this technique is that the survey consists only of voters who actually voted, so it provides valuable insights into the thinking of our citizens who care enough to vote!

The researcher works with several groups in advance to find questions that are of a unique interest.  So, in 2008 and again in 2012 we asked America’s voters some questions about general aviation.  To be honest, the results are very favorable—so favorable that if the exact same questions had not been asked previously by the same researcher using the same post-election survey technique, I might be a bit skeptical.

What I believe the survey shows very clearly is that America’s voters place a higher value on general aviation in 2012 than they did in 2008.  Yes, that’s right.  We are doing better in the minds of voters.  And, going into the highly charged public policy debates over the next several months, these findings should serve to bolster our case.

 So, here are the results.

  1. In 2008 and again in 2012, we asked voters to tell us whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:  General aviation in the United States is an important part of the nation’s transportation system.

                           In 2008, 62% agreed.  In 2012 93% agreed.

                   And, the agreement was across all demographic groups.

       2.   In both national election years we asked voters to agree or disagree with this statement:  General aviation in the United States  is important to me and my family.

              In 2008, 29% agreed.  In 2012, 76% agreed.

           3.  One other question of interest was asked that was new this year.  We asked voters about their aspiration to fly in a private plane.  Across all voters, 31% of those that had never been in a private plane said they hope to some day.  And, among younger voters between the ages of 18 and 24, just over half said they have the desire to fly in a private plane.

These election day results encourage me to think that tens of millions of America’s voters not only recognize the value of general aviation, but actually want to participate in experiencing the freedom to fly.  I know sometimes we feel like our constituency is small, but because we are passionate and vocal we are building a stronger appreciation for GA and all that the freedom to fly means in America! We need to keep up the fight and we need your continued support–together we really are changing the way America views GA.

Speaking up for GA in AK

Monday, September 17th, 2012

For those of us who live in the “lower 48,” Alaska can sometimes feel a world away. But it’s a state I love to visit, not least because so many of the residents are involved in general aviation.

Today I had the privilege to be part of an event with Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, as well as Pete Bunce of GAMA, Tom Hendricks of NATA, and Ed Bolen of NBAA. Sen. Begich co-chairs the Senate General Aviation Caucus and routinely speaks out against user fees and in favor of general aviation. He’s worked to ensure that avgas remains available even as the industry seeks safe and affordable alternatives. And he has fought hard against new taxes for GA operators. In short he’s a real friend to GA.

Senator Begich

Sen. Mark Begich speaking to an audience of Alaskan aviators.

The crowd that gathered for the event was enthusiastic about protecting GA, too. And for good reason. Tourism is an important part of Alaska’s economy and hundreds of thousands of tourists each year take advantage of GA to go flightseeing or fishing. Residents, too, depend on GA for transportation, access to medical care, and the delivery of everything from food to mail.

It should come as no surprise that this was a knowledgeable audience that asked pertinent questions and really understood the issues facing general aviation.

It’s been a great trip to Alaska and I look forward to returning to this beautiful state with its GA-friendly atmosphere. If I’m lucky I’ll find a way to bring my Husky north for some real backcountry flying.

Harrison Ford Interview with Senate GA Caucus Co-Chairs

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Just after Harrison Ford spoke to members of the General Aviation Caucus yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with Harrison along with co-chairs Senator Begich (D-AK) and Senator Johanns (R-NE).  This strong bi-partisian caucus that now numbers over one third of the Senate with 36 members contains some powerful supporters of general aviation.

To WATCH THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE!

Harrison Ford speaks to Senate GA Caucus

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

I spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., but not every trip to the Hill is so enjoyable as the one I made today with actor, pilot, and GA advocate Harrison Ford. Harrison was in town to speak to the 36 members of the Senate GA Caucus. He talked about the importance of general aviation to himself and to thousands of others, and the senators listened closely. He also thanked the caucus members for their stalwart support of GA. Each of the 11 attending senators spoke highly of general aviation and the unique characteristics that make GA flying so important and valuable to the nation. 

Sen. Johanns (left) and Sen. Begich (right), co-chairs of the Senate GA Caucus, are joined by Harrison Ford for a conversation about the value of general aviation.

Wherever he goes, Harrison wins attention and support for general aviation, making him one of our most effective advocates. He has given freely of his time and talent to protect our freedom to fly through the GA Serves America campaign and in countless other ways. His generosity and dedication are without equal, and I, for one, am grateful for his support.