Yesterday I told you about the great idea one of our members in Iowa had. He filed a petition asking the White House to take aviation user fees off the table. His effort is gaining momentum with almost 2,500 signatures at my last check. He’s halfway there–it takes 5,000 signatures before White House senior officials will consider the petition. I encourage you to read it and sign on. Let’s show our elected officials that general aviation matters and we’re willing to take action to protect our freedom to fly.
For a rural state like South Dakota, general aviation means successful farming, business growth, and access to the wider world. Today, Senator John Thune and Governor Dennis Daugaard took time out to recognize the value of general aviation in their home state—and I was pleased to be a part of this exciting Rally GA event.
GA has played an important role in the South Dakota economy for a century—a milestone Governor Daugaard recognized earlier this year when he proclaimed June to be “General Aviation Appreciation Month” in his state. And now, more than ever, GA is an important stimulus in South Dakota.
I was lucky to have the chance to speak to South Dakota pilots, aviation enthusiasts, and voters at large at this Rally GA event. Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, served as emcee and Jim Peitz, president of Mustang Aviation, served as our gracious host. In addition to the governor and senator we were joined by Rod Hightower of EAA and Jim Coyne of NATA, Ed Bolen of NBAA and John Cuhady of the International Council of Air Shows.
Events like these are so important because they bring together elected leaders and voters to talk about what general aviation means to real people—whether they fly or not. So often, the economic impact of general aviation is invisible to those outside of the flying community. I’m betting that before today many of the people in the audience had no idea that Mustang Aviation in Pierre conducts 24,000 operations every year, or that those operations have a direct and indirect economic impact worth $58 million to the community.
Fortunately for the residents of South Dakota, their representatives understand just how important GA is to their state. I think Gov. Daugaard put it best today when he said, “Our economy and our safety would be compromised if not for general aviation.”
You are not likely to have seen this in the weekend newspapers, but we recently confirmed that in the midst of the budget negotiations to avert the debt ceiling crisis, Administration officials placed on the table a private aircraft user fee proposal for discussion with Congressional leaders. Details are very sketchy and most reports suggest that no decisions have been made. However, on the heels of the hot rhetoric several days ago about the use of private aircraft and tax loopholes (that used to be job stimulus initiatives) there is much to worry about in this development.
The general aviation community has supported for years the use of added charges on our fuel purchases as a far superior way to raise additional revenue to help pay for modernizing our air traffic control system than user fees. These charges are made at the pump without the need for a new federal bureaucracy to administer a user fee program that, reportedly, would be imposed on flight operations of GA aircraft.
Now, I know some in Congress do not like the fuel charge concept and call it a “tax.” But, honestly, a fee is no better term if it comes with big bureaucracy that does not go to improving air safety. What’s the point? Let’s decide on what works not what sounds good.
And, today, the FAA Reauthorization Bill passed by the U.S. Senate contains an increase in the aviation fuel charges that we have supported and that would go right to the FAA. If you need additional revenue, use this language not a user fee approach denounced by the key committees in Congress and the many members who focus on aviation policy.
Aviation User Fees and the big bureaucracy they bring need to COME OFF THE TABLE!
We will be arguing this point forcefully as Congress returns to Washington this coming week telling our supporters that their opposition to user fees before was a good thing and it’s even more important now! And, when needed, we will alert our hundreds of thousands of members to the return of a very bad idea!
This morning I’m at Concord Airport in New Hampshire taking part in a news conference with Congressman Charlie Bass, who’s really turning up the heat on the FCC.
By now you’ve probably heard about the unprecedented battle for the future of GPS. The FCC has granted waivers to LightSquared to build a communications network that interferes with, and even blocks, GPS signals. As pilots, we all know how critical GPS is to our safety, to our all-weather access to thousands of airports, and to the FAA’s NextGen modernization program. But apparently, the FCC doesn’t get it.
That’s why Congressman Bass has gathered representatives of numerous groups who depend on GPS to alert the media and the public to our very serious concerns. Sometimes you have to turn up the heat to get folks in Washington to see the light. And I want to thank Congressman Bass for doing just that.
It seems we may have to keep raising the temperature if we’re going to put a stop to this project.
Last week, I testified before Congress about the dangers of allowing LightSquared to continue, asked that FCC rescind its waivers, and urged Congress to investigate how one agency could be allowed to single-handedly undermine our entire national transportation network. And I wasn’t alone. Representatives from DOD, DOT, and the Coast Guard all had similar stories to tell. And yet, so far, LightSquared is being allowed to proceed with its plans.
And months ago, before the waivers were granted, AOPA and others warned the FCC of the potential for dire consequences if this project was approved. Since then, numerous studies have demonstrated, unequivocally, that LightSquared’s planned network cannot coexist with GPS. And yet, LightSquared is being allowed to proceed.
I am incredulous that this whole debacle could have been allowed to advance so far—and you can bet that we’ll make it uncomfortably hot for the FCC until we can be certain that GPS is available now and for decades to come. Maybe if they feel the heat, they’ll finally see the light.
We’ve all heard about “toxic drugs”—medications that are brought to market, only to have the FDA discover that they have dangerous side effects. When that happens, the FDA recalls the drugs to protect the public. Today I testified before members of Congress about a different kind of toxicity—a plan that would cripple the GPS system that our national transportation network relies on. We use GPS in our airplanes every day for everything from basic navigation to precision approaches. GPS is critical to search and rescue operations, business and personal aviation, agricultural flying, law enforcement, and much more.
LightSquared’s plan to create a broadband network has been proven to interfere with GPS signals—in some cases making GPS completely unavailable. Multiple studies have concluded that LightSquared’s plan is “incompatible” with GPS use. Having been compelled to recognize the interference problem, LightSquared has proposed a series of ad hoc fixes, ranging from installing filters on GPS units to using only a portion of its allotted bandwidth—at least for now.
The fact is that these aren’t real solutions. Why not? Well, for one thing, there are absolutely no filters in existence that can do the job. Then just imagine the cost and difficulty of certifying and equipping the entire aviation fleet. And as for voluntarily limiting frequency—well, let’s just say I have my doubts about how long that would last.
The real problem here isn’t LightSquared—this is a company that wants to find innovative ways to deliver broadband nationwide. The real problem is with the FCC—the agency that granted the waiver for LightSquared to begin this program in the first place. The FCC fast-tracked LightSquared’s application and granted waivers without adequate research or testing.
Now that the problems are painfully clear, the FCC needs to withdraw its waivers—just as the FDA would withdraw a toxic drug from the market. For 28 years, since GPS was first opened to civilian use—a conversation I was directly involved in as part of the Reagan administration, by the way—the goal has been to do no harm. This plan would do irreparable harm.
It would harm aviation safety and efficiency, and completely undermine NextGen modernization efforts that are so completely dependent on GPS.
Today, speaking on behalf of many GA organizations, including EAA, NATA, and GAMA, I asked Congress to investigate the policy making process that has allowed LightSquared’s dangerous proposal to progress so far with so little understanding of the hazards.
This issue is critically important to everyone who flies—and it’s not over yet. Count on AOPA and our fellow GA organizations to stay on top of this issue. And be sure to stay informed through AOPA.org, AOPA Aviation eBrief, ePilot, and our other communication tools. Your engagement with this issue is critical to our ability to protect GPS.
I spend a lot of time talking to elected and appointed government officials who routinely make decisions affecting general aviation, but it’s rare that I can get a lot of them in one room at the same time. This morning was the exception. I had nothing to do with getting them there, but I am not beyond taking advantage of such an opportunity.
The event was the Texas State Aviation Conference. For 29 years, aviation leaders and decision makers from around the state have been getting together to talk about the issues affecting general aviation. And Texans take their aviation seriously. In a state that’s larger than France and which has major population centers in places like Dallas and Houston as well as vast areas of open ranchland, GA makes a lot of sense.
Quite a few states hold events like this and I wish even more would follow suit. Just as we at AOPA believe in collaborating with others across aviation, state and local aviation leaders can get some great ideas when they talk to each other about what matters to pilots, airport operators, aviation businesses, and other stakeholders.
Dave Fulton, director of TxDOT Aviation Division, gave an overview of the state of aviation in Texas, and I was impressed by the gains the state has made in terms of runway repairs, new terminals, new towers for congested urban areas, new AWOS, and more.
Then it was my turn to talk about AOPA’s work in Congress and the national issues that are affecting GA now and into the future, including avgas, NextGen, and ADS-B. And, of course, we talked about the importance of growing the pilot population and staying engaged and informed.
Pilots in Texas are fortunate their state aviation officials were sufficiently forward looking to launch this event 29 years ago and keep it going ever since. And I am lucky to be here, sharing the GA perspective with decision makers who know that general aviation matters.
This morning I am in New York for a meeting of RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee–a group tasked with addressing NextGen implementation issues and making consensus recommendations to the FAA. As a member of the committee, I had a chance to make a presentation to the group about issues affecting the general aviation community.
While we come from different backgrounds–the airlines, the FAA, air traffic control, airports, military aviation, and GA–we all want to find the right path to modernize our airspace and air traffic management. At the top of our list of priorities is ensuring that we continue to have the safest aviation system in the world. And while we may differ in some areas, we are all hard at work trying to find the best solutions to the challenges of modern flying while taking full advantage of the benefits new technology has to offer.
New York is the perfect venue for today’s discussions, considering not only the busy and complex airspace in the region, but also the personal interest of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an avid general aviation pilot himself. Mayor Bloomberg hosted a breakfast at Gracie Mansion this morning, where I had a chance to chat with him, Committee Chairman and Jet Blue CEO Dave Barger, and FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta, among others. Despite the many other responsibilities of each of these participants, it’s clear that they are fully committed to finding not only solutions, but the right solutions to the challenges of modernization.
Today’s discussions have been productive, but there’s much more to do, and small working groups will sort through many more details before our next full committee meeting. Many of those working groups include AOPA staffers, so you can be certain that the interests of the GA community will be considered at every step along the way.
NextGen, and the way it is implemented, will affect every single pilot–and just about every American–in the nation. It’s such a big issue, with so many technical details and practical implications, that it may sometimes seem impossible to get your arms around it. But I think it’s important to keep pilots in the loop. I want you to know that we are diligently working to resolve all the issues modernization presents, and, just as important, that we are making real progress. As always, the AOPA team is fully engaged in ensuring that–whatever final recommendations we reach–the needs of general aviation, your needs, are taken into account.
This morning I was fortunate to be in the audience as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spoke to more than 2,000 general aviation workers and supporters at an event in Wichita hosted by Cessna.
Shortly before he took the stage, I had a chance speak privately with Sec. LaHood. The enthusiasm he expressed for the GA industry and its workers was encouraging.
During the event, Sec. LaHood told the enthusiastic crowd that, “GA will be one of the leaders as the economy picks up…we get it.” He even told the audience he would do all he could to encourage President Obama to visit Wichita and “thank you for all you are doing to make this country what it is by manufacturing these fantastic airplanes that are made in America. It doesn’t get any better.”
Of course, that’s exactly what all of us who care about GA want to hear—that the leaders who make so many decisions affecting the future of our industry and our freedom to fly really “get it,” really understand the economic, transportation, business, personal, and humanitarian value that only general aviation can deliver.
For the workers assembled from Cessna, Bombardier, Beech, Garmin, FlightSafety, Rockwell Collins, and others, the secretary’s remarks were good news indeed. “The work you do will win the future for America,” he told the crowd.
Other speakers, including Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Sen. Jerry Moran, and Congressman Mike Pompeo expressed similar sentiments, focusing on the importance of keeping and creating jobs in general aviation. GA directly employs more than 17,000 people in Kansas and the industry contributes more than $7 billion annually to the state’s economy, according to the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association.
Sen. Moran emphasized that the large audience had gathered to say, “We want our jobs. We want to keep our jobs. And we want to expand jobs.” He added that general aviation connects Kansas to the rest of the world.
Rep. Pompeo was equally enthusiastic, telling the crowd, “I’ve only been in Washington a few months, but it didn’t take long for me to find that this industry is the envy of the world.”
The event was a great start at expressing and building support for the general aviation industry. Now all of us who value GA will have to work together to keep that momentum going and ensure that these positive expressions become concrete actions that will support the recovery of the general aviation industry and protect our freedom to fly.
You should always be concerned about new federal regulations that reach your desk on a Friday afternoon! Like the one that came across my desk today to remove a privacy provision for flights by private aircraft.
Honestly, this is one of those end-of-the-week ideas that is so stunning I was at a loss about how to respond. Then, I imagined the kind of discussion that might have occurred between the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget. Could it have happened like this?
OMB: Hello, Office of Regulatory Review.
DOT: Hey, DOT here. We’ve got an idea to kick around with you.
OMB: OK. Do you want to create a new regulation or get rid of one?
DOT: Well, we kind of want to get rid of one….
OMB: That’s great! We are trying to eliminate regulations!
DOT: Well, this one is tricky, because what we want to do is eliminate some people’s right to privacy when they travel, but we think it is really in the government’s interest.
OMB: Wait a minute….who are these people? Terrorists? Criminals? Tax evaders?
DOT: No. We’re talking about pilots who fly planes.
OMB: What kind of planes?
DOT: Well, all kinds really. You see we require these pilots in private planes to give us a lot of information if they are going to make a flight using their instruments.
OMB: I guess that’s a good thing. So, the problem is that they don’t like to do that?
DOT: No, they are happy to do that. But, then what we do is make agreements with companies that want to track those planes, and we release the information about the aircraft and where it is going.
OMB: Is this for some kind of historical reason?
DOT: Not really. Actually, it’s released in almost real time so that, if you know the number on the tail of a plane, really anyone can track it around the country.
OMB: You lost me. You take this information about private pilots flying private planes that they own and you make it available to everyone? Why would people give you this information in the first place?
DOT: Well, we’re DOT. They have to give it to us to file a flight plan.
OMB: So, you want to get rid of this program?
DOT: No, no. We like the program. In fact, over at the FAA we are going to modernize the air traffic control system and collect even more information on more aircraft. What we want to eliminate is a provision that allows people to protect their privacy!
OMB: You mean, you have people who allow you at DOT to track their aircraft….they are OK with that…..but, they have privacy concerns about the federal government turning that information over to companies who then make it available to anyone!!?? I guess I am not surprised that they would want to protect their privacy.
DOT: Well, we’ll let people maintain their privacy if they have death threats against them or if they are flying into areas where terrorists have been active.
OMB: What was that? How would you determine this? What if someone just wants to protect their privacy?
DOT: Well….why is that our problem? I mean, we are talking about someone who is flying a plane….
OMB: But, you said it is their own airplane. Shouldn’t we consider their privacy concerns?
DOT: That’s not really our concern.
OMB: Seems like there are a whole lot of implications we should be looking into. I mean, what are you going to do with all the data you have on automobiles traveling through EZ Pass toll gates?
DOT: Wow! There’s a thought. That opens up a whole new opportunity, sharing information on who uses EZ Pass…. I’ll get back to you on that.
If this concerns you– and it does me – send a comment to the Department of Transportation at the address below.
By the way, at AOPA we do not block our registration numbers and I do not block the number on my personal aircraft. As a membership organization, it’s appropriate for our members to know where we are going and how we are using our private aircraft. However, I do believe that those same members have every right to privacy with regard to their aircraft. It should be their decision to take advantage of a program that has worked just fine and about which no one seems to have complaints….except, apparently, someone at DOT.
Send comments to:
US Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
Washington, D.C. 20590
Or, fax in a comment to: 202/493-2251
Be sure to include Docket Number FAA-2011-0183 at the top of your comments.
I should tell you, DOT says it will post all comments received, without change, including any personal information you provide. (At least they are consistent in their enthusiasm for disclosure).
The rising price of oil has been worrisome for months. Today, the price for a barrel of oil crossed above $90.
Developments in Egypt are cause for real concern. Here is how one news organization describes it:
Nearly 3 million barrels of oil transit daily through the Suez Canal, as much as Canada’s daily output, making it one of the world’s most important oil routes. The tankers ferrying this oil are coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and neighbouring producers and are for the most part headed to US shores and to a lesser extent Western Europe which also relies on the North Sea and Russia for its oil supply. Unfortunately Egypt is the country which controls the Suez Canal and as the food riots gradually take the shape of a revolution, the future of the Canal becomes a million dollar question.
For more details and to track oil prices, click here: http://bit.ly/g4wD0h