Politics Archive

FAA administrator on safety, avgas, and the value of GA

Thursday, July 29th, 2010
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt talked about the role and importance of general aviation during a "Meet the Administrator" session at AirVenture.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt talked about the role and importance of general aviation during a talk at EAA AirVenture.

One of the best things about coming to events like EAA AirVenture and AOPA’s Aviation Summit is the opportunity for the general aviation community to hear directly from top-level officials, like FAA Administrator Randy Babbit. Just as important, it’s a chance for those officials to hear from GA pilots and owners.

I had the chance to speak with Administrator Babbitt yesterday during a lunch meeting, and today we took part in a town hall style meeting featuring the FAA administrator along with many leading members of his management team. Even Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood dropped by to deliver the message that he considers general aviation “absolutely essential.”

Over the course of the meeting, Administrator Babbitt talked about many of the issues that are in the forefront for AOPA and the general aviation community at large and thanked the AOPA Air Safety Foundation for its work on improving safety. In addition to safety, he talked about the value of general aviation, NextGen, and the transition away from leaded avgas.

Administrator Babbitt expressed his committment to working with the aviation community to find a solution for replacing leaded fuel–a solution that, in his words, “works for all piston aircraft…old, new, and even those not yet built.”

Equally heartening was his assertion that user fees are not on the horizon, despite the continuing uncertainty over the future of FAA funding.

It’s good to know that top officials are acutely aware of our concerns and, as always, I look forward to working closely with them to ensure that general aviation’s needs remain top-of-mind as we tackle these issues and pursue new opportunities.

36 hours of engagement

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010
Since I started flying more than 40 years ago, I’ve always enjoyed the chance to spend time with fellow pilots. Now, I am fortunate that spending time with members who have a passion for flying is not only a pleasure, it’s part of my job.

A 36-hour tour at the end of the past week provided a welcomed opportunity to fly as well as converse with my fellow AOPA members. The theme–engagement! And I met some very engaged members along the way!

AOPA Live producer Warren Morningstar traveled with me to capture the trip for AOPA Live. Here is a glimpse into our whirlwind tour.

Friday, May 21
Depart FDK at 12:49 PM…Arrive SAT at 3:39 PM


I paused for a picture in front of Glacier Girl with my hosts Rod Lewis, founder of Lewis Energy Group, and Bob Cardin, who manages the company's flight department.

I paused for a picture in front of Glacier Girl with Rod Lewis and flight department manager Bob Cardin.

We enjoyed a smooth flight from Frederick to San Antonio. Upon arrival, we stepped into Lewis Energy Group’s Hangar One where Rod Lewis has assembled a collection of beautiful aircraft. Glacier Girl, recovered from beneath a glacier is one of the most interesting. Rod and Bob who manages his fleet paused for a photograph.

After a tour of Hangar One, I enjoyed the chance to participate in one of our AOPA Town Hall meetings. These sessions are always lively and they give me a chance to hear directly from our members about what is on their minds.

Dinner followed with some of AOPA’s strongest supporters, and our traveling party got a good night’s rest.

Saturday, May 22
Depart SAT at 6:40 AM…Arrive ALO at 8:52 AM


I presented Senator Grassley with AOPA's "Friends of Aviation" award.

I presented Senator Grassley with AOPA's "Friends of Aviation" award.

Our wheels stopped next to Livingston Aviation at Iowa’s Waterloo Airport exactly at our scheduled arrival time of 9 a.m. The fog had burned off nicely (ALO was at 1/4 mile in fog when we left SAT). Tim Newton from Livingston Aviation played host to a few hundred people that were already gathering for a pancake breakfast. As we looked around, a Cessna Caravan was being loaded with jumpers who provided an exciting opening ceremony.

Soon, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley arrived. We would share the podium for a discussion with our AOPA members and then conduct a Town Hall session as part of our effort to engage with members of the general aviation caucuses formed last year in the House and Senate. Senator Grassley shared his views and expressed his strong support for general aviation.

Depart ALO at 12:00 PM…Arrive ANE at 1:00 PM

We lifted off from Waterloo and slowly made our way to Anoka, Minnesota, and the Blaine Aviation Weekend. We needed a thunderstorm to pass through before we were able to shoot an approach through some lingering rain showers that would soon give way to blue skies.

The audience in Minnesota was engaged and well-informed!

The audience in Minnesota was engaged and well-informed!

Anoka also had a wonderful turnout of aviators interested in viewing a collection of historic aircraft. Their two-day gathering included a number of safety seminars. I was delighted to enjoy a hamburger with our host John Biancini and the local Civil Air Patrol commander and her squadron before heading to the tent for an AOPA Town Hall meeting.

After another great exchange, John gathered his team for a farewell shot next to N4GA.

We departed about 4:45 p.m. for our home base in Frederick where we told our spouses and colleagues we’d arrive by 8 p.m.. After dodging buildups that topped our 41,000-foot altitude, we descended for landing and a 7:54 p.m. touchdown.

We had visited three states and three airports, met with several hundred of our members, and returned in just over 36 hours. It was a fulfilling trip and one possible only by general aviation!

Today, it’s Sunday…and we are resting!




GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford on Capitol Hill

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Harrison Ford talks about General Aviation during a discussion on Capitol Hill.

Harrison Ford talks about General Aviation during a discussion on Capitol Hill.

With membership in the General Aviation caucuses in the House and Senate growing to record numbers, Harrison Ford came to a General Aviation gathering on Capitol Hill where he had the opportunity to talk about what general aviation means to him and to America.

GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford was in Washington this week.

GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford was in Washington this week.

Honestly, we could have no more passionate or articulate spokesman than Harrison Ford. Even with Congress debating a significant number of issues, we had a standing-room-only crowd as members of Congress and congressional staff listened to a discussion with Ford.

Our AOPA Live team was in the room. Watch the video online.

Getting engaged with Rep. Sam Graves

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Here at Sun n Fun I’ve had a chance to discuss what AOPA is working on in Washington in several forums, but earlier today we had a really interesting panel discussion organized by Congressman Sam Graves from Missouri.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri hosted a panel that included John and Martha King of King Schools, Lisa Piccione of NBAA, Pete Bunce of GAMA, and me.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri hosted a panel that included John and Martha King of King Schools, Lisa Piccione of NBAA, Pete Bunce of GAMA, and me.

Sam is a pilot and aircraft owner, a member of the House of Representatives, and a really strong supporter of GA. He even hosts an annual fly-in event, so he is engaged with general aviation on every level.

In addition to Sam, who hosted the panel, I was joined on stage by training and education experts John and Martha King, of King Schools; NBAA Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs Lisa Piccione; and GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce.

We covered a lot of topics during the course of the conversation, but we kept coming back to one idea–the fact that we, as general aviation pilots, have strength in  numbers and that we can have a meaningful impact on policy and government by getting engaged.

It was great to hear Sam encourage pilots to contact their Congressional representatives about general aviation issues. As he put it, “They are regular people, just like you and me.” And of course, in his case, that’s literally true!

Sam also spent some time with me on the AOPA LIVE stage. Tune in to see what he had to say about important issues like user fees, NextGen, and security.

The State of the Union for GA

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

I want to share a few thoughts with you about President Obama’s State of the Union Speech.

Over the past few decades, I have seen, studied, and even helped to craft State of the Union speeches.  These speeches take dozens of people, from all parts of an administration, more than a month to put together.

They are highly anticipated, given with much fanfare, and followed up with a massive communications effort.  And, then, they are pretty much forgotten.

Even if it isn’t remembered for long, last night’s speech is important because so much effort has gone into creating it. It tells us not only what the President thinks about the State of Our Union, but where he hopes to lead the country over the next year.

I anticipated an eloquent speech from a gifted communicator, and the President did not disappoint.

It was clear that the President wants to re-establish his connection with the working men and women in America. He wants to create jobs–including jobs building and improving our transportation infrastructure. We will work to make sure our vital aviation network is included in those efforts. 

The President also wants to help small- and medium- businesses. That is admirable. But I have to wonder how that will work with some of the budget ideas the Administration has set out.

For the aviation community, the true test will be in the details of the Federal Budget Proposal we expect to see on Monday. In the past, the Obama Administration has said it wants to impose billions in user fees to help fund the aviation system.

But why would the Administration pledge to support small- and medium-size companies, then turn around and burden those same companies with new costs just because they use general aviation?  

We can only hope that policies intended to create jobs and nurture small- and medium-size companies, will also support general aviation, not penalize it. We know that general aviation can create jobs and help companies grow. We have worked diligently to make sure that our elected leaders know that, too.

For now, we must wait and see how the Administration’s good intentions translate into concrete actions and hard numbers.

More on all of this on Monday when the budget documents are released….until then, stay engaged!

Senate Commerce Committee Introduces FAA Reauthorization Measure

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

From the beginning of the year, AOPA has urged the adoption of an FAA reauthorization measure to ensure the stable funding needed for important modernization efforts to move forward. Now Senators Rockefeller, Hutchison, Dorgan, and Demint have introduced legislation in the Senate that would fund the FAA for two years. We applaud Senator Rockefeller, the Senate Commerce Committee leadership, and all committee members for taking action, and we look forward to participating in discussions about the ultimate direction this legislation takes.

During discussions earlier this year, Senator Rockefeller expressed his strong desire to advance modernization of the air traffic control system in the United States.  AOPA supports modernization and believes that there are near-term actions available to the FAA that will improve access to airports throughout the country by more fully utilizing the satellite based technology available now.  We also believe in developing a realistic timetable for deploying ground-based receivers that are the foundation for making best use of satellite-based navigation and air traffic control technologies. Deployment of this ground-based equipment, combined with swift certification of ADS-B equipment for aircraft, will put us on course for meaningful modernization over the course of the next few years.

While this legislation clearly moves us closer to achieving much-needed modernization, AOPA believes that a longer term funding package based firmly on existing, proven funding mechanisms offers the best assurance of achieving modernization swiftly and efficiently.

Because full modernization is unlikely to be completed within two years, the need to seek funding could delay or derail modernization efforts midstream, ultimately raising the price tag for completing needed improvements. At the same time, leaving open the possibility of creating and implementing new funding mechanisms, as proposed by budget officials within the Administration, could destabilize funding just when a steady source of revenue is needed most. One need only observe the uncertain nature of funding in countries that employ user fee-based mechanisms to see how easily economic fluctuations can destabilize funding for air traffic control.

We look forward to discussing these concerns and hope that this measure can be advanced quickly, allowing time for a Conference Committee to reconcile the Senate and House measures and the full Congress to pass an FAA reauthorization measure this year.

Whirlwind weeks

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings on Capitol Hill and travels around the country. No matter where I go, I am talking about the General Aviation Serves America campaign—the work we’re doing, the progress we’re making, and the need to keep moving forward.

Just since the beginning of this month, I have been involved in meetings with NATA and EAA that have led to valuable promises of cooperation for our mutual benefit. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: We can accomplish far more together than we could alone.

In many ways that’s the premise behind AOPA—pilots working together for mutual benefit—so it only makes sense, when the future of general aviation is in peril, that we join together with other pilot and aviation organizations to speak with one voice on the issues that matter the most.

Nothing invigorates me or helps me focus more than getting out and talking to people. I guess that’s the dividend of a life spent in public policy. This past weekend I even got to give a commencement address to graduates of UCLA’s political science department. Seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of those new graduates—their drive and passion to make the world a better place—was truly energizing!

An informal talk with pilots in Santa Fe, N.M.
An informal talk with pilots in Santa Fe, N.M.

And I’ve crisscrossed the country talking to pilots—from New Mexico to New Hampshire and everywhere in between. Each group I talk to is a reminder of just how savvy and passionate pilots are. Everywhere I go, the people I meet have a clear understanding of the issues affecting us and know what’s at stake. Everywhere I go, I get the same question: How can I help?

For one, keep flying. Numbers talk, and there’s no better way to show the policy makers that GA is important than to show them just how many people fly by GA every day. And, when you fly, you support the general aviation businesses that make such a significant contribution to our nation’s economy. Again, it’s a case of numbers.

For another, tell people about general aviation. Be proud that general aviation benefits your life and your business. Encourage a colleague or friend to take a flight with you, and give them a taste of what general aviation can bring to their own lives.

And of course, visit the www.GAServesAmerica.com Web site. Check on our progress, find out more about how you can get involved, and make a donation if you are able.

I will continue my travels around the country and hope to have the opportunity to speak with as many AOPA members as possible. And, just in case I don’t make it to your hometown in the next few weeks, I will be at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh next month. Hope to see you there.

GA serves the world

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Montreal, Canada, where I had the privilege of telling the general aviation story to leaders of the international civil aviation community.


I spoke before the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council about the value that general aviation brings to all the countries where it is allowed to thrive.


At times this has been a very sore point. In many countries, general aviation struggles just to survive under the burdens of heavy user fees, strict regulations, and prohibitive cost structures.


But recently, I have seen some real progress in this arena.


The European Parliament recently adopted a sweeping pro-GA resolution. The Agenda for Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation, as it is called, acknowledges the differences between GA and commercial operations and calls on member nations to invest in general aviation. It also stresses the importance of keeping regulation in proportion and ensuring GA access to airspace and airports.


It’s somehow ironic that even as Europe is coming to a greater understanding of the many benefits GA brings and actively taking steps to nurture it, we in the United States are facing some of the greatest threats GA has seen in a generation or more. Perhaps the biggest of these is something that has caused so much harm to general aviation in other countries: user fees. More than $9 billion a year, if the President’s budget is adopted.


Naturally, I spoke about the GA Serves America Campaign, and how we are using it to educate decision makers in this country. I also talked about how those ideas are true all across the globe. Really, GA serves the world.


It was wonderful to be able to share this story with an appreciative audience at ICAO—a body that deals mainly with commercial aviation. They were interested to learn about the many missions GA flies and had numerous questions about safety and the work of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. After the presentation, several participants came up to me to express their thanks for the reminder that GA is a vital part of the global transportation system.


At the end of my presentation, I reaffirmed my personal commitment to be part of the solution to the many challenges facing all of aviation. And I had the chance to give the ICAO representatives a model of a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, just like the one I own and fly. They promptly displayed it in their chamber where it joined numerous commercial models.


I hope it will serve as a reminder that GA rightfully holds a place as a valuable component of the aviation community all over the world.

A vision for aviation, too

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

President Obama today announced his vision for high speed rail in America—a vision that includes efficiently moving people and goods between large population centers, and a vision that calls for an investment of $13 billion in federal general fund spending over the next five years.

I’d like to see the President embrace a similar vision for a proven transportation system—aviation. We already know that aircraft large and small move people and products nationwide, making enormous contributions to our economy and the public good. General aviation alone contributes more than 1 million jobs and $150 billion annually to the economy. We also know that investment in airports, aviation infrastructure, and modernization of the air traffic control system are desperately needed to maintain aviation’s exceptional safety record.

With that in mind, I am deeply troubled by the inconsistencies in how these two transportation networks are to be funded. It appears from the administration’s proposal that federal funding for high speed rail will come from the general fund, money derived from all taxpayers whether they use rail or not. At the same time, the administration’s budget proposes that aviation be paid for through billions in new user fees while the general fund contribution to the FAA would decrease substantially.

Aviation works for all Americans, even those who don’t fly. A safe, efficient, modern air transport system is fundamental to ensuring our economic prosperity. It simply doesn’t make sense to impose new financial burdens and reduce public funding for aviation on the one hand, and offer up billions in taxpayer money for high speed rail on the other.  We need a vision for aviation, too—one that maintains the general fund contribution and lets us move forward with the modernization we so urgently need.

User Fees — The Threat is Back

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

With the Congress now in Washington full time, I have spent the past few weeks in large part on Capitol Hill.  The good news is that I have found after many meetings we have strong support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress for general aviation.  But, there are serious challenges.  I hope you are following developments at www.AOPA.org because we provide the latest news there every day as it breaks.

Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama released a summary of the budget he will send to Congress next month.  The budget revealed a preference for user charges to fund the FAA and a desire to greatly reduce funds drawn from the general fund.  We spoke out immediately to express our opposition.  Even more important, Congressman Oberstar and Congressman Costello also released statements opposing user fees.

Suffice it to say, we are gearing up for a fight because any proposal by the Obama Administration must be taken seriously, even with opposition from key members of Congress.  The full details of the budget will be released early next month.

We will talk more with all of our members about this challenge and our plans to counter any additional threats to general aviation.  Just know that this situation and a necessary campaign for general aviation are the focus of considerable attention at AOPA!