Archive for 2013

Weekends are for flying

Monday, October 21st, 2013

As far as I’m concerned, weekends are for flying. OK, every day is for flying, but like you, I sometimes have to wait for the weekend to be able to hang around the airport and talk to pilots.

This past weekend, I had a great time doing some of the things I love most.

The Beech Party celebrates all makes and models of Beechcraft planes.

The annual Beech Party celebrates all makes and models of Beechcraft planes.

Classic airplanes at the Beech Party in Tullahoma Tennessee.

Classic airplanes take flight at the Beech Party in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

On Friday, I stopped in Tullahoma, Tennessee, to drop in on an amazing “Beech Party.” Pilots from all over the country had gathered at this gem of an airport to celebrate the past and present of some of their favorite aircraft. Lunch was held at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, and this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Staggerwing Club and the 40th anniversary of the museum, which the club founded. As the owner of a Beech 18 and the past owner of a succession of Barons and Bonanzas, I was in heaven.

Tullahoma has both paved and soft landing areas, so the airplanes old and new were in their element. What’s more beautiful than a pristine grass strip with carefully restored Staggerwings buzzing overhead? I just love that sound and the smell of sod crushed under fat airplane tires.

I had the chance to talk to the pilots about some of AOPA’s most critical work, and then I got to just talk airplanes with them.

It was hard to leave Tullahoma, but I had to get to Denver where I spent Saturday morning with another enthusiastic group of AOPA members. This time we were at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum with its enormous hangar filled with military and civilian aircraft, historic flight suits, and even an X-wing replica for you Star Wars fans.

I spent Saturday morning talking to AOPA members at the Wings Overs the Rockies museum in Denver.

I spent Saturday morning talking to AOPA members at the Wings Overs the Rockies Museum in Denver.

I was joined there by Rob Hackman, our vice president of regulatory affairs, and Dave Ulane, our regional manager for the northwest mountain states. More than 200 people turned out to hear about my priorities for AOPA, learn more about state
aviation issues, and get updates on big regulatory efforts, including avgas, changes to aircraft certification, and our medical petition. They had some great questions about where GA is headed and what AOPA is doing to protect our freedom to fly.

So my weekend was just the way I like them—all about aviation.

Preparing to meet the future

Friday, October 18th, 2013

As president of AOPA, I am proud to lead an organization that’s been protecting the interests of pilots for almost 75 years. It’s a legacy I want to advance, and I believe it’s my job to help make sure the next 75 years are just as successful.

That’s why I’ve made some changes to AOPA’s organizational structure that will help us focus on our core mission, bring our revenue and expenses back in line, and position us for future growth.

Yesterday, we announced a reorganization. The biggest changes are in our government affairs division and our programs to grow the pilot population. Both of these areas are top priorities for AOPA, so they need to be structured in a way that helps us get results.

In government affairs, we needed more flexibility and better integration between our legislative and regulatory activities. To do that, we’re changing the way we deploy staff members so that our subject matter experts will have the support they need to address such big issues as avgas, aircraft certification reform, and NextGen implementation.

When it comes to growing the pilot population, we’re moving toward greater collaboration with other aviation advocates. For example, we will be working more closely with EAA’s Young Eagles program. At the same time, we will keep expanding programs that make flying more accessible and affordable, including supporting and growing flying clubs and helping lapsed pilots get back into the air.

These are the biggest changes, but we’ve done some reorganizing across most of AOPA’s departments. Every change was made with a clear goal in mind—using our resources efficiently to achieve our members’ priorities.

In some cases, the shift has made positions redundant, and as a result we have released 12 staffers. Cutting jobs is never easy, but we owe it to our members to be fiscally responsible.

AOPA is financially strong, but like you, we can’t afford to spend more than we make. I believe strongly that the new structure will make us more efficient and effective as we focus on making sure general aviation and AOPA are still serving pilots a century from now.

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.

Boy Scouts share excitement of GA

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

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I travel the country talking to pilots and AOPA members, but even I rarely get to see so much enthusiasm from so many young people as I have today at the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree in Mt. Hope, West Virginia. In just a couple of days more than 1,000 scouts have visited our tent to enjoy a flight experience in the AOPA Jay. And some 600 have signed up for our special teen AV8RS program. Today, as part of Airborne Day, our own Dave Hirschman led a flyover that had all eyes looking up.

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.

 

 

Sequestration and our safety

Monday, February 25th, 2013

As most of you know, President Obama and the U.S. Congress are in the throes of debate over federal sequestration and the resulting $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect March 1.
The cuts will take place automatically unless Congress acts to stop them. Politics aside, the impact on our safety and freedom to fly could be severe.

Dramatic and arbitrary cuts to our aviation system could compromise the safety of ourselves, our passengers, and our fellow aviators.

I am blogging about this today because I believe it is important for all AOPA members to understand how a government sequester will affect us as pilots, aircraft owners, and aviation enthusiasts. I also want you to know how AOPA’s regulatory and government affairs experts are working to mitigate the damage to general aviation.

Last Friday, the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration wrote to AOPA and several other aviation organizations detailing how sequestration spending cuts would affect aviation services.
The agencies said the letter was “just the beginning” of a conversation with stakeholders about how to “reduce the negative impact” of required cuts that are expected to reach $600 million for this fiscal year.  The letter cited several measures that would be enacted if a deal on sequestration isn’t reached, including the closure of 60 airport control towers during midnight shifts, the complete shutdown of more than 100 towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations per year, and a nearly universal staff furlough.

We’ve scheduled a meeting with other aviation associations and top FAA officials to hear more about the agency’s sequestration plans. We will share more details with you as they become available.

AOPA’s government specialists expect that, if sequestration takes hold, we will see a gradual reduction of services that may take weeks to become apparent. During that time we can expect mounting pressure on Congress and the White House to find a workable compromise.

We have spent the past few years building the largest and strongest General Aviation Caucus the House and Senate have ever seen. The members of this caucus have been very supportive of general aviation and are working with AOPA to find the best possible scenario for managing anticipated cuts. In our meetings on Capitol Hill, we have made it clear that the safety of our nearly 400,000 members depends on maintaining vital services, including air traffic control, weather and NOTAM information, updated charts, and other critical planning and operational tools. Airmen certification and medical services are also a concern, and we are working with our colleagues within the FAA to make sure the agency knows which services are most important to our members.

Standing in the shadow of the sequestration controversy is the president’s budget, which will also come out in March.  We expect it to once again include a $100-per-flight user fee. We anticipate that the House of Representatives will declare the president’s budget dead on arrival, and then enact its own budget bills (without user fees).  Those bills will go to the Senate, where a budget has not been acted upon for years.
Thus, we are still months away from knowing whether the administration will be able to advance its user fee proposal.

If past is prologue, chances of its passage are not good, but we can’t afford to be complacent. We will work to defeat proposed user fees, as we have successfully done in the past.

In the meantime, we hope that a solution to the automatic sequester can be found by March 1. Until then, please stay tuned to AOPA’s website and newsletters for updates on our meetings with the FAA and Congress, and for further news on sequestration’s impact on aviation.