From the front lines

March 28, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.




    The Sky is NOT Falling! Those airports were NOT chosen primarily because they are GA. They are low use (depending on how you define that term). Several of the airport towers on the closure list that I am familiar with are a joke among the local flying community. The operators, nice and efficient as they may be, are sorely under-worked 95% of the time. We pilots can and do handle untowered airports quite well. This is a lousy issue to fall on one’s sword over. Let’s find another more serious GA issue (like AvGas prices) to rail about.

  • Barbara O’Grady

    People who have no direct involvement in General Aviation see little or no value in it – including the decision makers on Capitol Hill. The response from GA has been reactionary, the latest example being tower closures. Ask a group of non-aviation people where airline pilots came from and they’ll tell you the military. They have no idea that Part 91 pilots fly for the Highway Patrol, Air Sheriffs, Angel Flights, LightHawk flights, Ag, Civil Air Patrol, etc., etc. What will be lost if pilots aren’t available to fly these missions – to name but a few of them – or are priced out of the air? The kneejerk reaction to the Colgan accident was to increase minimum hours to 1,500. Was the question ever asked as to how pilots are supposed to pay for and gain the additional experience to qualify for an airline cockpit? Unless our representative organizations and pilot groups take a more comprehensive, cost/benefit approach, in promoting the value of GA instead over hyperventilating over every perceived and imagined threat, it will continue to shrink.

  • claudius klimt

    We all know sequestration is coming. Could you please inform the pilot community as to what the FAA is cutting and the total cut that is required? It does not help to focus on the tower closings alone. This may be the most logical of decision or it may be the most cynical of decisions. If you would supply the bare facts, it would be much more powerful and a great service to the pilot community.
    1- What is the total by which the FAA has to cut their budget?
    2- What is the total size of their budget? How is it presently allocated?
    3- Exactly how are they proposing to meet their budget cuts? All cuts and the exact services impacted, not just tower staff
    4- What is not being cut

    The towers chosen do not make sense to me personally. Recently I tried to fly to Frederick to help out with a 99s program of introducing women to aviation. It was so busy that in spite of there being a control tower, I was not able to get a clearance to get in. Even without special events, FDK is a very busy airport with mixed Helicopter, GA and business jet traffic. This control tower is a definite asset. Other airports could well do without control towers.


  • Dave

    I applaud the FAA’s decision to close (I hope permanently) the targeted control towers. Such action does not compromise safety, as all pilots are trained and experienced in sequencing their arrivals and departures at low volume airports. No doubt, many of these towers were borne out of political favors, rather than operational necessity. And shame on AOPA for its whining and sniveling. It is unbecoming to itself and an embarassment to many of its members.

    Although I have been flying GA for 49 years and a member of AOPA for 20+ years, I am first and foremost a fiscally conservative taxpayer who would be living under a bridge if I managed my household budget the way our congress and administration MISmanages theirs. So if you think that you are feeling the pain, suck it up! There is a lot more coming down the pike.

    Now go strap on a plane and go fly!

  • Pete Taylor

    I beg to differ on the supposition that these are all sleepy little backwater towers, while some, indeed many may be, My home port, KHWO reports 473 ATC operations /day and hosts over 250 aircraft, 4 flight schools, banner tow operations, mosquito control headquarter, helicopter tours and 3 news helicopters and likely more than a few other business and govt functions. The FAA is abrogating its responsibility to intelligently manage a rather modest reduction in funds and intentionally exacerbating the pain factor to support the administrations political agenda in the fiscal standoff. Reduced GA Safety and long and longer lines for customs or TSA services are not concerns for the Obama base.

  • http://none Ed McDonald

    Ed McDonald says
    Believe me. This is one of the many assaults we should be expecting from Obama. He has hated the General Aviation along with business and the wealthy since he has been in office and I am confident he will continue trying to destroy them all. This is nothing but a dirty political stunt to try to make congress cave into his tax demands. The budget cuts imposed were about 10% of their budgets. This should have been handled with cleaning up waste and without any service disruptions. I had hoped the president of the United States would be above this, but as you see he isn’t. It is too bad we are the ones that have to suffer. Safety is a BIG issue at any busy airport without a tower. I hope he doesn’t kill too many people in the process.

  • Grandpa

    I was shocked after reading the first few sentences of: “From the front lines March 28, 2013 by Craig Fuller” above. We pay that man big money to know what is going on and clearly he doesn’t. Thanks to two respondents, “Jim Stark” and “Dave”. They DO understand. Perhaps they could come to Frederick and offer remedial civics to Mr. Fuller.

  • Kirk

    FAA Medical could easily and sensibly be cut back to only pilots wanting to fly as ATP or Commercial. Such a cut would be far less risky than trimming away even just one control tower.

  • Dennis

    AMEN to those who do not see the sky falling because some towers are closing. As far as I’m concerned, most of them should never have been opened in the first place. Of the towers closing in Washington state, the only two which are actually useful (Grant County and Paine Field) are remaining open. As to the rest, good riddance. I wish AOPA would be a little more discriminating about what FAA actions to oppose and maybe poll the membership on issues like this. If there is any safety issue here it will be a local one and should only be raised when there is actual justification.

  • Steve

    I agree with Dennis. Our association needs to step up with ideas and not pitch a political hissy fit. User fees have been around as a possible funding solution since at least the Bush (George W.) administration, so this concept is not at all new.

    The proposed $100 per flight fee is another example of over-reaction. The way industry groups, including AOPA, made it sound, every time someone wanted to make a run for that $100 hamburger in their Cessna, the fee would apply. It did not! Another example of rhetoric gone amok.

    Let’s dial back the politics and get involved with potential solutions. We have smart people who can do that, but politics gets in the way.

  • James

    I appreciate everyone’s comments. I obtained my private certificate less than a year ago–so I’m relatively new to the GA community and just trying to understand the impact of these tower closures. I trained and continue to fly for pleasure every couple weeks from a non-towered airport located beneath bravo airspace. On a nice day, it’s not unusual to be sharing the traffic pattern and surrounding area with half a dozen aircraft. On the few occasions that I’ve flown to towered airports (delta airspace), traffic seemed very light. Perhaps I’m naive, but here’s a novel safety idea: let’s use CTAF like we were trained to do and “look both ways before crossing the street” (we learned this when we were about five years old, right?). If we start bumping into each other, I’m afraid insurance costs–not to mention reputations–will take a hit. C’mon aviators…we can do this!

    I’m a fiscal conservative and detest government waste of taxpayer money–so I think this could be a good thing. I express my thanks and condolences to those hard-working ATC men and women who will be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

  • Randy

    As an air traffic controller and pilot this is a very bad thing, to all who are saying good riddance how many of you fly in IFR conditions? How many of you think that you can sequence and space yourselves? How many of us have experienced the weekend warriors come out on a busy or even a slow weekend and see them ignoring the rules and chosing not to participate in CTAF communication? I have experienced it many times. People are going to be hurt when there is nobody there to help, yes some of the towers could go but some of them are a busy fields also. Just think about it.

  • James Robins

    To those of you who think is is a GA over reaction consider Santa Fe, NM, which will loose its tower May 7.
    Between sunrise and sundown on any given day we will have in the pattern:
    American Eagle regional jets entering at +/- 175Kts KIAS
    Great Lakes Airlines, BE1900, entering the patttern at 165Kts KIAS
    TMB and Pilatus turbines entering the pattern at 160Kts KIAS
    Corporate jets and fractionals entering the pattern anywhere from 145Kts-165Kts KIAS.
    (A bevy of talented local pilots in all manner of smaller planes entering at 125Kts KIAS
    Diligent and safety conscious students and new-to-the-practice persons entering in LSAs at 90Kts KIAS

    We also have 3 (6) intersecting runways.

    Santa Fe is very windy, especially now. Eagle is limited to runway 02/20. On any given day, Eagle will be be configured for runway 20, and other aircraft may need 28 or 33 for winds. Use you imagination.

    Someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed here.

    I agree that many fields on the closure list did not and do not need a tower. But when AOPA asked the FAA to review a more intelligent criteria than simply daily/monthly operations, it got nowhere.

    If you really don’t recognize this an an all-out attack on GA, please drink spring water for at least 8 hours before your next flight.

    James Robins, Santa Fe
    TBM 850
    Citabria 7GCBC

  • Bill

    Obama’s sequester is not a cut in spending! It is a reduction in the increase rate of Obama’s spending . The same amount of money, that was available for all the so called “painful” spending cuts is still there; however he is taking it from governmental areas he decides to cut, in order to increase spending in areas he wants to see grow. He wants us to believe otherwise. He has decided to take “his” money from areas which are most visible to the general population. Parks, ATCs, White House tours, ect. Do you really believe the same government employees who staffed the WH tours are not paid now? Those military guards are now out of the military? Come on now…
    Pilots are thought to be a little above the average Joe mentally, but how many average Joe people would sit in a hot airplane for hours, with questionable bathroom facilities. You are letting a lying, racist, socialist, Muslim from Kenya take over this country without firing a shot.
    Don’t you wonder why the mainstream media made no mention of the thousands of tanks and armored vehicles you see on YouTube, criss-crossing this country on the way to fortified bases that are to be totally self sufficient. Why “Homeland Security” has purchased 2.3 Billion rounds of Hollow Point ammo? These tanks, ammo, and the like are not leaving this country. They are designed and intended to kill YOU! Wake Up… Hollow point ammo is not used in foreign wars! It violates the Geneva Convention.
    If nothing else will convince you, go to your local, medium – large, machine shop. Many have been told to put their normal business to the side, and are machining aluminum multi-exploding warheads for government contracts, contracts put out by “Homeland Security”. Just how secure does that make you? Homeland Security does not order munitions for foreign wars.

  • Dave


    We all like conspiracy theories; however, this conversatin is about ATC.

  • Pingback: Is GA Under Attack by the White House? | California Pilots Association()