Mark Baker

For the past 70 years, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has served the aviation community, informing, educating, and advocating on behalf of the nation's pilots. Now, it is an honor and my privilege to lead AOPA in preserving our freedoms - and to keep this trust so that future generations can realize the dream of flight. AOPA Now is a direct channel, from my desk to yours - and back again, to discuss how we can address these challenges and the many opportunities to keep aviation strong and secure.

- Mark Baker

A stop in Emerald City

February 23, 2014 by Mark Baker

I was lucky to be able to spend the weekend in the Seattle area attending the Northwest Aviation Conference with thousands of my fellow pilots. I love coming to the Pacific Northwest. Not only is this a beautiful part of the country, but it’s also a place where lots of water means lots of seaplane flying, one of my favorite activities. Every pilot loves to compare experiences and share stories about their favorite aircraft and destinations, so I had a great time just chatting with folks who stopped to say hello.

But I also spent some time talking about the serious issues that affect our flying and taking questions from conference attendees. It should come as no surprise that the burning issues here in the Northwest are very much the same as elsewhere in the country. People want to know how we can control the cost of flying, what we can do to bring more people into aviation, and how we can stop government agencies from targeting innocent pilots

Legislation or regulatory changes that would let more pilots fly without the need for a third-class medical could really alter the landscape, saving money and making it easier for many people to keep flying or get back to flying. I don’t think it’s a cureall, but I do think it’s a huge step in the right direction. Promising alternatives to leaded avgas are another good sign for the future of GA. Finding ways to make airports more welcoming, to help rusty pilots get back in the air, and to make it possible to fly for around $250 a month, are also high on my agenda.

Mark Baker talks to pilots at the 2014 Northwest Aviation Conference.

Mark Baker talks to pilots at the 2014 Northwest Aviation Conference.

There was plenty of passion around all of these issues, but the biggest audience reaction came when I answered a question about the unwarranted stops and searches of general aviation aircraft by Customs and Border Protection. As I told the audience, I don’t know why general aviation is being singled out for this outrageous treatment, but I do know that America is supposed to be the “home of the free” and we aren’t going to stand by while the rights of law abiding pilots are trampled.

Stay tuned for more about our next steps and rest assured that we won’t let this issue go.

 

 

 

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Let’s get together

January 6, 2014 by Mark Baker

I love to spend my Saturdays at the airport, hanging out with pilots and airplanes. I’m hoping you’ll join me at least once this year as we inaugurate a series of Saturday AOPA Fly-Ins to be held all across the country.

These gatherings were inspired by you—AOPA members. Many of you told us that you wanted ways to connect with one another and with your association, and we wanted to create a fun, easy way for you to do that.

Each fly-in will start with a pancake breakfast and pilot town hall. I’ll bring you up to speed on the big issues that affect our flying and some of AOPA’s most important initiatives. Then I’ll take lots of your questions so we can have a meaningful discussion about the issues that matter the most to you and the way you fly.

Throughout the day, we’ll have flying activities, educational seminars, exhibits, and aircraft on display. We’ll also have a learn-to-fly area for the aspiring pilots you bring along with you.

Admission is free for everyone, and lunch is free for AOPA members.

Every event will be special, but there’s one in particular that I’m looking forward to—the AOPA Homecoming set for October 4 at our Frederick headquarters. It’s going to be a celebration not only of all things GA, but also of AOPA’s 75th anniversary.

I can’t tell you how proud I am to lead an organization with such a long and impressive history of protecting the freedom to fly, and I can’t wait to share some of that history with you—the members who make AOPA what it is. We want you to come home to your association headquarters and get real insight into what it means to share in the long tradition of AOPA membership.

I have always been lucky to fly at airports where there’s a strong sense of community. More than anything, I want to share that experience with all of you. So I hope you’ll join me and other members of the AOPA team for at the Homecoming or any of our Saturday Fly-Ins for a day of fun, flying, and camaraderie.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Texas: San Marcos Municipal Airport (HYI), April 26
  • Indiana: Indianapolis Regional Airport (MQJ), May 31
  • Massachusetts: Plymouth Airport (PYM), July 12
  • Washington: Spokane Felts Field (SFF), August 16
  • California: Chino Airport (CNO), September 20
  • Maryland: Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK), October 4
  • Georgia: Malcolm McKinnon Airport (SSI), November 8

Hope to see you there!

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Weekends are for flying

October 21, 2013 by Mark Baker

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.

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Preparing to meet the future

October 18, 2013 by Mark Baker

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.

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GA makes strong showing in New Mexico

August 12, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

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Boy Scouts share excitement of GA

July 18, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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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.

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Why is simple so hard?

July 15, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

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House GA Caucus sets new record

July 5, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

 

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Winning in the States

June 25, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

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Witness to a fundamental change

April 1, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

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