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

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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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.

 

 

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Sequestration and our safety

February 25, 2013 by Craig Fuller

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.

 

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My Take On Day One in Washington….

January 1, 2013 by Craig Fuller

Well, we have entered 2013 with some extraordinary political theater here in Washington, D.C.  We at AOPA remained vigilant successfully preventing any measure adverse to our interests from creeping into the debate. And, while I am not sure how many people were really watching this drama, many news organizations were following the actions with breathless minute-by-minute updates.  One of the best lines (and perhaps the most accurate) suggested that “the people who are talking don’t know, and those that know aren’t talking.”

So, the latest actions by Congress seem to have prevented going over the fiscal cliff in a free fall and provided a ramp for a slow descent.  Only in Washington could well-intentioned people congratulate themselves for doing something meaningful which most believe is inadequate and the latest official budget estimates suggest will add billions to the deficit.

Yet these actions should prevent the imposition of dramatic budget reductions in the 2012-2013 budget for the time being.  For the aviation community, these cuts could have had serious impact at airports and in our control towers.  Failure to act certainly had the potential of disrupting the progress on modernizing our air traffic control system.

Perhaps of even greater significance, failure to act would have threatened the economy and made prospects for economic growth even more remote.

So, a path forward was found and for that we should be grateful.

However, what we must realize is that the path forward will take us down a road to yet another large debate that the new 113th Congress must consider within the next few months.  In this debate, budget reductions will be demanded as the price of supporting a debt ceiling increase necessary to continue funding federal government operations.

I see many challenges in this next debate.  Some in the Administration suggest they will look for more revenue.  Members of Congress will insist on dramatic spending reduction.   While all of this will be called for in an effort to promote a stronger economy, there will be risks in this debate for our general aviation community.

In addition, while this debate plays itself out over the next few months, the President is required to submit to the Congress his 2013-2014 Federal Budget Plan.  Given the statements made during 2012, we have every reason to believe that the Administration will come in search of more revenue from the general aviation community and their search seems to focus on operational user fees.

Are we better off having been spared from a plunge off a fiscal cliff?  Undoubtedly we are.  Can we lessen our resistance to ill-advised revenue measures injurious to general aviation?  Absolutely not!

The drama that has been played out in Washington, D.C as we have entered the New Year seems only to have moved the deep and serious budget challenges down the road.  There were some who believed that this round needed to focus on the tax issues and they suggested the spending debate could be fought in February and March around the debt ceiling debate.  Whether or not we like it, this is the scenario that has played itself out.  The coming debate on spending is likely, in my view, to be even more difficult than the debate we have just gone through.

The bottom line is we have our work cut out for us as we travel this path that has been set with the actions taken on this first day of 2013.

 

 

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Looking Forward to 2013

December 24, 2012 by Craig Fuller

Tom Haines, our editor-in-chief and AOPA LIVE anchor, and I sat down and talked about AOPA’s 2012 experiences and also discussed what 2013 may hold for us and for general aviation.  Tom’s good questions allowed for a wide ranging discussion that I hope you find informative!

Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/AOPALive2013

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GA loses a friend

December 7, 2012 by Craig Fuller

All of us at AOPA and the AOPA Foundation were saddened to learn of the death of J.Lloyd Huck, retired chairman of Merck & Co., Inc. and lifelong supporter of general aviation. He was a thoughtful and dedicated advocate for GA who was deeply concerned about growing the pilot population and addressing the challenges facing the flight training community. He loved flying and wanted to be sure future generations would have the same opportunity to enjoy that unique freedom.

Mr. Huck began his flying career in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he first flew the B-17 before becoming an instructor and pilot on B-29 bombers. Even after his service ended, Mr. Huck never lost his love of aviation. He continued to fly until shortly before his 90th birthday when he donated the proceeds from the sale of his last aircraft, an American Champion Champ, to the AOPA Foundation. He had previously donated another of his personal aircraft, which became the AOPA 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes airplane.

His commitment and generosity made a real difference for pilots. He will be missed.

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Demystifying flying clubs

November 15, 2012 by Craig Fuller

Flying clubs have been around a long time—almost as long as aviation itself. Until recently, they grew almost exclusively through word of mouth. If you were lucky, you’d meet someone who knew someone who belonged to a flying club—and that was how you might happen on to a community of like-minded pilots to help share the costs and joys of aircraft ownership.

It all seemed a little mysterious. How could you connect with a club? What if there wasn’t one in your area? What if you wanted to start your own?

Last night, we began the process of taking the mystery out of flying clubs and making them accessible to many more pilots who want to get more from their flying.

More than 630 pilots signed up to spend their Wednesday evening taking part in a webinar hosted by the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Participants learned about how to start their own clubs, heard from the president of a Texas flying club that grew from nothing to more than 200 members in its first three years, and got some legal and tax guidance from a leading aviation attorney. Then they asked questions—literally hundreds of them—during a discussion moderated by Adam Smith, who leads the Center.

There were questions about insurance, financing, maintenance, leasing, structure, and more. But most of all, participants wanted the kind of practical, detailed advice they need to take their own interest in flying clubs to the next level.

The session was first of many to be held by the Center to help pilots start, join, and benefit from flying clubs in communities nationwide. It’s still early days, but the strong participation and active engagement of those who took part is more evidence that pilots are excited by the idea of being part of a community where they can share their passion for aviation—and save money and hassles so they can indulge that passion a little more often.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this first event. Your questions and feedback will help us focus our efforts and give you the information you need, whether you want to join a club, expand an existing enterprise, or start something completely new. I know flying clubs have a lot to offer, and I’m excited to be working on new ways to bring those benefits to a wider audience.

I invite you to learn more about how clubs can fit into your flying by visiting our web page at www.aopa.org/flyingclubs. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be bringing you new tools and information that can help you connect with a club in your area or even start a new one of your own. In the meantime lets keep the discussion going and learn from one another. You can take part by joining the AOPA Flying Clubs group on Facebook. See you there.

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Voters Register Support for GA on Election Day!

November 12, 2012 by Craig Fuller

There was a very important Election Day victory for the general aviation community, but it did not involve anyone actually listed on a ballot.  Our victory has to do with the views of voters and a dramatic increase of support for GA from 2008 to 2012.  I will share with you below what we just learned from a new survey taken the evening of the election and the day after….

During the four years since the national elections in 2008, we in the general aviation community have been doing everything possible to advance the notion (and the reality) that GA really matters.  It means jobs, economic growth, and the expression of an important freedom, the freedom to fly.

 Here at AOPA we formed General Aviation Serves America when user fees threatened in 2009.  Our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) advanced “No Plane, No Gain” to share stories of how vital aircraft are for all types of commercial activity.  And, together with a broad based group called the Alliance for Aviation Across America, we worked to encourage state legislators and governors to pass resolutions in support of general aviation.

So, here’s the story.  For a number of years, I have worked with one of the best public opinion researchers in the business who runs a post-election survey to learn all about what voters had on their minds on election day.  The survey is national and has a fairly large sample. But what has always interested me about this technique is that the survey consists only of voters who actually voted, so it provides valuable insights into the thinking of our citizens who care enough to vote!

The researcher works with several groups in advance to find questions that are of a unique interest.  So, in 2008 and again in 2012 we asked America’s voters some questions about general aviation.  To be honest, the results are very favorable—so favorable that if the exact same questions had not been asked previously by the same researcher using the same post-election survey technique, I might be a bit skeptical.

What I believe the survey shows very clearly is that America’s voters place a higher value on general aviation in 2012 than they did in 2008.  Yes, that’s right.  We are doing better in the minds of voters.  And, going into the highly charged public policy debates over the next several months, these findings should serve to bolster our case.

 So, here are the results.

  1. In 2008 and again in 2012, we asked voters to tell us whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:  General aviation in the United States is an important part of the nation’s transportation system.

                           In 2008, 62% agreed.  In 2012 93% agreed.

                   And, the agreement was across all demographic groups.

       2.   In both national election years we asked voters to agree or disagree with this statement:  General aviation in the United States  is important to me and my family.

              In 2008, 29% agreed.  In 2012, 76% agreed.

           3.  One other question of interest was asked that was new this year.  We asked voters about their aspiration to fly in a private plane.  Across all voters, 31% of those that had never been in a private plane said they hope to some day.  And, among younger voters between the ages of 18 and 24, just over half said they have the desire to fly in a private plane.

These election day results encourage me to think that tens of millions of America’s voters not only recognize the value of general aviation, but actually want to participate in experiencing the freedom to fly.  I know sometimes we feel like our constituency is small, but because we are passionate and vocal we are building a stronger appreciation for GA and all that the freedom to fly means in America! We need to keep up the fight and we need your continued support–together we really are changing the way America views GA.

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Rod Hightower leaves EAA, collaboration will continue

October 22, 2012 by Craig Fuller

All of us at AOPA were saddened to learn today of Rod Hightower’s resignation as president of EAA. During his tenure AOPA and EAA enjoyed an unprecedented level of collaboration that has served members of both organizations well. Our associations have committed to working together to protect general aviation interests, promote GA safety, and grow the GA community in the United States. That commitment has been at the heart of the joint AOPA-EAA petition to allow an exemption to the third class medical, now under review by the FAA.

I am confident the EAA Board, under the chairmanship of Jack Pelton, will find the right individual to lead EAA into the future. In the meantime, all of us at AOPA look forward to continuing to work with EAA’s leadership team to develop innovative ways to address the challenges facing the general aviation community.

Finally, I have enjoyed getting to know Rod and Maura, and I wish them and their entire family the best in this new chapter of their lives.

 

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