Note: The AOPA Central Southwest Region covers NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA.
Addressing the big issues that will affect the way we fly for decades to come requires a big commitment, and 2015 has been a year marked by steady progress on some of the biggest issues of all.
National Issues and Initiatives
Some of the federal issues AOPA worked on in 2015 include addressing barriers to Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipage, introducing the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 to include third class medical reform as well as protections for pilots facing enforcement actions, integrating Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) or “drones” into the National Airspace System (NAS), and identifying a replacement for unleaded avgas (100LL). AOPA was also a key player in growing the General Aviation Caucuses on both houses, with the House one reaching an all-time membership record of 274 representatives.
State and Local Issues and Initiatives
When it comes to making an impact on the way we fly, it’s not just national issues that make a difference. AOPA is equally hard at work on the state level and at local airports to keep GA flying.
In 2015, we monitored over 750 bills across the regions, taking an active advocacy role on many of them. Among the state legislative victories racked up in the Central Southwest Region were:
- Airport improvement funding/appropriations in all the states,
- Texas: 1) A requirement to mark, register and enforce the marking and registration of Meteorological Evaluation Towers (MET towers) to mitigate safety-of-flight hazard for pilots, 2) clarification of how GA aircraft leasing and business practices operate so that sales and use tax changes do not affect the industry’s positive contribution to the state’s economy, 3) the ability for repossession agents to file a petition in a justice court for a writ of assistance to receive help from law enforcement officials when repossessing an aircraft, and 4) allow anybody to obtain a copy of the TxDOT Airport Directory for free,
- Louisiana: A fly-away sales/use tax exemption on Louisiana-manufactured or Louisiana-assembled passenger aircraft with a maximum capacity of 8 people.
- Oklahoma: Setting a minimum mile-and-a-half distance between the construction of new wind-energy turbines and any public-use and private-use airport. Although the state’s 2010 law known as the Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act only applies to public-use airports, this new law also applies this safety protection to Oklahoma’s 245 private-use airports.
- Arkansas: 1) A partial fly-away sales/use tax exemption on aircraft, 2) a sales/use tax exemption on maintenance (labor and parts) for aircraft 12,500 lbs or more, and 3) a law that authorizes the State Highway Commission to maintain and repair roads leading up to qualifying airports.
- Missouri: A fly-away sales/use tax exemption on aircraft,
- Nebraska: 1) Property tax cuts on business aircraft and 2) an improved law regarding the marking and registration of MET towers as well as an enforcement provision of those two requirements, and
- Iowa: Legislation to 1) protect GA education and flight instruction providers, 2) promote good land-use and protect navigable airspace in the form of the Airport Zoning Act, and 3) preserve the process for closing airports and repaying open state grants.
In addition, if you are watching the news, you may also know that the states and several local municipalities are considering and drafting rules and legislation addressing UAS use. We have been tracking these to ensure they understand the FAA’s safety reasons and responsibility for federal oversight of aviation and airspace (such as restrictions on flight altitude or flight paths, regulation of the navigable airspace, or mandating UAS-specific equipment or training). UAS laws likely to fall under state/local authority involve requirements for police to obtain a warrant prior to using UAS for surveillance, prohibitions on the use of UAS for voyeurism, exclusions on using UAS for hunting or fishing, and prohibitions on attaching firearms or other weapons to a UAS.
And, sometimes in politics, the good news is that bad news won’t happen. This year, we had to fight the reversion, diversion, and/or elimination of aviation-generated funds from state aviation funds in several states, most notably in New Mexico, Missouri and Louisiana. We also fought against aviation (mostly aviation fuel) tax increases, especially if those additional taxes were not scheduled to go back to the state’s aviation division for aviation uses.
Louisiana Speaker Kleckley
Aviation Days at the Capitol
New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa all had Aviation/Transportation Days at the Capitols, providing a great opportunity for pilots, aviation organizations (like AOPA), and legislators to meet and chat about our agenda and the importance and benefit of general aviation to each respective state.
Glider designer George Applebay being honored on the House floor during New Mexico’s Aviation Day at the Capitol.
Kansas State Representatives Seiwert (L) and Carmichael (R)
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
State Aviation Caucuses
Arkansas and Texas are the two states within our region with State Aviation Caucuses and both had meetings in 2015. Several members of the Texas General Aviation Caucus met for a couple of presentations on March 5th and the Arkansas Aerospace and Aviation Caucus learned about airspace and air traffic in their respective communities as well toured the Little Rock ATCT/TRACON on January 21st.
Texas Rep Kuempel welcoming members of the Texas General Aviation Caucus and aviation stakeholders to the annual meeting
With members of the Arkansas Aerospace and Aviation Caucus and two FAA controllers
The majority of the states – and several communities within some of those states, such as mayors in Baton Rouge, Hammond, New Iberia, and Ruston – issued Governor proclamations recognizing the value of aviation and the jobs and opportunities it creates, among other benefits.
Member Engagement and Outreach
As part of a Regional Manager’s job, we also get to engage with our members and future pilots. In 2015, I represented AOPA at over 50 events across the region, ranging from flying club meetings to flying events (like a poker run or an air tour) and everything in between (meetings with our Airport Support Network Volunteers, visits to Universities and other entities, seminars, Pinch Hitter courses, fly-ins, fly-outs, airshows, conferences…).
You can also engage with me via Twitter or any of the media outlets I contribute to (like the regional website, Midwest Flyer Magazine, or TxDOT’s Wingtips newsletter, for example).
I looking forward to another productive year in 2016! Stay tuned for ways you can contribute and engage with us but keep in mind several of the states will only have tax-related sessions and the Texas Legislature will not meet.
(in collaboration with Elizabeth Tennyson)