Inside the fence


John F. InfangerNotes from an AOPA town hall meeting and a conversation on a Northwest flight to Milwaukee ...
by John F. Infanger

Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association - now some 380,780 members strong, - is definitely in his element in a roomful of pilots. It was certainly the case at a recent town hall session at St. Charles, IL, outside Chicago. Since the tragedies of 9/11, overflowing crowds have been the norm at the sessions.

Boyer agreed to sit down prior to the group meet and discuss key issues facing the industry. A few of his observations ...

  • Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) sees general aviation as a "ticking time bomb," and has had his staff specifically looking into Part 135 charter operations. A disparity that concerns Boyer is the fact that 135s were allowed back in the air more quickly after 9/11 than other general aviation operations, even though security isn't much different between the two.
  • Boyer is asking airport groups to modify general aviation security recommendations that they are currently considering and says AOPA will put up a fight if they are not changed.
  • While some 50 percent of all pilots are instrument-rated, only 15 percent are IFR-current. It's a serious consideration, says Boyer, in light of the restrictions maintained on VFR pilots after 9/11.
  • Boyer says that FAA has told him it would take the agency five years to convert all pilot certificates to ones that have a photo ID. A simpler solution, he says, is to modify Part 61 to require pilots to carry their certificate, medical, and a government-issued photo ID - i.e., a driver's license. That, he adds, could happen in a day.
  • AOPA supports federal legislation now under consideration that would allow expansion of O'Hare International, development of a new Chicago airport at Peotone, and an extended life for Meigs Field, which Boyer says has become an "icon" to pilots. After 2006, the legislation would allow the Illinois legislature to determine the longer term fate of Meigs. Boyer sees this as a good thing: "I'm always happier when our members can influence legislation with a legislature rather than trying to sway a stubborn mayor," he says.
  • Regarding the trend toward communities (Naples, FL; Van Nuys, CA; et. al.) trying to have more control over local airports, Boyer is concerned that small aircraft users are being affected by concerns brought about by the increase in business aircraft flown by fractionals. It is the fractionals that are accounting for significant traffic increases at GA airports - a shift away from piston aircraft. "For example, at Van Nuys there's even a user group to 'save our tiedowns,'" he says.
  • AOPA's airport support network now has some 1,200 volunteers alerting the association when an airport or its users are being threatened. A recent user fee proposal at Manassas, VA, was stopped by alerting members who then got the city council to implement a 2 cents per gallon fee instead.

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Finally, on a flight home recently a frequent flyer made a suggestion: Why not create a training program for frequent travelers who want to volunteer to be available to help stop anyone interferring with a flight? Volunteers would receive the basics in counterterrorism, and could be readily identified through passenger manifests. Says he wrote FAA with the idea, but had yet to hear back from the agency.

Thanks for reading.