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Sun, Oct 07, 2007

AOPA 2007: User Fees, Flight Service Among Topics At General Session

Boyer Delivers 'State Of The Union' Concerning Funding Debate

by ANN Correspondent Dave Ziegler

AOPA President Phil Boyer spent the lion's share of Saturday's general session on the status of the user fees for General Aviation debate. Despite recent victories for GA, Boyer warned that the fight isn't over yet. "We're in the Terminal Area, we are within site of the airport, but there is some convective weather ahead, and that's probably the best way to describe where we are right now."

After displaying several anti-GA advertisements currently found on airport terminal televisions, airline seatbacks, and newspapers throughout the country, Boyer shared counter-ads produced by the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA) and funded by the AOPA and NBAA. These responses highlight DOT studies that claim most delays are caused by weather and the commercial airlines themselves. "The airlines would have you believe that General Aviation is the cause for all the delays at the major airports," explained Boyer. "In fact, we're only 4% of the traffic at the top 10 airports."

Speaking about General Aviation's most recent victory in the House of Representatives, Boyer said that "on that side of Capitol Hill, they passed the House bill that we support by 267 to 151." H.R. 2881, or the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, passed on September 20th with no mention of user fees, but instead includes a small tax increase on AvGas and a slightly larger tax increase on turbine fuel.

The Senate Commerce Committee had previously passed its own bill which included user fees for turbine aircraft and a 100% increase on the turbine fuel tax and eliminated the only aviation tax paid by the airlines. "In effect, the Senate Finance Committee rejected their ideas, changed the taxes keeping the airline fuel tax … and kept our GA taxes at a reasonable level."

In its current state, however, the bill still contains a $25 user fee for turbine aircraft. "We hope to be able to take care of that in a different kind of way," said Boyer, who hopes for an amendment to remove the user fee during a full Senate vote. Afterwards, a Conference committee will bring both bills together and send the finalized bill to the White House to be vetoed or signed by the President.

Cebula Discusses FSS Outsourcing

A quick and informal poll of Saturday's general session audience by Andy Cebula, AOPA Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, revealed most attendees who utilized the Lockheed Martin Automated Flight Service Station system in the last six months have had problems. "We know it," responded Cebula, "and we have been doing a great deal of work on this because it has been a real frustration for us as an organization to see how this has just fallen apart and not really served your needs. 

According to Cebula, modernization of the old AFSS system -- which utilized 1970s technology -- would result in $2 billion in savings. "If we would have stayed with this current system, our fear is that you'd be paying about $9 a gallon, and that would look just like Europe."

Despite problems with the current FSS system, Cebula acknowledged that outsourcing was still the right decision, and he assured members that the AOPA would continue to monitor and demand action to correct outstanding issues, saying that the AOPA has been, and will remain, in communication with the FAA and Lockheed Martin on a daily basis. One of the biggest problems still facing pilots is lack of local area knowledge by briefers.

To help pilots, AOPA introduced a briefing tips card that can help pilots navigate their way through the new system to find a briefer in their area. The cards were handed out at AOPA Expo and will be made available in the November issue of AOPA Pilot and the December issue of AOPA Flight Training.

New AOPA Website, Air Safety Foundation Offerings

Acting in her new role of AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications, Karen Gebhart introduced AOPA's new web site, which went live on September 19th. The completely redesigned site utilizes newer web technologies for richer content and takes into consideration the many suggestions offered by AOPA members, including more non-advocacy news coverage, better organization, and improved readability.

Also new for AOPA members is a whole new safety seminar from the Air Safety Foundation, presented during the general session by ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. The new seminar, which made its debut at AOPA Expo 2007, discusses the top five ways GA pilots end up in fatal accidents, and what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes.

The ASF also offers a new online course for owners and operators of aging aircraft. This interactive course discusses factors that affect the rate of aging, such as storage, use, abuse, and maintenance. It also offers suggestions for proactive inspection and maintenance practices, and explains the difference between chronological and true age. More information on both of these offerings can be found on the Air Safety Foundation website.



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