Oct. 10, 2013
Contact: Steve Hedges
Fort Worth, TX – Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) President and CEO Mark Baker opened AOPA’s Aviation Summit 2013 here today with a spirited call to preempt mandated sequestration cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) budget with smart reductions that do more for pilots, increase pressure on the FAA to expand the driver’s license medical standard and to open up public access to airports nationwide.
Baker also outlined his initiative to replace AOPA’s annual Aviation Summit in 2014 with a series of regional fly-ins where members can talk directly with him and AOPA staff about their concerns.
“We’re going to take a hard look at FAA spending and come up with our own suggestions for saving money,” he told a crowd of over 1,000 at the Fort Worth Convention Center. “We know that costs have to come down. But we also know that some cuts make a lot more sense than others.”
Baker noted that during a previous round of sequestration cuts, “there was a plan to close virtually all the contract towers in the country – and eventually our friends in Congress had to step in to keep those towers operating. We can’t let that happen again, so we aren’t going to wait around for people who don’t understand or care about general aviation to make those choices.”
Baker suggested streamlining flight service station operations and shutting down little-used VORs and instrument approaches as a way that the FAA could save more than $55 million without damaging general aviation.
“We aren’t talking about getting rid of things you use, things that are important to you,” he told the AOPA members. “We’re talking about not spending money on things that don’t help pilots and don’t improve safety.”
Baker invited members to share their cost cutting ideas with AOPA by sending an email to FAAcostsavings@aopa.org.
Baker also said he’s pressing the FAA hard to approve a petition that will allow many pilots to substitute a valid driver’s license for a third-class medical certificate. AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association petitioned the FAA for that change 18 months ago, and more than 16,000 pilots filed comments on the idea. The FAA has so far failed to act.
“Some people at the FAA have said changing the medical isn’t a priority,” he said. “But that doesn’t make sense. We estimate that letting more pilots fly with a driver’s license medical would save the FAA $11 million at a time when we know they need to cut costs.
“I brought this issue up with the FAA administrator just last week. He is understandably worried about safety. But we feel confident that this petition ensures safety. Light Sport Pilots have been flying safely with driver’s license medicals for nine years. Our proposal would actually add another layer of safety by giving pilots training in how to self-certify that they are fit to fly.”
Baker, who grew up in Minnesota, described himself as “one of those airport kids. I used to ride my bike down to the field to watch the planes take off and land. That experience just isn’t available anymore, but it should be.
“Airports shouldn’t look like prison camps. We respect the need for security, but airports only thrive when people can use them.”
As AOPA president, Baker said he will work with the FAA and aviation security agencies to reduce the austere measures that some airports have employed to improve security, making airports more accessible to encourage both new pilots and a stronger connection with communities.
“The community needs access – this is how neighbors experience the value of their airports and how future pilots are exposed to GA,” he said. “Watching planes take off and land is just as cool now as it was when I was a kid. Why can’t our airports have picnic tables, shelters, grills, viewing areas, and playgrounds?”
Baker also touched on the future of AOPA’s relationship with its nearly 400,000 members, stressing that he wants to hear directly from members about what matters to them.
In light of that, he said, AOPA will forego an annual summit in 2014 and instead stage a series of regional fly-ins .
“I want to meet you where you fly so I can really get a feel for what’s important to you,” Baker said. “In many ways, my job as AOPA president is to find out what matters most to you, our members, and make sure that we’re using our resources to accomplish those goals. But I can only do that if I really understand how and why you fly.
“So next year, we’re planning to host about half-a-dozen regional fly-ins all around the country. These will be full day events. I’ll bring you up to date on what’s happening at AOPA and I’ll listen to you about your concerns. We’ll have seminars or other educational opportunities, have lunch together and do some flying.”
“It will be a whole day of GA, and I can’t wait to get started!”
Since 1939, AOPA has protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts. With a membership base of nearly 400,000, AOPA is the largest aviation association in the world. With representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., and seven regions across the United States, AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media products. To learn more, visit www.aopa.org.
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