Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), AOPA President Mark Baker, Experimental Aircraft Association CEO and Chairman of the Board Jack Pelton, and aviation legal consultants Alan Farkas and Kathy Yodice discussed pressing issues facing general aviation, including the misguided FAA directive on flight training, during the Congressional Forum at EAA AirVenture July 31. The session was moderated by EAA Vice President of Government Relations Doug Macnair.
One of the primary issues discussed, as it had been all week in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was the FAA ruling that, as of July 12, required owners of experimental aircraft in which pilots receive training, or the instructors who provide the training for compensation, to obtain a letter of deviation authority (LODA) from the FAA.
“You have the leaders of the largest aviation organizations sitting here,” Inhofe said. “There may be some competition, but they both love aviation and have come together with us to try and solve this. No one individual will be able to do this.”
“This issue popped out of nowhere,” added Baker. “It was a change in policy that had been in place for years and well-established. It makes no sense and can interrupt safety—in the middle of GA’s safest year. It’s a waste of time.”
Pelton addressed the slippery slope nature of the directive: “We could see this expanded to standard category aircraft and then CFIs. This has some unfortunate and unintended consequences if it’s not stopped.”
Macnair reaffirmed the desired call to action preached all week at AirVenture by all parties:
“Call or write your local representative or senator,” he stated. “They need to hear from you, and they need to add their own support to these bills.”
Several other aviation-related topics were covered as well.
BasicMed. The aviation industry is marking five years since the passage of this alternative path to medical certification, a move that AOPA had been championing for several years. More than 66,000 pilots have qualified to fly under BasicMed since it took effect, an innovation that has kept safe pilots flying, and not bogged down in unnecessary red tape and delays.
“BasicMed was a great collaborative effort among many organizations,” Inhofe stated. “This has been one of the most important issues we have discussed at Oshkosh. We’re now safer because of this effort.”
Baker addressed the recent AOPA five-year BasicMed report, which outlined how the skies are safer than ever since it took effect.
“BasicMed was a true testament to the entire aviation industry and elected officials coming together in the name of third class medical reform,” he said. “We also continue to work with countries like Canada to accept pilots flying under BasicMed, as Mexico and the Bahamas have.”
National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA). To address looming workforce shortages in the overall aviation industry, AOPA championed bipartisan legislation to create an independent center to foster cooperation and collaboration among commercial, general, and military aviation sectors.
Inhofe led a bipartisan group to introduce the Senate legislation (S.1752) on May 21, with the House following suit the next week. The NCAA would help shape a generation of new pilots, aerospace engineers, unmanned aircraft systems operators, aviation maintenance technicians, and other professionals. The NCAA would also create the resources needed by curriculum developers to integrate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and leverage knowledge and expertise among industry sectors.
“We need more people in aviation other than pilots,” Inhofe stated. “When students graduate, they have a good idea of what they want to do with their lives. We need to get them interested in aviation before that, and this program will do a good job.”
Baker praised the NCAA, but took workforce development a step further in saying that increased numbers also need to be better reflective of society.
“We need to make sure that aviation is represented by all. I am so proud of the AOPA High School STEM Curriculum program, in that nearly 45 percent of the students come from underserved communities and more than 25 percent are women,” he said.
Hangars Accelerate National Growth and Regional Stability (HANGARS) Act. One of the most pressing issues facing GA is the considerable lack of hangar space across the nation. According to a survey of more than 700 AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers across the country, more than 70 percent of airports in the United States have a hangar waiting list. Lack of funding and grants were cited as major hurdles to hangar construction.
This act would establish two programs to fund more than $1 million for aircraft hangar construction, providing a huge boost for GA airports, pilots, and local economic development, especially in rural areas.
“Even through the pandemic, GA has continued to grow with no places to put airplanes,” Pelton said. “Aviation provides a tremendous economic boost to local economies, and while there seems to be money for airport development, not enough is being devoted to hangars.”
In the end, Inhofe reflected on 42 years of Oshkosh attendance.
“Being in the Senate as long as I have, you build up a lot of people who don’t like you. This is the only place I can go in the country and be among all friends,” he said.