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Getting the lead out

AOPA applauds FAA approvals of engine models

The FAA has approved hundreds of additional piston aircraft engine models to burn the 100-octane unleaded avgas developed by General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) in a move that an aviation fuels expert Paul Millner said signals the agency’s “bullish” approach to the elimination of leaded aviation fuel.

The 611 engines included in an approved model list issued in October—plus the more limited number of approvals GAMI announced in July—account for about 70 percent of the GA aircraft fleet’s powerplants. The commitment reflects the FAA’s awareness that some local governments are taking action to ban leaded avgas from being used at airports in their jurisdictions.

Although the approved engines comprise a large percentage of the GA fleet—used mostly in aircraft that only require lower-octane fuels—the remaining 30 percent of engines require 100-octane fuel to reduce detonation, and account for 80 percent of total avgas utilization.

George Braly, GAMI’s chief engineer, expects FAA approval for the remainder of the engines early in 2022. Braly noted the approval process was, by agency standards, “progress at the speed of light.”

Vaccine mandate for GA operators

As of November 8, any non-U.S. citizens who are not immigrants who are traveling by air—whether by commercial operators or general aviation aircraft—must be fully vaccinated before entering the country, with few exceptions.

President Biden issued the proclamation on October 25, stating that the “vaccination requirements are essential to advance the safe resumption of international travel to the United States.” The move revokes previous proclamations that imposed “country-by-country restrictions” and instead “relies primarily on vaccination.”

In addition to the vaccination requirement, anyone age 2 and older who is traveling into the United States from an international location must provide a negative COVID-19 viral test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding. Those who are fully vaccinated must have a viral test done no more than three calendar days before the flight departs for the United States. Those who are not fully vaccinated must have the viral test done no more than one calendar day in advance. Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 may show their positive viral test result and a letter from a health care provider stating that they are cleared to travel.

FAA proposes second class medical for balloon pilots

A proposed FAA rule would require balloonists operating for hire be held to the same standards as other commercial pilots by obtaining a second class medical, and would expand BasicMed to include those not acting as pilot in command.

Calls for changes to medical standards for balloon pilots stemmed from a deadly 2016 crash in Lockhart, Texas, that killed 16 people, including the pilot. Following the investigation, authorities found the pilot was impaired after taking prescription medication and flew the balloon into a power line.

Currently, balloon pilots are not required to obtain a pilot medical certificate, although they cannot operate if they have certain medical conditions. The FAA estimates there are 356 individual operators who will be impacted, with nearly 5,000 hot air balloons registered with the agency.

Also included in the proposed rule is a provision to expand the BasicMed requirements to include people not acting as PIC—namely, safety pilots. AOPA supports the proposed change as it will allow many more opportunities for individuals to gain experience and maintain proficiency. Since its inception five years ago, more than 69,000 pilots have qualified to fly under the BasicMed program while general aviation is on track to have the safest year ever.

Regulatory Affairs

Crossing out crosswind runways

By Kyle Lewis and Tom Chandler, AOPA regional managers

Airport managers maintain a vibrant system of airports that connect communities to the national airspace system. They often face tough decisions when planning improvements. FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding is competitive, and the FAA must spend these dollars efficiently. The FAA looks closely at crosswind runway funding eligibility based on wind studies.

A secondary or crosswind runway is recommended only when wind coverage for a primary runway is less than 95 percent. If the primary runway wind coverage is at or above 95 percent, the FAA deems the crosswind or additional runway ineligible for FAA AIP funding. Runway rehabilitation can cost millions of dollars, and some airport operators elect to close runways at the end of the useful life of the pavement.

A reduction in safety due to loss of crosswind capability may have to be weighed against reducing runway “hot spots,” which have their own risks. This was the case recently at New Orleans’ Lakefront Airport (NEW), where airport management proposed closing the crosswind runway and presented data showing more than 95 percent wind coverage on the primary runways. AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Erin Seidemann and local pilots asked for additional operational and wind data, which ultimately revealed wind coverage to be less than 95 percent on the primary runways. This crosswind runway was also the only east/west runway within 30 miles—making it a critical option for general aviation aircraft. Ultimately, the FAA and airport leadership reconsidered the runway closure.

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On the front lines

Good neighbors

By Adam Williams, AOPA manager, airport policy

Airports provide a pathway into local communities for millions of dollars of economic activity and vital services, yet too many airports are under threat. The demise of an airport often follows a predictable series of bad decisions. Airports are often built beyond city or town limits—near enough to be accessible to the communities they serve, but far enough to allow normal flight operations and airport expansion. As communities grow, property developers see land adjacent to the airport as a place to build homes. Pilots know that any homes located too close to an airport will be exposed to aircraft noise which, can lead to noise complaints and efforts to close the airport.

Pilots can recognize this potential threat to their airport by staying informed of local public meetings concerning land use, where property developers must hold public hearings to obtain zoning changes and permits before gaining permission to build. AOPA’s Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteers proactively identify these opportunities to advocate for their airport.

ASN volunteers and pilots can educate policymakers and steer them toward a decision that supports their airport.

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