by Jim Bildilli
ST. CHARLES, ILL. – The 2012 Illinois Aviation Conference was held May 22-23, 2012 at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois, and started with a hangar party at the DuPage County Airport.
Kicking off the first session was Pete Bunce, President of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), who brought attendees up to speed on the various issues facing aircraft manufacturers. Of course, many of those issues have local impacts that can be felt here in the Midwest and specifically Illinois.
John Chapman of BSC Private Wealth Management Company provided his insight into today’s economy and some of the issues facing the European Union and its implications on the United States. Chapman’s theory about the sluggish economy centers on how it is market-driven by a “sour mood.” In short, people and businesses are sitting on $9.8 trillion in cash because they don’t feel good about the economy even in light of several indicators that are positive.
Michael France of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) brought attendees up to speed with regard to the issues facing his membership. Using a power-point presentation, France delineated some of the issues and their current status in D.C. First item on the agenda was the issue of the Fuel Fraud Tax Provision that was included in the 2005 federal highway legislation. The provision effectively requires that highway use taxes ($0.24.4/gallon) be charged to purchasers of Jet-A fuel in an attempt to prevent truckers from using “cheaper” Jet-A, which is taxed at 2-½ cents per gallon cheaper. Fixed base operators are left with two choices: one to absorb the extra cost, or two, to file for a reimbursement from the IRS. Unfortunately, the IRS rules require audits and signed statements from each user that they are in fact using the fuel in an aircraft. To add insult to injury, the nearly $50 million that is collected each year is deposited into the Highway Trust Fund and is not used for airport development as intended. NATA is lobbying hard to at least get the money into the Airport & Airways Trust Fund.
The second issue centered on keeping government entities from competing with private companies where the government entity is also the regulatory authority. There are cases where a governmental unit will use public funds to construct an FBO building and go into the FBO business when there is an existing FBO on the field or a potential operator looking for an opportunity. NATA is seeking to “level the playing field” by preventing the FAA from funding projects that could present an unfair advantage to the publicly owned entity.
The standardization of the application of FAA rules and regulations are also a concern. Many operators who have “approved” operations manuals, etc., from one FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), have had them rejected by another in the same or different FAA Region. NATA is seeking uniform application among all FAA regional and FSDO offices.
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) have presented several problems for NATA members. The lack of a good system for notification and the minimization of impacts is needed. Historically, the Secret Service and the Department of Defense have presented more problems than TSA. Issues with foreign repair stations, large aircraft security programs, and badging are also problems for which NATA is seeking relief for its membership.
France concluded his presentation by urging the support of the General Aviation Caucus to get balanced viewpoints to Congress. NATA has also initiated the State Advocacy Network, which tracks issues that affect its membership at the state level. Currently, there are 20 volunteers who have signed up with the advocacy program.
During the luncheon, the Illinois Division of Aeronautics presented its annual awards program. This year’s recipients included the following:
Primary Airport of the Year: Quad-City Airport, Moline, Illinois. Accepting the award was Bruce Carter, who was recently elected chairman of AAAE.
Reliever Airport of the Year: Waukegan Regional Airport. Accepting the award was airport manager, Jim Stanczak.
General Aviation Airport of the Year (Category A): Greater Kankakee Airport. Accepting the award was the airport authority chairman, Robert Glade, and manager, Blair Wilson.
General Aviation Airport of the Year (Category B): Fairfield Municipal Airport.
Private Airport of the Year: Frasca Field, Urbana, Illinois.
Heliport of the Year: Stanton Community Memorial Hospital.
Airport Restaurant of the Year: CJ’s at Central Illinois Regional Airport, Bloomington, Illinois.
A new category was added this year for “Airport Mascot of the Year.” The recipient was “Mustafa,” the official greeter and mouser of the Morris, Illinois airport. It would certainly be confusing if his name was “Morris.”
The afternoon session featured FAA Great Lakes Regional Director, Barry Cooper, who updated the audience with all of the existing and new initiatives the FAA is working on, not only on the national level, but the regional level as well. Issues covered were ADS-B, which is promised to be fully implemented by 2013; the modernization of the enroute program, where we will probably see the number of VORs reduced by 50 percent; the replacement of approaches utilizing GPS; the continued funding of airport development programs at the new 90% FAA funding level; the contract tower program; the continuing migration toward NextGen; and coexisting with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the National Airspace System (NAS). Cooper indicated that there will be six test sites chosen before the end of 2012 for the integration of UAVs into NAS. With regard to program cuts, Cooper indicated that the operative word was “sustainability.” Some cuts are anticipated, but the current D.C. thinking is that Airport Improvement Program funds will not be cut significantly.
The conference concluded with a joint presentation by Bruce Griffith of the Kishwaukee Education Consortium, and Mark Jackson of the Boeing Company, who discussed a relatively new program designed to attract high school age youth interested in aviation as a career. Griffith described the format of the program and its humble beginnings with one simulator and 17 students, while Jackson highlighted the need for such programs in light of the upcoming shortages of pilots and mechanics. In addition, instructor Renee Riana, along with six students, gave personal insights about the program, their backgrounds and their anticipated career paths. The award-winning program allows high school students to earn college credit for taking aviation courses including ground schools, weather, and other aviation-related subjects. The curriculum includes field trips to various aviation facilities, such as FAA control towers, Aurora Center, FBOs, and aviation museums. There are currently 50 students enrolled in the curriculum with classes on Thursday evenings and Saturdays at the DeKalb, Illinois airport. College credit is conferred by
Kishwaukee College. Several students have earned Private Pilot Certificates and higher pilot certificates and ratings, and are continuing their efforts guided by a well-qualified group of flight instructors. Most of the students at the conference were planning to continue their aviation education at several universities including SIU-Carbondale, University of North Dakota, and Purdue University.
Following the Aviation Conference, the Annual Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame reception and banquet was held in the ballroom at Pheasant Run Resort.