Cross-Country To AOPA’s Final Summit

by Dave Weiman

Whenever the AOPA Aviation Summit is held east of the Rockies, I like to fly our 1976 Cessna 182 Skylane there myself, rather than go on the airlines. Time-wise, Peggy and I did well flying to this year’s Summit in Fort Worth, Texas, October 10-12, 2013, with tailwinds both directions. Schedule-wise, we went on our schedule – no one else’s. Cost-wise, fuel cost us about $200.00 more than the cost of two airline tickets. Enjoyment-wise, you can’t beat flying yourself.

We packed a lunch, lifted off a grass airstrip near Madison, Wisconsin at 9:00 am, landed in Joplin, Missouri for fuel, then touched down at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport at 4:00 pm. (The service at both airports was exceptional!)

We deliberately arrived two days before the Summit began to beat the rush, and have time to see some of the sites. We were the second aircraft to arrive for AOPA, just before Hal Shevers of Sporty’s pulled up in his Citation.

I tied down in the grass next to a Bonanza. More than 200 other aircraft joined us in the days that followed, and 10,614 other attendees.

We were looking forward to AOPA’s last Summit before the change to “regional” fly-ins in 2014. We have met lots of wonderful people over the years, and have some terrific memories, but believe that we will meet even more of our readers at the regional level.

Barely two months on the job, this Summit was very important to newly appointed AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker in meeting members and sponsors, and setting the course for the years to come.

He opened the general session on Thursday 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, to increase pressure on the FAA to expand the driver’s license medical standard, and to open up public access to airports nationwide.

“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 members 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 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 membership. “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 is 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 (EAA) petitioned the FAA for that change 20 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,” said Baker. “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.”

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,” said Baker. “This is how neighbors experience the value of their airports and how future pilots are exposed to GA. 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 about a half-dozen regional fly-ins.

“These will be full-day events,” Baker said. “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!”

The night before opening day, we had the pleasure of dining with U.S. Marine Lt. Andrew Kinard of Spartanburg, S.C. Andrew is the first person to receive the AOPA-Able Flight Scholarship and was recognized on opening day by AOPA President Mark Baker and AOPA Pilot Editor-In Chief Tom Haines.

Andrew attended the U.S. Naval Academy, and upon graduation, he passed up a Marine aviator’s slot and instead chose ground duty and commanded a unit in Iraq. Within six weeks of his arrival there, he lost both legs to an improvised explosive device during a foot patrol. He has since undergone more than 70 surgeries.

During his recovery, Andrew also worked on the staff of a U.S. senator, enrolled simultaneously in business and law degree programs at Harvard University, and took up sport pilot training with Able Flight and obtained his sport pilot certificate.

Andrew’s Able Flight training took place at Purdue University in Indiana, which partners with the program. He and other participants took six weeks of intensive flight training and ground school, flying twice a day on average as weather allowed.

Following a video showing Andrew flying, he told the audience at the convention center, “Be thankful for what you have got. Do not look at what you have lost, but look at what you still have.” In recognition of his sacrifice, determination and accomplishment, Andrew received a standing ovation.

The Able Flight program has created 33 new pilots since its inception in 2006, thanks in part to donations from AOPA members. For information, visit www.Ableflight.org.

AOPA again presented its top awards to deserving recipients including the “John B. Hartranft Jr. Award” to U.S. Congressman John Barrow (D-GA) for his unparalleled work on behalf of general aviation (GA) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Barrow is the democratic co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus and an avid GA supporter who has adamantly opposed “user fees.”

A member of the GA Congressional Caucus since it was founded in 2009, Rep. Barrow and leaders of the House Aviation Subcommittee spearheaded the effort to garner support for a letter to President Obama opposing the inclusion of aviation user fees in his fiscal year 2014 budget. This letter received overwhelming support with 223 signatures, the highest number of any Congressional letter opposing user fees to date.

AOPA’s “Laurence P. Sharples Perpetual Award” went to Colorado airport advocates Dave Shepard and Steve Wood for their work on airport security issues at Grand Junction Airport as they affect general aviation. Shepard went so far as to organize an airport users and tenants association in response to concerns regarding the airport administration’s approach to security, leasing and public engagement affecting the airport.

Aviation journalist Greg Brown received AOPA’s “Let’s Go Flying Award” for his ongoing contributions and inspiration to the flight training community, and Conor Dancy, a flight instructor at Leesburg Executive Airport, Leesburg, Va., was selected from among 956 instructors as “Flight Instructor of the Year.”

Friday’s keynote speakers included major league baseball all-star and GA pilot, Ken Griffey, Jr.; representatives of Walt Disney’s Animation Studios; FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker; AOPA Medical Counsel, Dr. Jonathan Sackier; and NTSB Board Member, Earl Weener.

New aircraft were on display at “Airportfest” at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport. A pancake breakfast was held on Saturday, providing members with the opportunity to interact with AOPA President Mark Baker.

The variety of seminars at the Summit was superb, and the convention hall was filled with exhibitors eager to demonstrate the latest in avionics, propellers and aircraft finishes, and promote pilot-friendly vacation destinations. Honda Aircraft displayed its Hondajet at AOPA for the first time in the exhibit hall, and Cirrus was back with its latest SR22. Most manufacturers – 17 in all – chose to showcase their aircraft at Airportfest.

Both Cirrus Aircraft President Pat Waddick and Executive Vice President Todd Simmons were on hand to give members an update on recent product developments.

The company’s 2014 SR-Series aircraft called “Generation 5,” includes new features and upgrades, such as integrated LED technology, a carbon paint scheme and new interiors, and lighter weight, high-performance brakes and tubeless tires.

Cirrus, headquartered in Duluth, Minnesota with manufacturing facilities also in Grand Forks, North Dakota, continues to make progress to certify its “Vision SF50” personal jet, including acquisition of manufacturing equipment. The next step is to build conforming aircraft for further certification testing. The company confirmed that the first delivery is still scheduled for late 2015.

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. AOPA is headquartered in Frederick, Md., and has offices in Washington, D.C., and seven regions across the country.

AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local level to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media products. If you are not currently a member, please consider joining to make GA’s voice even stronger (www.aopa.org).

Watch for announcements about the 2014 regional fly-ins in upcoming issues of Midwest Flyer Magazine, and plan on making at least one of them your best cross-country flight of the year!

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