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Perfect Storm Brewing To Threaten General Aviation?

January 8, 2009 — With a flagging economy weighing heavily, the additional cost and burden of increased regulatory requirements become even more difficult to bear. As other industries and sectors of economic activity receive bailouts and regulatory relief to help them cope with hard times, the opposite could be the case for general aviation’s businesses and participants.

The EAA community and its advocacy representatives forge into this new year fully aware that the government relations path ahead presents uncertainty, hazards, and direct threats to participation in aviation. Personal flight is under pressure on several fronts: heavy-handed security measures; unjustified user fees; ill-conceived amateur-building requirements; unreasonable modernization expectations; state and federal rules making suitable aviation fuel less available; misguided reactions to the stigma of “experimental” aviation’s name; and other regulatory and policy initiatives that could threaten EAA members’ access to, affordability of, and ease of participation in aviation.

“The activity level of the past year has been extraordinary. We’ve enjoyed some important victories, thanks to the activism of our members. And we’ve had some setbacks, too. Most of all, we have several extended battles to carry into the year ahead,” said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of regulatory affairs. Noting that his list was far from comprehensive, Lawrence enumerated four major unresolved regulatory issues that confronted EAA members in 2008 and will require the EAA community’s collective attention in the year ahead:

  • Security Concerns — Despite the aviation community’s objections, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently imposed onerous security rules on general aviation flights into and out of the country. The Washington, D.C., air defense identification zone recently became a permanent fixture. And the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a division of DHS, has proposed security rules for aircraft exceeding 12,500 pounds would stifle the enjoyment of aviation for many, rendering many historic aircraft operations impractical and impinging on the personal freedoms of many personal flight participants. Moreover, the DHS’s documented comments regarding threats posed by aircraft show a predisposition toward applying the TSA’s proposed restrictions to even lighter aircraft.
  • Amateur-Building Privileges — The FAA has proposed a policy that attempts to further specify the amateur builder’s required hands-on participation in an aircraft-building process. The proposed requirement would mandate a breakdown of one’s work according to “assembly” and “fabrication” tasks that would add unwieldy, unwarranted, and unnecessary government-compliance requirements to homebuilding activities.
  • User Fees — EAA members and other general-aviation groups in 2008 successfully forestalled efforts to impose user fees for air traffic control (ATC) services. However, the battle isn’t over. The airlines are still pushing for general aviation participants to pay user fees to fund ATC infrastructure and technology modernization that will mostly benefit them. With a new Congress, Senate, and Administration taking office and the question of FAA budget reauthorization still unresolved, this issue will rear its head again.
  • Fuel and Alternatives — Prices may have fallen precipitously from historical highs only a few months ago, but several factors, all with regulatory implications, are converging to threaten the availability of affordable aviation-formulated fuel. Leaded fuel is becoming more scarce, and the infrastructure to produce, transport, and deliver it is deteriorating. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental groups are pushing for leaded fuel’s complete elimination. Meanwhile, states continue to adopt requirements for all unleaded petroleum fuels to contain ethanol or other additives that preclude their use in aircraft.

“With a new incoming administration, a newly composed Congress, and new appointments and leadership assignments in key aviation-related committees and agencies, we have a lot of variables and moving parts to deal with,” Lawrence said. “The key to our success in defending our ability to participate in aviation will be our collective vigilance and responsiveness.” Toward those ends, Lawrence and EAA’s other leaders have pledged to ramp up communications with EAA members on these vital issues. Stay tuned ...

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