AOPA Pilot Magazine - July 2013 - 4
CRAIG L. FULLER
AOPA President and CEO
A fourth branch of government is emerging
Craig Fuller is an
active GA pilot
who has been
flying for more
than 40 years.
4 | AOPA PILOT July 2013
DURING MOST AOPA TOWN HALL GATHERINGS, I remind
participating members that AOPA’s founders created
our organization in 1939 largely because they feared that
a government about to enter a world war just might regulate general aviation out of existence. Nearly 75 years
later, our mission is grounded in similar concerns—
raised not by the prospect of war but by the growing
power of regulatory agencies, many of which operate
with increasing autonomy and minimal oversight.
I recently came across this comment: “It would be a
bit much to describe the result as ‘the very definition of
tyranny,’ but the danger posed by the growing power of
the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”
This comment comes not from just any Washington,
D.C., pundit. These are the words of John Roberts, the
chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. What’s
more, they appear in a dissenting opinion where the
majority of the court determined federal agencies have
authority to determine their own jurisdiction, a power
which some believe should belong to Congress.
I found the quote in a thoughtful article by law professor Jonathan Turley about a wide range of areas in
which regulatory reach is expanding. While the article
didn’t focus on general aviation, it certainly could have.
Increasingly, it is regulators, not Congress, making
rules that affect our GA community. And while membership in the General Aviation Caucuses in the House of
Representatives and the Senate grow week after week,
there is no counterpart among the agencies. Why does
it matter? Well, according to Turley, if you go back to
2007 when we have all the statistics, Congress enacted
138 public laws. However, there were 2,926 rules finalized by federal agencies in that same year.
Of course, that’s only one way to look at the impact
of the regulators—or, as the chief justice describes them,
the “administrative state.” We’re just as concerned about
what doesn’t happen! Long delays, administrative inaction, and the choice to simply ignore the concerns of
pilots and aviation consumers are equally disturbing.
There is a notion among regulators that change
means risk. Yet, the world around us is changing rapidly, and increasingly it is the resistance to change that
brings real risks. Not all that long ago, the second leading cause of fatalities in GA accidents was flight into
known terrain. Then technology became available in
GPS units that could warn of terrain and obstacles. Yet it
took years to persuade regulators that the risk of failure
in these devices was sufficiently low for certification
to be granted. In the interim, pilots took noncertified
equipment into the cockpit, and flight into known terrain declined considerably. Hence, in this very real
example, the real risk was in regulatory delay.
Light Sport aircraft manufacturer Icon has developed a spin-resistant wing. Icon is seeking a weight
waiver that would allow it to produce the aircraft using
this technology. Yes, there are issues to consider. But,
rather than give Icon an award for design work that is
aimed at preventing the leading cause of general aviation fatalities—loss of control—the FAA, after a year, is
asking for “more information.”
And, in a choice I find simply mind boggling, there
are those in the FAA determined to stick with a pretablet regulatory decision to restrict air traffic information available to pilots who equip their aircraft with
ADS-B In. Prior to the iPad coming to market, it was
reasoned that restricting important safety information
would be an incentive to equip aircraft with ADS-B
Out technology, which will be required in 2020. Now,
the iPad is providing many GA pilots with navigation, weather, and traffic information in the cockpit.
However, some regulators seem unwilling or unable to
change their thinking to match the way we really fly.
Despite the recommendations of an advisory group
from the aviation community, regulators have refused to
change the policy of limiting access to important safety
information. So pilots are receiving only some of the
traffic reported as they fly along with ADS-B technology—years ahead of the ADS-B Out requirement.
Our AOPA team actively participates in dozens of
regulatory groups, councils, and committees. It is in
these groups where we work with regulators and our
fellow stakeholders on vital issues such as the transition
to unleaded fuel, protecting ELTs, ensuring knowledge
tests are relevant, Part 23 reform of aircraft certification
rules, and the all-important third class medical waiver.
In doing this work it is increasingly clear that a shift
of authority to this so-called administrative state is a
growing reality. Increasingly, we find ourselves deeply
engaged in the details of regulatory action. And make no
mistake; the action—as well as inaction—will touch all of
us in the GA community. It is, in fact, the kind of tyranny
about which our founders were most concerned. AOPA