Experimental Aircraft Association Chairman Jack Pelton is hoping this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin July 28-Aug. 3 will serve as a springboard for to roll out a much-anticipated rulemaking on third-class medical certificates.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta recently told Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Mark Baker that the rulemaking is under review at the executive level and would be released for public comment "very soon."
The agency, facing increasing congressional pressure to act on a two-year-old joint EAA/AOPA petition to exempt recreational fliers from third-class medical requirements, had announced in April that it was beginning a rulemaking project to consider whether to substitute a driver’s license in place of a medical certificate in certain cases. The agency also said it was still considering the EAA/AOPA petition. Huerta, in an interview videotaped by AOPA, also assured that the rulemaking would reflect industry input. "The conversations we have had and that we’ve had with industry have been very productive," he said. "When you take a look at it you will find that we have taken very seriously the comments you have put before us."
Pelton notes that the third-class medical is by far the most important issue for his members. "We’re hoping and anxious" that there will be an announcement, he says, adding the administrator "really has one big window to be a hero."
Without an announcement, Pelton adds, people will be left wondering about the agency’s commitment to the issue. He also notes that congressional pressure would likely intensify. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), who has introduced legislation to mandate the exemption, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is drafting a Pilots Bill of Rights 2 that will include the exemption, are both scheduled to attend AirVenture to discuss the issue, among other things.
Huerta is also set to speak to Oshkosh attendees on July 31 in the morning and then to the media in the afternoon. Huerta’s speech will be his first as administrator at Oshksosh. Huerta attended Oshkosh for the first time two years ago when he was nominated to the post and acting administrator, but last year’s sequestration cuts kept Huerta and most other regulators away, at least in an official capacity.
FAA is returning to Oshkosh in full force this year with most of the sequestration cuts averted, Pelton notes. Thewill also have a stepped up presence. But military participation remains down from years past, he says.
Pelton notes that sequestration has taught the organization to become less reliant on the military as part of AirVenture. But even with a "Spartan" presence, this year’s AirVenture for the first time will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, along with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
Their participation will require some reconfiguration on the east end of the field, Pelton notes, with attendees needing to temporarily move during the performance periods between Aug. 1-3. Following the show, organizers plan to evaluate whether the move would be workable in the future.
While federal participation returns, AirVenture organizers are left to deal with one overhanging result of sequestration – tower fees. EAA earlier this year agreed to drop a lawsuit against FAA and pay certain overtime and travel expenses for FAA controllers to handle the hefty traffic during the week-long event.
In return, FAA has guaranteed controller staffing – something that had been at risk without the agreement. EAA paid about $450,000 to FAA for the first time in AirVenture’s history last year, which FAA said was necessary to ensure controller participation.
"Last year it was an absolute nightmare," Pelton says. "It wasn’t budgeted. It wasn’t funded. For the show to go on we had to pay." While EAA still hopes for relief in the future, possibly through congressional action, at least it had time this year to budget for the fees, Pelton says. The organization also has the assurance that it has cemented what the association had in the past believed would be an automatic part of the show. "The good news is we don’t have the tower control issue to work this year," he says.
While the third-class medical will likely be among the most pressing issues, Oshkosh will also be a forum this year to cover a number of other important issues confronting the industry, including replacement fuel for leaded aviation gasoline and the 2020 deadline for ADS-B.
Forums will be held during AirVenture on both issues. Avgas has become a good news issue – FAA has recently begun evaluations on proposals for possible replacement, and Pelton says "we are seeing great progress."
But ADS-B will likely remain controversial, with operators still adopting a wait-and-see approach to equipage and manufacturers urging equipage now to avoid a logjam as the deadline approaches. "There are a lot of questions about ADS-B Out," he says, noting some have questioned the benefits of equipping now in light of the cost, potential for technology changes over the next six years and talk of the units having some issues.
FAA has been working with industry after discovering some wiring mistakes earlier this year. The mistakes resulted in multiple targets. Some uses of uncertified equipment also resulted in ghost targets. This has led to a redoubling of educational efforts to ensure proper installation and use of certified products.
But the problems uncovered spurs questions on whether operators that equip early will be forced to comply with airworthiness directives and other changes while the technology evolves, Pelton says, adding operators are asking, "Where’s the value of equipping right now?"
Along with new acts and forums, EAA continues to "fine-tune" the show, investing in three new workshop buildings instead of temporary housing. Improvements have also been made to the grounds for the homebuilders, he says.
But most important this year, say both Pelton and Dick Knapinski, EAA senior communications advisor, is a "general feeling of optimism" that has prevailed leading up to the show. "We couldn’t be more pleased," says Pelton, who notes pre-purchases of camp sites are "very nicely ahead" of those in the last five years and ticket sales are up significantly as well.
These early metrics are signaling a return to the "glory days" of Oshkosh, before the economic downturn, he said.