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The Inside View

The COPA board and COPA members have periodically questioned the value of our membership in the International Council of AOPAs (IAOPA) and our presence, through IAOPA, at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). That is natural and understandable if one is not familiar with what exactly the symbiosis is. How should the various organizations inter-relate?

Although I have always had a personal interest in what happens in other lands, I never quite realized how intricately we are all linked and affected by other countries' approaches to flying activities, which we in Canada take for granted. Only when one experiences the interaction of States and organizations in regularly does the value of these organizations and their inter-reactions become evident. Having witnessed this interaction through my association with IAOPA at ICAO over the past months I would like to share with you some of what stands out for me.

It is important to understand, and to remember, that ICAO only develops standards for States to follow. ICAO cannot force any State to adopt any of ICAO's recommendations. Nor is ICAO a policeman, although it performs audits on countries to determine if agreed to guidelines are being followed.

The value to COPA of its participation in IAOPA and ICAO can be appreciated in a number of ways. For one thing, through IAOPA's presence (and therefore COPA's) at ICAO, a human face is given to the category of General Aviation by those involved at ICAO. That may not appear important on the surface, but we must remember that it is people who make rules and it is people who hold prejudices, not "the organization". Thus those who may tend to ignore GA and its needs in this world of commercially driven agendas are forced to consider, once they come to know the individual representing GA, the demands and requirements of this segment of aviation. Indeed, this "face" may generate vigorous debate on GA issues. GA no longer is a faceless "they". This recognition invariably results in contact, discussion and ultimately a re-evaluation of prejudices. This shift in prejudices is crucial to the cause of GA. The effect on AOPA's members generally is seldom dramatic, but even a change of an implementation date can have positive ramifications.

Although IAOPA attends as an observer the Air Navigation Commission (ANC), a body of experts providing technical advice, IAOPA has no presence on Council, the political body ultimately responsible for any agreements passed by ICAO. Therefore, IAOPA relies on input into deliberations at the working group and ANC levels to raise awareness of GA concerns, in the hope that these may be passed on to Council.

Then, even in our country which has enjoyed a good aviation history, consider the public profile pilots have vis--vis that of aircraft owners. Pilots are in the news. The public knows what a pilot looks like and what can be expected of one. That is not so of owners. For proof of this, ask a teenager what an aircraft owner does. At ICAO, too, owners as such are not represented as an entity. There are many international groups (over 40) at ICAO, along with the 187 member nations, but none of them specifically and solely represents the owners of the equipment from which millions of people derive a living. Think about it. There is no-one out there who solely and properly represents the voice of General Aviation aircraft owners in this strictly regulated environment. The two organizations represented at ICAO having an owner component are present only as observers, not as voting members, and not at all on Council. The member AOPAs, and they collectively through IAOPA, by wearing two hats pilots' and owners' - in their respective countries, do their best on limited resources to present pilots' and owners' concerns. Operators of GA aircraft typically evoke little sympathy with the general public or within ICAO because individuals understandably have little direct knowledge of an owner's nightmares. An example of this general lack of empathy appears often when, in justification for a new standard or piece of equipment to be added to an airplane, a 'study' by a regulator (non-owner) determines that the requirement has a negligible (to whom?) economic impact. Financial impact analyses which are carried out are typically done for operators who can eventually charge off such costs to paying customers. GA owners saddled with such costs frequently pay for them with after-tax dollars and have no means to write them off.

The people at ICAO are very knowledgeable, dedicated, capable and accomplished aviation folk. They have, however, almost exclusively done their flying in aircraft owned not by themselves. Indeed, private ownership and private flying is not that common amongst the 187 member nations comprising ICAO. That lack of GA activity experience naturally tends to lead to a degree of idealism which does not always translate into benefits for GA owners when aviation matters are deliberated. It is some States' blind strict application of regulations aimed at airline operations which sometimes makes it very difficult for a GA airplane to cross borders, or, more, to fly around the world, having to operate in sovereign airspace where there is no GA activity.

Since everyone at ICAO, and in the offices of various regulators around the world, professes to be interested in aviation and its well-being, one would think that there is no way in which GA may be jeopardized by decisions taken at ICAO. But we have to remember that every person and group has its own interests, preferences, agendas and ignorances. The inherent danger, therefore, is in the fact that GA is represented by various States' non-GA people whose motives are pure, as seen from their perspective, but who may lack the detailed GA knowledge to properly address the plight of, say, GA owners. When we fly across the borders we expect a Customs procedure. However, when such a procedure takes an unexpectedly long time such safety issues as weather, daylight and fuel stops become a major issue not faced to the same degree by commercial operations. ICAO needs to be reminded regularly of such GA concerns.

ICAO itself is not quite consistent in its understanding for whom it is writing standards. On the one hand ICAO professes to concern itself only with aviation that crosses borders - that is the 'International' in its title. People at ICAO will tell you that it is not their intent to become involved with GA, particularly as it concerns operations within a State. However, an event such as the horror of September 11 happens, and suddenly access to airports is restricted, whether it be the availability of ports of entry or even access to your own parked aircraft. We as GA operators do understand that international events impact our operations when rule changes happen, if only primarily for the international operators. So, ICAO must be helped by GA to understand itself in a changing world so that the continuum of aviation activities world-wide are always addressed. Consequently GA organizations have to generate and finally present the GA point of view at every opportunity and venue, a seemingly impossible task with the limited number of volunteers and the low membership dues paid.

When airspace is closed world-wide, as happened recently, who, if not a voice from GA, is there to speak for the GA facet of aviation? The obvious and most effective thing for a regulator in these circumstances is to say: "All flying is prohibited except by permission". That permission is then granted for the State itself, and for its Military. Who can argue that? Eventually the State realizes that it needs the tax income from commercial operations, so that segment is brought back on stream. Who, if not a voice from GA, is there to explain the need to get GA back into the air? As it turns out, the organizations which we support, the various AOPAs around the world, recently kept the case for GA very visible and vigorously exerted the pressure to reopen the skies to our sector. Frequently that permission has come along with constraints, some financial, which GA cannot meet. Who will then develop procedures which will satisfy regulators and the operators of GA aircraft, if not our various AOPAs?

Recent events vividly underscore the importance of strong national organizations. It is inconceivable that persons acting individually (which most do not do anyway) could speak with a voice credible enough for regulators and organizations to listen to. In all countries all GA benefits from the work done by AOPA's people. And no AOPA can thrive without membership support, both politically and through payment of their dues. It is unfortunate that the benefits derived are not paid for by all in GA. Larger membership numbers are important not only for financial reasons, but as the important political clout which a large membership provides . Those who care to support their national GA organizations and who understand quite well how our world of aviation functions deserve to pat themselves on their backs. They are helping to make it possible for their grandchildren to enjoy the freedom to fly.

Take an active interest in your own AOPA as well as the international scene. Feed back comments, ideas and questions to your representatives, thereby assuring that individuals are heard by all.

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Frank Hofmann
IAOPA Representative to ICAO
Copyright © 2003