Getting GA’s message to lawmakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When lobbyists want Congressional help on issues, they usually seek out members with interests in that issue in a caucus. The informal, bipartisan groups are found in both the House and Senate. But until recently, there were no general aviation caucuses. Now there are active groups in both Houses.

At present, the general aviation caucus in the House has 170 members — making it one of the largest caucuses — while the Senate caucus has 35 members. In the four years since the Congressional general aviation caucuses were formed, they have become an effective way to gain recognition and acceptance for general aviation.

An example of how this works was the recent visit to Capitol Hill by actor and pilot Harrison Ford (pictured above) visited the House caucus.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chair of the caucus with Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.), welcomed Ford to “discuss issues of importance to the general aviation community.”

In a news release to announce Ford’s appearance, Graves said: “The biggest challenge for general aviation is getting our message to all 435 lawmakers, and events like this provide a megaphone to promote general aviation while also helping expand the caucus’ membership.”

During his visit, Ford stressed the importance of general aviation on jobs, citing the value of landing facilities that “come in all shapes and sizes,” with each serving the nation in its own way. He stressed the need to keep contract towers open (despite this and other efforts, the FAA announced four days later it would close 149 towers). Also, Ford reminded the members of Congress that business jets are used for much more than transporting executives. An example he pointed out was how hundreds of jets were used to move Special Olympic athletes to and from their games at no cost.

While few caucus meetings welcome Hollywood personalities such as Harrison Ford, they do gather together important lawmakers — or “law preventers” when proposed legislation would harm aviation — to share views, plans and information.

Many members of Congress are pilots, but until 2009 there were no general aviation caucuses in the U.S. Congress, so general aviation leaders set out to form them. Craig Fuller had just moved into the presidency of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and his background provided important avenues to help get the caucuses started. Fuller had worked in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for cabinet affairs and served as Chief of Staff for the first President Bush. Before coming to Washington he was an executive in public relations firms, another important career experience for influencing public opinion.

In April 2009, assisted by Fuller and other GA heavyweights, Reps. Allen Boyd (R-Fla.) and Vernon Ehlers (D-Mich.) formed the general aviation caucus in the House.

“As a pilot,” Boyd said, “I have seen firsthand the critical role general aviation plays in creating jobs and bolstering the local economy in rural communities across America.”

At the time of forming the caucus, Ehlers was a student pilot who often commented in hearings about the importance of GA. Now retired, his understanding of general aviation was apparent in his questioning of hearing witnesses.

The caucuses give all general aviation groups an important path to reach not only the lawmakers but their staffs as well. Officials with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and other GA alphabet groups find the caucuses helpful in getting their messages across.

Ed Bolen, NBAA president, notes that the caucuses underscore the recognition by Congress that general aviation creates jobs, provide transportation lifelines across the country, helps businesses succeed, and supports people and communities in times of crisis.

“We’re delighted to work with House and Senate caucuses,” said Bolen, who joined other general aviation activists at the caucus meeting where Ford appeared.


  1. Sergio says

    I have a Piper Seneca II parked at KVNY, waiting for the FAA to start part 135 single pilot, single airplane certification. The airplane is up to the FAA conformity rules.
    The process is waiting for the FAA to start, since FEB/2011. The answer is always the same: “lack of resources” This process is very simple and it should take anywhere from 45 to 120 days at the most. It is almost now 2.5 years that the airplane is sitting and waiting. Imagine what would take for a full certification of a full 129 or 121 certification ? Perhaps 30 years !

  2. Henry Kelly says

    Seems to me there has been a major miscalculation on how GA organizations think they are interacting with Congress. Obviously this Tower situation was not some last minute “solution” to a budget crisis. There are hidden agendas behind all of this. The idea of flight safety seems to have been of no interest to most anyone in government, including the FAA. They shed crocodile tears as towers are about to be shut down, ATC personnel lost forever, and VOR sites being chosen to close…I also am fed up with having to donate to re-election campaigns by proxy through PACs to protect our freedom to fly. Past donations seem to have accomplished very little as the current crisis makes very clear. Eventual user fees, 100LL elimination, and expensive, though prudent, Nextgen avionics were already in the pipeline. Now we have the onset of an aerial free for all in busy airspace to add to the challenge and danger. Real incentives for guys and gals to want to take up or keep flying. I love the back country dirt strippers who proclaim towers are really unimportant and unnecessary. Try flying in an area that has more than two people per square mile before you discount all the safety benefits of towers.
    I am not sure if this tower situation and attack on GA is part of a “make the air safe for unmanned drones” campaign, or some national security agenda, but with some towers just years old, and others put in place for the very good reason of air traffic issues and lessons learned over decades, suddenly we don’t really need any of these towers? So all of the training, structures, radars, communications, and infrastructure were unnecessary in the first place? What is really going on with all this?

    • Bryan says

      What is really going on here? Good question. We dont seem to be getting much real advocacy benefit out of our aviation alphabet groups, do we?

      Small wonder, when some of those groups have become mouthpieces for one political party. That party’s agendas are not always aligned with the best interest of GA, but our alphabet groups loyally troop for it regardless of the real impact to the flying public. This compromise of “our” aviation organizations has not strengthened GA, it has been detrimental. About half of the people tying down next to you do not support either parties agendas in their entirety. If you really want to strengthen aviation advocacy, and speak with one unified voice for all pilots and owners, move away from the extreme pro big business, pro privatized government infrastructure, pro oil company agendas and advocate for real GA issues. Stop using juvenile phrases such as “Lamestream media” when some fool reporter produces a hatchet job, sensationalist, anti-aviation piece on a slow news day. While that silly language might be the norm on certain radical blog sites; it doesnt help GA’s image with the great unwashed non-flying public. It makes them think we have no rational arguements.

      Lets get some advocacy points on the board right now by choosing an issue that really matters to General Aviation, and mobilizing “the causus” to achieve something real. One issue that could be addressed is the replacement for the expensive, boutique 100LL fuel we have to burn. We need 91UL right now. Less expensive fuel would mean a whole lot of us fly a lot more hours. Lowered operating costs would probably mean a lot more active pilots, some more student starts, and a better situation for GA on the whole. It would also satisfice the environmentalist groups and end some of these lawsuits.

      Dont ‘encourage the caucus to form a committee to explore the possiblity of establishing a roadmap to find alternatives….’ or any other bureacratic nonsense. This BS has gone on for at least 30 years. Just do it. Now.

      Write the legislation, find a sponsor amongst your friends in the House majority party, don’t attach any any amendments or riders to it that dont pertain to the subject, (like permission to drill for oil in Alaska, or some funding for a pet project), and ask the Speaker to bring it to a vote. How can members of the other party in either the House or Senate go on record as voting against legislation that would remove lead from gasoline and the environment? They cant.

      Of course, this might mean being a lot less permissive with the oil companies, and it doesnt directly help a certain political party much in the next election cycle. So, the “aviation advocacy” groups wont be taking any action on it. What is really going on here?

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