USA Today goes anti-GA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On June 18, the national publication USA Today published an article titled Unfit for Flight. It painted general aviation as a dangerous activity and the manufacturers of aircraft as contributing to general aviation accidents. This is not new.

Anti-general aviation material has been printed and broadcast in the past. Two things make this time different. First, aircraft manufacturers, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and Textron, parent company to GA giant Cessna, had provided information to the writer, who chose not to use any of the material. Second, increased concern over more congestion at major airports labeled this as a possible early shot in what could become a major battle.

Neither of these two points is new. After a mid-air collision at San Diego  in 1978 between an airliner and a single-engine GA aircraft, major media spewed material about the dangers of “those small airplanes.” (It was finally determined that the airline pilots were busy talking among themselves and after sighting the GA aircraft had supposed they had passed it.) This accident set off a storm of anti-general aviation reports in print and on-air media.

This was just what the FAA was waiting for to establish then-called Terminal Control Areas around every airport in the United States served by a scheduled air carrier, even if it was just one or two flights a day.
Airlines favored the idea because it would mean limited numbers of general aviation aircraft getting near the airports the carriers used.

It was obvious the media was not getting such a wide range of anti-general aviation material without help. The president of American Airlines openly pushed for restricting general aviation operations at airports. (American Airlines has since become much more understanding and tolerant.)

At the time I was vice president of public relations at AOPA. We took on the fight. I had an undercover person on the staff at American Airlines so we knew what the airline was pushing to the media and able to counter it, often before it was published.

The AOPA PR department also took on the FAA’s efforts to establish restricted zones around every airport. For this, we tailored information to the individual publications in each city, pointing out the damage to that area that the FAA’s plans for terminal control areas would bring. There was no mention of the accident. This received the kind of support intended.

Local leaders, reading of the damages to the economy of restricting movements at the town’s airport, contacted their members in Congress. The war was not won, but the battles were. Instead of terminal control areas around every air carrier airport, Class B airspace rules were established at only the few where they now exist.

As a long-time newspaper man, I can tell you a reporter rarely comes up with such a story idea unless there is a personal reason or it is suggested by an outside source. Without any direct finger pointing, one must wonder what prompted that USA Today piece.

GA’s alphabet groups, including AOPA, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), were all quick to counter the USA Today piece with accurate information. But response is always behind, with opponents always ahead.

The best defense is a strong offense. But it takes planning. A top executive in an international corporation gave me some great advice as I discussed taking on another large industry in the struggle for general aviation’s position in air traffic movement: “Don’t take them on directly,” he said. “They will squash you like a small worm.”

I learned. Take on the big ones, but do it a smart way.

‘Significant progress’ made on NextGen in last year

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It has been one year since FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker took over as Chief NextGen Officer. In his first report to Congress early in June, he noted that “significant progress” has been made.

That optimism is not totally shared by others, however, most of whom have questions about equipment requirements and costs; potential effects on traffic in congested airspace; equipment and possible regulations in non-congested airspace; and other secondary effects of a new system.

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GA reluctant to jump on NextGen bandwagon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA needs to take speedier action, as well as assure pilots and aircraft owners that expenditures for equipment will not significantly change for general aviation to move ahead to prepare for the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), members of Congress were told in a hearing held Wednesday by the House Committee on Small Business.

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Business flying ticks up

Ed Bolen

Ed Bolen

Speaking at the opening session of the European business aviation conference in Geneva, held May 19-21, Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, said he is pleased all indicators are up for business flying.

Announcements of new products from Gulfstream and Dassault, Bolen said, are welcome signs of confidence of the underlying strength of the bizav industry.

Fabio Gamba, CEO of the European Business Aviation Association, echoed Bolen’s comments, stating that he believes the worst years of the global economic downturn are over. He predicted 2014 is going to be a “positive and exciting” year.

Safety focus of international conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Each year representatives from the FAA and other nations gather for an international aviation safety conference. This year the meeting will be held in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of the nation’s capital.

The importance of the meetings is expressed by the FAA in its statement on this year’s meeting: “In a rapidly changing aviation industry, we can never be complacent.”

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Webinar to discuss effects of aviation noise

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The potential effects of aviation noise will be explored in a webinar May 29 conducted by the Transportation Research Board. An hour-and-a-half program will discuss noise concerns at airports.

Issues include possible effects of aviation noise on hearing, sleep, health, annoyance, and learning environment.

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