WASHINGTON, D.C. — There was quick reaction here when a single-engine plane owned by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle struck an apartment building on East 72nd Street in New York City.
Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), immediately gave television interviews to the networks from the association’s new satellite-connected TV studio in its Frederick, Md., headquarters. The next day he took representatives of the general media flying in his Cessna 172. AOPA officials also answered an editorial at USA Today, which called for more general aviation restrictions, and took on Chicago’s Mayor Daley, who used the incident to call for banning GA over that city.
At the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), Steve Brown reacted quickly with ABC News, CNBC and others.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) issued statements, while the FAA reacted with a NOTAM requiring all fixed-wing aircraft in the East River corridor to be in contact with air traffic control.
The operative word in all this is “”reacted.””
Boyer used many examples of how other forms of transportation and items are dangerous:
• A panel van was used in the first World Trade Center bombing;
• A box truck was used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City;
• Small pleasure boats were used by terrorists to attack the USS Cole, killing 17;
• Newspapers were used to hide packages of sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12;
• And on and on.
Why is general aviation facing such uphill battles on flight restrictions, user fees and airports, when panel trucks, pleasure boats and box trucks aren’t? One observer — who prefers not to be identified — put it this way: “”All these other things — vans, trucks, boats — are accepted by the public; general aviation isn’t.””
Often the solutions coming out of Washington are just window dressing. For example, the four airliners used Sept. 11 to bring down the twin towers, ram the Pentagon, and attempt to reach the White House or Capitol before passengers brought one down, started their flights in touch with air traffic control. How, then, will putting general aviation under ATC help? Washington observers say it won’t, but it will let the security forces know more quickly if an event is an accident or a terrorist attack, resulting in appropriate action quickly and eliminating unnecessary expenses.
Meanwhile, much of general aviation has tried to keep a low profile in the mistaken belief that if it isn’t noticed, it will be left alone.
On top of that, most of the general aviation organizations have been more interested in their own membership and problems than in the big picture, the observer added.
The Air Transport Association (ATA), representing most of the major airlines, is pushing hard to get public opinion favoring user fees, including frequent articles in newspapers and business publications and frequent speeches to different groups.
General aviation is depending on Congress to save it from user fees, but is not building public opinion that can help those lawmakers pass legislation without constituent complaints.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.