Today, the successful worldwide spread of free-market capitalism, alongside the frustrations of even first-class airline transportation, suggest to me that general aviation has astonishing opportunities for growth.
That growth is almost certain to benefit our thousands of smaller airports rather than the handful of great city hubs. Except for the financial centers, most business – worldwide – is done outside major cities, as any reader of business publications knows.
Add to that the fact that more businesses own and fly small airplanes than business jets, and you begin to see the increasing importance of our smaller airports. Throw into that mix the new Very Light Jets and less-than-airline-size turboprops, increasingly affordable and economical for business operations, and just about every airport with a paved runway starts to look desirable, not only to business people doing the flying but to the companies and communities with which they are doing business.
Many of these town and county airports currently bring millions of dollars to their communities, directly and indirectly. Those numbers can only increase, if the growth of business and other general aviation continues the way it’s been going recently.
The problem is that few politicians, whether local, state or national, have any idea that all of this activity is going on. It tends to be outside their normal frames of reference and, indeed, most of them hear about airports from constituents only when there is a problem, real or perceived, or when a developer takes a fancy to all that flat land.
“Life is action and passion,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. “I think it is required of a man that he should share the action and passion of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”
It is safe to say that “the action and passion” of our time includes the perils posed to general aviation by the national effort to impose user fees on us and by town, county and even university – don’t forget Horace Williams Airport at Chapel Hill, N.C. – efforts to make “higher use” of airport land. Most politicians are honestly unaware that the “highest use” almost invariably is as an airport, in terms of community service and even of tax revenue, which goes far beyond the property taxes always used as justification for real estate development.
Action and passion are words often used to describe pilots’ feelings about flying. Freedom is another. Business people who fly should add free-market capitalism to that, for it is the basis of their livelihood. That having been said, it should be compelling reason for talking with mayors, councilmen, legislators, governors, members of Congress – even the President, who seems to have precious little regard for GA.
It is necessary to make our own opportunities for such conversations, as they seldom just fall into our laps unbidden. Face-to-face is best, we’re told by the experts, but telephone calls, letters and email also get attention, particularly at local and regional levels – and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say that, fundamentally, all politics are local politics.
A “grassroots aviation organization” called AeroBlue has launched what promises to be a powerful advocacy website, intended to “unite the general aviation industry into an influential million-member voting bloc,” says Simeon Hitzel, the organization’s president, who is both passionate about and active in aviation. The site, AeroBlue.org, reaches out to — but also beyond — those of us who fly, engaging “people from all walks of life into the political process with easy-to-use tools and valuable information to support legislation,” Hitzel explains. “What sets this aviation website apart is that it organizes general aviation pilots, mechanics, controllers, manufacturers, FBOs and the like into a unified voting base to support and elect candidates favoring GA, to build support for legislation.”
The AeroBlue site offers a lot of helpful information, including how to send letters to state and federal representatives, review their voting histories, and coordinate grassroots fundraising events.
One of AeroBlue’s main goals – it has others – is to protect airports by bringing them under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which would provide Constitutional protection for airports as it does for other modes of transportation. The group also works hard to organize support for solving critical issues such as the FAA tax structure, Air Traffic Control modernization, airport improvement and dealing with community concerns about airports.
AeroBlue “organizes voters from all walks of life who depend on safe and efficient air transportation, to support candidates and legislation to improve aviation’s contributions to our economy and quality of life,” Hitzel tells us.
It’s an ambitious undertaking, partially inspired by this publication’s Save Our Airports campaign, which we find very encouraging.
AeroBlue intends to become at least 1 million members strong. Granted, there aren’t a million GA pilots but there are hundreds of thousands of us – AOPA alone claims 400,000 members – which means that our strength would be increased substantially by the success of AeroBlue.
To Save Our Airports, let’s “share the action and passion” with that worthy group, for as we help them they will be helping us – and general aviation can use all the help it can get.
Thomas F. Norton is GAN’s senior editor.