The Alliance for Aviation Across America, unveiled April 10, is a new and encouragingly diverse coalition of aviation enthusiasts and professionals, airport authorities, FBOs, civic organizations representing rural and agriculture voices, city, county and state officials, economic development entities, non-profit organizations, small and mid-size businesses and others representing small and rural communities. Not all of them have direct connections to aviation, giving the Alliance a far broader reach than most aviation support groups can claim.
Among them are the Air Care Alliance, National Farmers Union, Angel Flight, MedImpact Health Care Systems, the Mississippi Livestock Marketing Association and the National Agricultural Aviation Association, along with such aviation-specific groups as AOPA, EAA, GAMA, NBAA, NATA and about a dozen others. There are 23 private companies and 14 individuals listed among the charter members.
The organization is “dedicated to properly modernizing America’s air traffic control system to enhance safety, promote efficiency and expand capacity in order to ensure that all Americans have access to air transportation,” said the association’s Selena Shilad.
Behind the interest of the Alliance in general aviation is a fundamental purpose: to protect community access, Shilad said.
A strong air transportation system is a “lifeline in times of crisis” for small communities, noted Henry Ogrodzinski during a conference call debuting the organization. As president of the National Association of State Aviation Officials, he spoke as an official voice for the states, their airports and aviation communities. He described the language of the current FAA Reauthorization Bill as “a terrible proposal” holding the potential for “devastating effects on general aviation.”
Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, spoke in equally strong terms against user fees and for the preservation of small airports and general aviation. Rural communities have been “abandoned” by the airlines, he said, and are increasingly dependent on GA, particularly in support of small businesses – including farms – and modern medical care, which often requires urgent medical supplies to be flown in or patients flown out.
Community airports and the small businesses that use them are critical to America’s security, mobility during national emergencies, access to medical care, and local economies, most of the conference speakers agreed. “The Alliance for Aviation Across America believes that any proposal for FAA reauthorization must protect access to small towns and communities, and not saddle businesses with tax hikes and fees that would impede their ability to operate from those areas,” Shilad stated.
Lanny Greenberg, a private pilot and former air traffic controller who is active in aviation charities, commented that “the public does not realize that passenger taxes are not paid by the airlines but by the passengers” – a fact that the airlines disguise as much as possible. He fears that user fees could “really skyrocket” if established, creating safety issues and discouraging the use of aviation following disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
Rol Morrow of the Air Care Alliance was quick to back him up. “Thousands of pilots fly public service missions,” he pointed out, “carrying blood, medical supplies, patients, doing search and rescue” on a daily basis. Reducing federal support for community airports and raising the cost of GA flying would impact such flying severely, he said.
Gene Wright, mayor of a small coal-mining town in West Virginia, talked not only of medical services, on which “outlying communities depend,” but on the effect of increased costs on small companies using general aviation in one way or another. “I’m also a contract pilot,” he said, for a company supporting mining operations. Reduced utilization of business aviation not only could cost his own job, he said, but “many others at FBOs, airports and the other small businesses dependent on them.”
Although most of the conference call involved discussion of user fees and the FAA Reauthorization Bill in general, The Alliance for Aviation Across America is not a one-issue operation, Shilad emphasized.
“We support transitioning to the Next Generation Air Transportation System that is more satellite-based than today’s ground-based navigation system,” she said. “We support fully funding our air traffic control system through a modest contribution from the General Fund to the FAA, if needed to support the development of the NGATS, combined with our proven and reliable system of aviation excise taxes. We oppose the administratively burdensome and unfair tax scheme proposed by the administration, believing that it would dilute the FAA’s focus on safety. We believe the FAA should be a safety agency, not a revenue-collecting agency,” she said.
“The national air transportation system reaches all of America through general aviation. The Alliance goes beyond aviation, reaching out to a broad spectrum of the public,” commented AOPA’s Phil Boyer.
“General aviation needs the understanding and support of the general public,” added the NBAA’s Ed Bolen. “Here is an organization that can bring them to our side.”
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