Guest Editorial By JACK PELTON
Even without the global economic and credit crisis challenging the world and the public relations turbulence hitting business aviation, I anticipated 2009 would be a weighty year for general aviation.
We have a new administration in the White House, new leadership for the Department of Transportation, a new chief at the FAA, and we entered the year with many unresolved matters that will have long-term consequences for general aviation.
I fully expected to be tackling big issues that will shape our industry for decades. I just didn’t expect the extra weight of the current global environment, which will continue to be a factor in every one of the issues we are working.
This puts us in a unique and historic situation, and I’m convinced the only way the industry comes out successful is by working together. This includes manufacturers like Cessna, the thousands of supporting businesses we rely on, industry groups like AOPA, EAA and GAMA, and all who fly.
As an aircraft manufacturer and a single-engine aircraft owner, I’ve chosen to be part of the solution rather than a bystander, and I’m calling on anyone who flies or has a stake in general aviation to do the same.
First of all, continue to fly! Do so safely and responsibly, and encourage others to learn to fly. By doing so, you support the 1.3 million American workers tied to general aviation and you’ll help restore the public image of an industry being closely scrutinized by the general public.
Secondly, share your story with opinion leaders, decision makers and key policy drivers. The alphabet associations are an important part of the solution — but they rely on our participation.
These groups have worked tirelessly to explain that the U.S. aviation industry is worth $190 billion and generates a foreign trade surplus for our economy, that general aviation in the U.S. has an annual economic impact exceeding $11 billion. But people remember stories not facts and figures. That’s why your involvement is so important.
You know who your government officials are, and it’s time to let them know how important and valuable our industry is to our nation. Additionally, AOPA recently launched a tool on its website to gather stories from you that demonstrate the value of general aviation. This is part of the association’s new advocacy campaign — General Aviation Serves America. I encourage you to visit the site and help us create a positive perception of general aviation by sharing real stories.
This is a pivotal time for our industry in so many regulatory areas, and you can have an impact on the outcomes. A large part of our battle is to educate local, state and national policy makers. Many times, they aren’t familiar enough with general aviation to understand that a new policy will negatively impact us by adding to the cost or bureaucracy involved with learning to fly or owning and operating an airplane.
Letting them know how proposed legislation will impact you will do just that. Some of the larger issues to watch for include:
Security and safety. There will be new regulations, and we have to make sure they make sense for the way general aviation operates while providing real security benefits. Applying airline-type security to general aviation is like trying to put a round peg in a square hole.
FAA reauthorization and air traffic control system modernization. While general aviation fully supports modernization, we have to make sure user fees are not part of the funding mechanism and that upgrades are not cost prohibitive for owners and operators.
Environmental regulations. We need to work together as an industry to make sure the new regulations make sense.
It’s vital that these issues are handled on a federal level in the U.S., then on a global basis to ensure compatible standards and practices in the areas of safety, security and the environment.
Missteps in any of these areas could be devastating to our industry and threaten to exacerbate the trend of declining flight hours and new pilot starts.
General aviation is truly a national asset, and when you consider the jobs it provides, its contribution to our economy and balance of trade, and the incredibly passionate people it spawns, each and every one of us must fight for it.
Jack Pelton is chairman, president and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Co., the world’s largest manufacturer of general aviation airplanes.