WASHINGTON, D.C. – Popular musician Bob Dylan said it with an album several years ago: “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”
That phrase applies to general aviation today. The times they are a-changin’ is how aviation associations, politicians, agencies, and the public are seeing general aviation — and how these groups are affecting changes.
For too many years, groups interested in general aviation had inferiority complexes. Without naming names — to protect the guilty — one group said, “let’s keep a low profile and we can get along with little interference.” Another group approached legislation and regulations with the response that “we don’t like it, but when you do enact it, please consider these points.” Associations and organizations did little to cooperate. More often they looked at issues as to how they would affect their membership rather than how they might affect the entire general aviation community.
But, the times they are a-changin’.
The announcement this summer of the cooperation between the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is but the latest indication of a recognition that the only way for any individual group to grow is for the entire general aviation community to grow. The two groups agreed to work together on several near-term issues and to jointly host a roundtable early next year that includes a “wide spectrum of the GA community.”
On Capitol Hill, things also are a-changin’. There had always been a few elected officials who understood general aviation — many were pilots themselves. Now, two members of the House have formed the General Aviation Caucus, which includes pilots and non-pilots from both political parties, and its membership is growing.
During debate on the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act, four Congressmen offered an amendment requiring the TSA to let the GA industry review and have input on security proposals. The amendment passed. The associations worked together to help it pass.
Earlier, the House unanimously passed a bill introduced by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) strengthening the role the Civil Air Patrol plays in homeland security. The bill instructs the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to study ways in which CAP can assist state, local and tribal governments and the Department of Homeland Security.
People are changing, too. At one time, an interest in general aviation, or the particular segment of it to be represented, was all that was necessary to hold a top position in an association. Political and regulatory issues were delegated to staffers. As issues became more complex, that was not enough. An increasing number of association leaders not only know aviation but also know their way around government and/or business. Craig Fuller, president of AOPA, Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, Charles Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives, and James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, are four examples of chiefs who have held positions on Capitol Hill or in the White House, or both.
The times are a-changin’ and, as they do, general aviation and the people guiding it are changing with positive results. Today general aviation is too often described as all aviation except the military and airlines. If the groups continue to work closely together, some day a definition might be the airlines and military are all flying except general aviation.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.