The opening session of the AOPA Aviation Summit earlier this month featured something that GA has not seen before: The leaders of all GA’s alphabet groups on the same stage.
Previous rivalries were put aside as the leaders of those groups — the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, National Business Aviation Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Air Transportation Association, Aircraft Electronics Association, Women in Aviation and the Experimental Aircraft Association — discussed their efforts to defend GA against politicians who don’t have a clue, the mainstream media that continues its attacks on GA, and a public that doesn’t understand what GA is all about.
AOPA’s President Craig Fuller noted that by joining forces, the alphabet groups represent 500,000 people — a number that catches the attention of those in Washington, D.C.
“It shows the power of combining our forces,” he said.
And Washington is paying attention. While GA has always had its supporters on the Hill, that support has grown in the past few months with the burgeoning membership in the GA Congressional Caucuses. At last count, the Senate Caucus had 17 members, while the House Caucus had 80 members.
“People want to be identified with our industry,” said NBAA President Ed Bolen. “Creating jobs is on the minds of everyone and we’re getting the message to the Hill that GA means jobs — pilots, manufacturing, finance, advertising, FBOs. I think they are beginning to see that GA is a critical industry.”
The elections earlier this month made many members of Congress nervous, added NATA President Jim Coyne.
“They know people are worried about job loss,” he said. “They are afraid if they offend important constituents, they won’t get re-elected.”
By uniting, the aviation alphabet groups “have tremendous leverage,” he added. “We need to go to them and ask if they are going to fight user fees and support aviation,” he said. “If they give the wrong answer, they will get punished.”
Even as GA’s leaders fight battles in Washington, D.C., they continue to fight an even more important battle on the homefront: How to get more people involved in aviation.
The aging, dwindling pilot population — estimates are that the pilot population will fall below 600,000 this year — is a huge concern to everyone in GA from the alphabet groups to flight schools to manufacturers.
“We’ve never reached out like we should,” said EAA’s Chairman Tom Poberezny, noting it’s critical to reach those between the ages of 20 and 40.
It’s also important to get those outside aviation — such as the leaders of local communities — to help in the fight.
“We want community leaders to get involved to say that airport that USA Today is attacking is the future of our community,” Bolen said. “We need to get people to understand that GA is essential to our economy.”