It takes more than alphabet groups speaking up to teach opinion leaders and decision makers about GA — it takes each pilot and aircraft owner stepping up and becoming actively engaged with their community leaders.
“As I see it, some of the top issues for the coming year and beyond must include protecting our nation’s airports, ensuring that air traffic modernization accounts for the needs of all system users, and building the pilot population,” said Craig Fuller, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, in a speech this morning at the South Carolina Aviation Association’s annual convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “In order to make real progress on these issues, I will be asking every one of AOPA’s more than 415,000 members to get personally engaged in protecting and promoting general aviation.
“There are literally hundreds of ways to do that,” Fuller continued. “Being more engaged can be as simple as staying informed about the issues that affect your flying and as involved as hosting a major public event. But in between are almost infinite opportunities.
“Go flying and take a non-pilot friend or colleague with you. Write a letter to the editor responding to a general aviation story, whether it’s good or bad. Write to your elected officials. Ask them where they stand on general aviation issues. Make a financial contribution to a general aviation cause such as GA Serves America, the AOPA Political Action Committee, or the AOPA Foundation. Join a local pilot group; or start one if your airport doesn’t already have one.”
AOPA plans to increase its advocacy for general aviation this year, he said, noting America’s network of 5,200 public use airports remain a critical issue. In addition to longtime efforts such as the AOPA Airport Support network of approximately 2,000 volunteers, Fuller said the association will add new tools for the work ahead.
“We are going to produce an economic study of the nation’s GA airports to give individual airports, communities, and states the hard data they need to show just how much value these small airports provide,” Fuller said. “That’s information we can and will take to Washington, too, where numbers can sometimes speak louder than words.”
He also noted that 2010 is a federal election year, with every member in the House of Representatives and approximately one-third of the Senators up for election.
“Well, the general aviation community votes,” he said, “and we want to be sure that GA, and GA airports, get the attention of the candidates.”
Association officials plan to travel around the country and host events that highlight the value of GA airports. Fuller said AOPA will be calling on members to attend, and even organize, such events. “There’s no better way to attract the attention of politicians in an election year than to bring out the voters.”
Another issue that AOPA will address is the declining pilot population and the need to draw more people into aviation. As part of that effort, AOPA will work with flight schools to determine why nearly 70% of people who start flying lessons never go on to get their pilot certificates.
“We are going to be doing some carefully crafted research and taking advantage of the first-hand knowledge of those in the training industry to find out what works and what doesn’t, with the goal of developing best practices to help student pilots complete their training and earn their certificates. In addition to looking at the students themselves, we’re going to take a hard look at the training environment to find out how it affects the completion process,” he said.
Fuller noted a number of other issues that AOPA will be engaged in, such as: air traffic control modernization, known as NextGen; continuing to improve general aviation air safety; and aviation security issues as they affect general aviation pilots and owners. And he said AOPA will continue to monitor the FAA funding and authorization. While the budget proposal for next year from the Obama Administration does not include user fees, Fuller noted, “Bad ideas have a funny way of coming back around in Washington, so I have to believe that sooner or later, this idea will surface again. In the meantime, the worst thing we can do is sit back, congratulate ourselves, and imagine that all our worries are behind us.
“Taking action and making a commitment to become more engaged is vital,” concluded Fuller. “Even with our success, I must tell you that we can no longer take for granted that the freedom to fly will be sustained unless we work to defend that freedom we cherish.”
For more information: AOPA.org