Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), on Saturday called on pilots to “rally around GA so that collectively we can protect our freedom to fly.” Delivering a keynote address at the Northwest Aviation Conference in Puyallup, Wash., Fuller said everyone has a role they can play.
“Every year we get together at AOPA and come up with an idea that encapsulates where we are going and what we hope to accomplish over the course of the year ahead,” he said. “This year, we are going to ‘Rally GA.’ And that means we are going to pull together all of our resources — not just the resources that AOPA can bring to bear, but also the resources of the entire GA community — to support general aviation and protect our freedom to fly. It means we are working with enthusiastic pilots to promote flying and spread the good news stories that general aviation generates. It also means we are working with our fellow aviation associations to tackle some of the big challenges facing us, like the future of avgas and what NextGen should look like. And it means we are rallying support in Congress so we will have allies who understand the importance and value of general aviation, and keep GA in mind when they are working through tough issues like FAA reauthorization, transportation priorities, and budgeting.”
Before outlining some of the ways pilots can “Rally GA,” Fuller noted some of the challenges general aviation has faced or is facing. One of the greatest, and one which has largely been beyond GA’s ability to control, has been the economy.
“We are just now beginning to emerge from the worst economic crisis in 70 years,” said Fuller. “The good news is that we are beginning to see real signs of recovery. Everywhere I go, pilots and aviation companies seem more optimistic than they have in a long while.”
Equally as challenging is the pilot population, which has declined by approximately 25% since its high water mark in 1980. Fuller highlighted the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative, led by AOPA. Some 60-80% of people who begin flight training drop out before earning a pilot certificate. “The initiative,” said Fuller, “is taking a detailed look at the training process, uncovering the hidden stumbling blocks, and talking with experts throughout the aviation industry to find ways that are both practical and effective to address those problems.”
Fuller noted some of the other ways that AOPA and its fellow general aviation associations are rallying GA: working collaboratively with each other and the FAA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify the best alternative to 100 low-lead aviation gasoline; developing consensus recommendations for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen; and supporting the General Aviation Caucuses in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. “The House caucus now has 82 members, while the Senate has 29 members,” Fuller told the audience. “Having this kind of interest in Congress is really vital as we ‘Rally GA.’ Just having a forum to discuss and consider the issues that affect GA is a big step toward building the kind of support that we need with lawmakers.”
He also talked about some of the ways that individual pilots can Rally GA. “You can invite newcomers to give flying a try and help them through the training process,” he said. “You can join the nearly 162,000 individual pilots who took part in at least one of the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s online courses and quizzes last year. You can take part in events like this one that educate and inform.” And he said pilots can play an integral part in protecting America’s aviation infrastructure by supporting their local airport, either by becoming an AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer, or if the airport already has one, by offering to help the volunteer.
AOPA Online has added “Rally GA” pages with these and other ideas and opportunities for pilots to get involved. “I hope you’ll join us,” he said. “Your involvement can make a real difference as we Rally GA and protect our freedom to fly.”