Last Saturday afternoon a Town Hall Meeting was held on the Sun ’n Fun grounds, hosted by Congressman Sam Graves (R.-Mo.), who is undoubtedly GA’s biggest supporter on Capitol Hill.
Graves, a pilot and aircraft owner, is co-chairman of the GA Caucus in the House of Representatives, sharing duties with John Barrow (D-Ga.). The GA Caucus now has about 100 members, making it one of the largest in the House, but Graves has a goal of getting 218 members, which would be half of Congress. “That will really help legislation get through so much faster,” he said.
There is good news from the Hill, he reported: FAA reauthorization, which essentially funds the agency and its programs, has finally been approved by the House. The Senate approved its bill earlier, so now the two bills need to be reconciled. “So many things are hanging in limbo,” Graves said, noting the House bill was approved with no user fees. “The House is very much opposed to user fees.”
Graves was joined in the Town Hall meeting by the leaders of the Commemorative Air Force, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Helicopters Association International. The meeting, held in the FAA Production Studios, was streamed live over the Internet and touched on topics ranging from a replacement for 100LL to the declining pilot population.
The congressman noted that it’s critical for all members of the GA groups to cooperate. “If we don’t stick together, we will get run over,” he said.
An avid pilot who owns a Stearman and is restoring a rare Beech Model AT-10, Graves said the issue that worries him most as a pilot is the avgas issue. 100LL is the only leaded fuel still sold in the U.S.
All of those on the panel said a drop-in replacement is the only way to go and is an issue that is top priority not only for the industry, but the FAA. “A couple of years ago, it looked like the sky was falling and that the EPA was going to make us settle for a low-octane fuel,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA president. “But then we started getting together and made the EPA realize it was a safety issue and told the FAA it needed to lead on this issue.”
The FAA listened and all the members of the panel assured pilots that 100LL is not going away any time soon. If the EPA tries the push the issue, Congress can step in as a backstop to protect GA, added Craig Fuller, AOPA president
The declining pilot population was also a main topic of discussion during the Town Hall, with each participant saying it is something they are deeply concerned about. In the last 20 years, the number of pilots has dropped from about 800,000 to about 600,000. The panelists enumerated the different efforts the groups are doing to inspire more interest in aviation, but all agreed there is no “silver bullet” to solving the problem.
CAF’s Steve Brown pointed out how important air shows are to inspiring kids to want to fly, as well as schools like the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, which recently opened on the Sun ’n Fun campus.
Changes in the way pilots are trained, for instance adding more sim time to decrease the cost and time to get a pilot’s license, are important, said Bunce, while HAI President Matt Zuccaro said GA needs to reach out to kids where they are — on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. “This is the most important issue facing GA,” he said, noting that if we don’t figure it out, “GA is going to disappear.”
This is the second year Graves has hosted a Town Hall Meeting at Sun ’n Fun. He said he hopes to make it a yearly event.