WASHINGTON, D.C. — When William Piper Sr. was active in bringing aviation to many people in different walks of life, the interests, groups, companies, and politicians were fragmented. He commented to me that it took 50 years before the public realized there should be beltway routes around cities rather than force all traffic to go through town. He added it may take that long before we learn to work together in aviation.
Perhaps — just perhaps — we have reached a beginning of that point. Nowhere is this more evident than on the user fee issue. Even airlines are singing from the same hymnal about the proposed $100 per takeoff fee.
People entering aviation these days may not be aware of the competitiveness of aviation’s alphabet groups in earlier years. For many years it was more a competition to keep another group from getting credit than cooperation to achieve a goal. In those earlier years, associations were led primarily by individuals knowledgeable in a particular business or activity, not in ways to influence legislation, regulations, or public acceptance. At one memorable Congressional hearing, general aviation witnesses stated so many different points of view that a Congressman asked the panel how they expected Congress to provide what they wanted if they could not even agree among themselves.
Conditions have changed — and personnel have changed. People heading the aviation associations now know the ins and outs of Washington. Included are people who worked in the White House, in Congress, and on Congressional staffs. They know how to achieve consensus on issues. And, association leaders recognize that the various organizations have their own interests on issues but, regardless of where the interests on current issues might lie, overall goals are the same.
The level of cooperation between groups not only gives aviation a unified voice, but also makes possible quicker reaction. Common goals make common action.
Groups cooperating more than in the past represent all segments of general aviation, at least on some issues. For example, on a recent issue, nine different organizations joined forces, including the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). While these are the major national and international groups, many local and regional groups also step in to endorse a unified opinion.
In recent months General Aviation Caucuses were formed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They are among the largest caucuses in the Congress. President Obama’s frequent statements that corporate jets are for “fat cats” receive general contradiction from members of these caucuses.
At a recent kick-off meeting for the Senate General Aviation Caucus, co-chairs Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) joined actor and GA advocate actor Harrison Ford in debunking Obama’s claim.
Another cooperative group is the Alliance for Aviation Across America. This group, formed in 2007, works to get general aviation and airport development understood and supported. In recent months it has brought recognition to GA by pushing for “General Aviation Appreciation Month” proclamations in states across the country. So, far, 34 governors have issued proclamations, including the latest, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio.
Someone once asked Mr. Piper — no one except his family and a very few close friends ever called him anything but Mr. Piper — if he would like to be known as the Henry Ford of aviation. “No,” he said. “I’d rather Henry Ford be known as the Mr. Piper of the automobile.”
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.