Stimpson relishes new role as FSF chairman

 - October 30, 2006, 9:03 AM

Ed Stimpson retired from yet another job last December. That lasted just a few weeks, and then he joined Flight Safety Foundation’s board of directors. In February he was elected chairman. This time, however, he is working pro bono.

For the previous five years he was the U.S. ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based in Montreal. “It was a great honor to be an ambassador representing the United States,” Stimpson said. “I didn’t realize until I got up there how important ICAO is, particularly when you get to issues such as hush kits, where we need an international forum to help solve the problems.”

The dispute between the U.S. and the European Union actually began before he joined ICAO, and it took about three years to resolve. The EU wanted to ban aircraft with U.S.-built hush kits designed to meet Stage 3 noise limits, which the U.S. called discriminatory and a violation of the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation.

“It took us a long time to settle it,” Stimpson recalled. “Dr. [Assad] Kotaite [president of the Council of ICAO] did a marvelous job of shuttling between Washington and Brussels. It took a long time, but they came out with a good solution to it.”

After 9/11, much of the focus of his efforts in Montreal was on anti-terrorism measures. These included locked cockpit doors, international standards and international audit programs on the status of security in various countries. “We pushed very hard to get ICAO to endorse global action,” Stimpson continued, “so I would say that the stuff in aviation security and terrorism probably were the center points [of my time at ICAO].”

Working with other delegations, he spent a lot of time presenting the views of U.S. aviation to the rest of the world. When the Europeans wanted to impose additional taxes on aviation fuel and institute surcharges to control emissions, “we were able to work with other delegations to prevent stupid solutions to problems,” he added.

Stimpson has been a tireless advocate of aviation since his days with the FAA’s Congressional Relations Office, which began in 1963. As the chief lobbyist for the FAA in 1969, he was involved in the creation of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, which currently provides the money for about 80 percent of the FAA’s annual budget.

“That was a big deal and sort of led to the formation of GAMA [the General Aviation Manufacturers Association] in 1970,” he recalled recently. Not long afterward, Stimpson became the association’s president, a post he held for 25 years except for a short time out when he took a job with Morrison Knutson Construction in Boise, Idaho, where he and his wife, Dottie, now reside.

His first major challenge following the birth of GAMA was the oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1973, when the Nixon Administration wanted to reduce general aviation fuel supplies by 50 percent–an arbitrary figure–because of GA’s high visibility during an energy crisis. GAMA led the way, mobilizing the industry to thwart the plan.

GAMA was at the forefront during the various FAA budget renewals over the years, fighting to get facilities built for GA and the needed funding for GA. The association also became involved in the international trade arena, with some arguments about trade issues back in the late 1970s and 1980s that he characterized as “pretty serious” among GAMA members.

“I suppose that what made me proudest of all of this is that I was able to set the agenda and give the leadership to the organization and to try to get some stuff done,” he said. “It was amazing how these competitive people could come together and agree on things that were good for the industry and then go do them.”

Before he left GAMA the first time, Stimpson saw general aviation manufacturing plummet from its high-water mark of nearly 18,000 aircraft built in 1978 to fewer than 1,000 aircraft a year shipped by the late 1980s. A large part of the decline was directly attributable to strangling product-liability lawsuits and extremely high settlements, which prompted several manufacturers to cease production of piston-powered aircraft.

However, even before the private sector beckoned the cum laude Harvard graduate, Stimpson was working to gain some form of legislative relief from the debilitating court awards that–along with overproduction and the economy–had brought the general aviation industry to its knees.

When he returned to GAMA in 1991, he once again took up the cudgels against product liability lawsuits. And after eight years of battle, in 1994, general aviation succeeded in getting Congress to pass the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA). The law provided an 18-year “statute of repose” that protects manufacturers from lawsuits involving aircraft that are more than 18 years old.

Within hours of the law’s passage, Cessna president and CEO Russ Meyer delivered on a promise to restart production of piston-powered airplanes, which he had halted in 1986. Eventually GA manufacturing began to pick up, and last year GA manufacturers shipped almost 3,000 airplanes of all types, from the smallest piston singles to globe-girdling business jets. The enactment of GARA might be Stimpson’s greatest achievement.

Renewing Interest in General Aviation

When he stepped down as GAMA president for the second time in 1996, Stimpson didn’t really leave GAMA behind. He assumed the role of vice chairman of the board of directors and helped found the Be A Pilot program to help revive student starts, which had withered during GA’s decline.

“The one thing that we looked at–and we were concerned about– was that the [student pilot] start numbers were going down.” Left unchecked, it would be “a real bad danger sign for the industry,” Stimpson said. Who was going to fly these new airplanes, and with the military supplying fewer pilots to the airlines, where were airline pilots going to come from? “There was a real need for enriching the pilot population of the United States,” he answered.

Be A Pilot, which is still going strong, has reversed that downward trend and continues to be successful, he said, and is yet another example of the industry’s recognizing a problem and doing something about it.

Stimpson had to give up his work with Be A Pilot and resign his 20-year membership on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University board of directors in October 1999 when the Senate confirmed him as the U.S. ambassador to ICAO. His confirmation also came on the eve of his receiving the NBAA award for meritorious service, which he had to decline because of State Department rules.

Since he is no longer a member of the diplomatic corps, NBAA was able finally to give him the award at last month’s convention. It is presented annually to an individual who, by virtue of a lifetime of personal dedication, has made significant, identifiable contributions that have materially advanced aviation interests.

Stimpson has also received the FAA’s Extraordinary Service Award and was the 1998 recipient of the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy given by the National Aeronautic Association, which lauded his vision, determination and unique ability to bring diverse groups together.

As ambassador, he not only was the U.S. representative on the 36-member Council of the ICAO; he also led U.S. delegations to international meetings, including three sessions of the ICAO Assembly, and was elected first vice president of the group.

Now he continues his peripatetic globetrotting with the FSF, which was created in 1947 as an independent forum to address aviation safety problems. “I am very impressed by its international stature,” he said, “and there is a lot more that it can do.”