Industry mourns death of leader Ed Stimpson

 - December 28, 2009, 7:24 AM

Ed Stimpson, a driving force behind the law that resurrected the moribund general aviation industry in the mid-1990s, died November 25 at age 75 after a five-month battle with lung cancer.

A founding member and longtime head of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), he went on to become the U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which earned him the appellation of “ambassador,” and finally chairman of the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF).

In 1994, the general aviation industry was in dire straits and a wave of lawsuits was blamed for a downturn in small aircraft manufacturing, costing 100,000 industry jobs. Annual sales of single-engine airplanes averaged 13,000 from 1965 to 1982, but dropped to just 500 by 1993.

Along with former Cessna chairman and CEO Russ Meyer, Stimpson championed the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) of 1994, which helped resuscitate the ailing industry by limiting manufacturers’ product liability to 18 years. This cut off the financial “tail” that held OEMs liable for aircraft that were built many years earlier and had demonstrated their safety for decades.

“I don’t believe I have ever known a truly nicer person than Ed Stimpson,” said Meyer at a memorial gathering in Washington, D.C., last month for Stimpson. “And I mean nice in the most positive, complimentary manner. Not that Ed couldn’t be tough. And tenacious. And very competitive. But always fair, and never, ever mean-spirited. In all the years that I worked the Hill with Ed–and we dealt with some really difficult issues and sometimes with people who were not always so nice–I never heard him make a personally critical comment about anyone on either side of the aisle or the issue. But that single trait, that basic goodness–combined with so many other strengths of character–may be the reason why Ed Stimpson, without any doubt whatsoever, was the most effective advocate in the history of general aviation.”

Cessna used Stimpson’s initials to signify the first 100 piston-powered airplanes the company built after resuming production following the passage of GARA.

“The aviation world has lost one of the greatest statesmen it has ever known,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, who was in the trenches with Stimpson and Meyer during the battle to revive the general aviation industry. “For nearly 40 years, he was a leader in shaping aviation policy, both in the United States and around the world.”

Stimpson was hired to handle public affairs and congressional relations when GAMA was formed in 1970. Within one year, he became the association’s president, a post he held until 1996, when he became vice chairman. Under his leadership GAMA established itself as one of the most effective and respected trade associations in Washington.

While working with GAMA, Stimpson assumed a leadership role in nearly every significant aviation policy issue of the era, including the establishment of the Airport and Airways Trust Fund, the allocation of aviation fuel during an oil embargo and a strike by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.

Stimpson left GAMA in 1996 to lead the Be A Pilot program, which at the time was the largest “learn-to-fly” initiative in general aviation history. Shortly after his departure from GAMA, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the United States’ permanent representative to ICAO with the rank of ambassador. He held that position from 1999 to 2004. He was later honored with one of aviation’s most coveted awards, the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy, and most recently served as the chairman of the FSF.

“It is hard to put into words the indelible mark that Ed has left on this industry,” said GAMA’s current president and CEO, Pete Bunce. “He was a leader, a mentor and, most important, a friend to countless numbers within the worldwide aviation industry. His spirit, dedication and enthusiasm were unmatched and will never be duplicated.”

“Ed was one of the greatest GA advocates of all time,” said AOPA president Craig Fuller. “He firmly believed in the value and utility of general aviation, and he dedicated his life to promoting, protecting and preserving GA. His loss will be keenly felt throughout the aviation community.”

Stimpson worked closely with AOPA on numerous GA causes, including product liability reform and the Be A Pilot program to expand the pilot population.

“He was a class act to all of us who knew and worked with him,” said Phil Boyer, who served as AOPA president for 18 years before retiring in 2008.

Stimpson also served on the board of trustees for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for 20 years. In the 1980s, he also chaired the Franklin Square Association, which was dedicated to improving a blighted area of Washington, D.C.
“Throughout his life, Ed generously gave his time to others,” Bolen noted. “He was a friend and mentor to many people in and outside the aviation community.”

Although never a smoker, Stimpson was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in June. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; five sisters and a brother.