I often get the feeling that general aviation is the red-headed stepchild in government’s view of the aerospace industry. With apologies to the late Rodney Dangerfield, GA seems to get no respect from the federal government. There have been three comprehensive studies on aviation in the past quarter century, and a few others on narrower topics. General aviation is usually relegated to an afterthought, if thought of at all.
President Bill Clinton was barely in office when the National Commission To Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry was created in 1993. By its very name, it was clear that GA would not be a player, even though it is the spawning ground of nearly all pilots. The lone GA member was Cessna’s Russ Meyer.
Next came the National Civil Aviation Review Commission (NCARC) in 1997, chaired by former congressman Norm Mineta, a longtime GA advocate who by then was working at Lockheed Martin. Linda Barker, a South Dakota FBO operator, represented business aviation, and was the sole GA advocate. But I would also add Mineta himself, who once told me in an interview that he built model airplanes as a youngster.
The NCARC, which became generically known as the Mineta Commission, did all right by GA. One of its recommendations was that General Fund revenues must continue to fund a portion of FAA costs. The NCARC declared that general aviation should continue supporting the FAA and its programs through the current excise fuel tax system.
President George Bush was well into his first term when the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry began deliberations in 2002. Ed Bolen, who was then president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, was the only commissioner with GA connections.
When former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced creation of the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee in April 2010, the only GA voice was Jack Pelton, who at the time was chairman, president and CEO of Cessna. Almost all of the other 18 members were affiliated with the airline industry. But the committee did include general aviation when it recommended the federal government should undertake significant financial investment to accelerate NextGen equipage.
Earlier this year, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx appointed 10 new members to the FAA Management Advisory Council. The council advises the FAA on management, policy, spending and regulatory matters. Yup, you guessed it. The only appointee with GA leanings is Craig Fuller, the now-out-of power former president of AOPA.
Without getting into the parsing of numbers, in 2011 the FAA listed nearly 200,000 private pilots and about 620,000 total pilots, along with nearly 225,000 active general aviation aircraft on the U.S. rolls. One would think those of us who just like to punch holes in the sky deserve a little more respect from all branches of the federal bureaucracy. I’m not holding my breath.