In the view of NBAA chairman Patrick Cunningham, members of Congress began to listen to business aviation when the industry talked about jobs in their constituents’ districts and “when we communicate to them that the average business aircraft is not necessarily a Gulfstream jet or a BBJ.” Many legislators were surprised to find that the average business aircraft is a King Air and may be supporting a medium-size company and it might be vital to that company to have that airplane to do business.
“I think that once the folks in Congress gradually started to understand that,” Cunningham said, “they realized that a lot of the folks back home were thinking that general aviation was a pretty good thing and business aviation, too.” The other thing that Congress needed to hear, he said, was that aviation is an industry where our country is still strong. “I think the light bulb may have gone on for a few when they realized that out there in Wichita and in Savannah, Georgia, we’re employing a lot of people making state-of-the-art airplanes and it’s a real boon to the economy,” he added.
Cunningham, director of aviation for PepsiCo, acknowledges that NBAA has more member involvement than ever before. One reason, he said, is the association has set up the Contact Congress feature on its Web site.
“So when we’ve got a hot issue,” he explained, “[NBAA president and CEO] Ed Bolen can reach out to the membership and he can say, ‘Listen, we have this issue that is really important to us and business aviation. You need to contact your congressman about it.’ And there will be a way to go on the Web site and click on the link and write a letter–either e-mail it or send it by snail mail, if you want–to your congressmen and let them know that someone back home really cares about it.”
As Cunningham has learned from long experience on the NBAA board of directors and hears repeatedly from NBAA’s Bolen and NBAA senior vice president for government affairs Lisa Piccione, when you go into a congressman’s office to try to make him understand that he should pay attention to business aviation issues because they are really important to his district, or a senator to his state, the first thing they will ask a staff member is, “What are we hearing on this issue from the people back home?” And if they’re not hearing from the people back home on that issue, then you are just another lobbyist just trying to get them to vote a certain way.
“Your credibility vanishes,” Cunningham pointed out. “That’s why it’s so important that our members are more active and they’ve got to contact their officials and let them know what they want.”
One of the aviation issues currently of great interest to the business aviation community is the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP). Cunningham was more than willing to talk about it.
What TSA originally tried to deliver, he said, was basically a carbon copy of the regulations that were covering the airlines. Luckily the aviation community got involved in these town halls that TSA held around the country and TSA heard significant complaints from people in aviation.
They centered on things that were prohibited on the airplane, simple things like utensils and golf clubs. And some companies make things that might be considered a prohibited item but they might need to carry to sell to a customer.
“It was obviously kind of an attempt to put the airline-type regulations in place,” Cunningham recalled. “The good thing, I think, from every indication, is that TSA has listened. And we’re hopeful that it will come out with a regulation that makes a lot more sense.”
There is hope, too, that the weight thresholds that require LASP compliance increase. “There’s no way to tell how much it will go up and we really hope it goes up,” he said. “And we’re hopeful that they’ll give us something that keeps whatever level of security we need, and allows the business aviation community to be out there operating freely and doing what we need to do to keep our business going.”
In response to a question about NextGen, Cunningham noted that business aviation has always supported the program. “As long as it is rolled out the right way, it can help relieve the congested airspace that we have in the country now and will have in the future if we don’t do something. I think most business aviation operators are most concerned with how much it will cost,” he said.
He noted that the people of business aviation have been in the lead when it comes to upgrading their airplanes, but said there is concern not only about whether “the cost will be such that we can equip the guy who has a large business aircraft, but also will someone operating a Citation or a King Air be able to afford whatever [the feds come up with]. That is a big concern.”