The leaders of eight general aviation advocacy associations shared one stage yesterday morning here at Heli-Expo. They included: Ed Bolen, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA); Pete Bunce, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA); Peggy Chabrian, Women in Aviation International (WAI); Jim Coyne, National Air Transportation Association (NATA); Paula Derks, Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA); Craig Fuller, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); Rod Hightower, Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA); and Matt Zuccaro, Helicopter Association International (HAI).
The group held a town hall-type forum in which they presented summaries of their particular missions and their current concerns, and also discussed how they overlap in the best interests of all GA. They then took questions from the audience.
Though their individual constituencies’ issues may vary, the combined message from the leadership was one of unity and cooperation.
HAI president Matt Zuccaro anchored the panel, and shared some of the cooperative efforts that members of the individual association might not be aware of. Later, he gave the example of HAI’s first visit to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and how that experience broadened his appreciation of the roles EAA, and all the other advocacy groups, play in supporting rotorcraft.
Ed Bolen (NBAA) suggested that supporters of general aviation at all levels embrace this election year as a chance to reach out to those who support aviation, and also use “our voices and our votes” to send a message to those whose positions are not consistent with aviation’s best interests.
“Over the past five years, we’ve faced several challenges,” said Bolen. “User fees, economic challenges and image issues; we’ve faced those challenges in a coordinated and cohesive manner, and those who tried to divide us have not been successful. This is a year in which we have the opportunity to influence how we ‘decide who the deciders are.”
Bolen said that, overall, one in three members of Congressmen of the House and Senate aviation caucuses, and two out of three governors have actively shown their support for general aviation in their states. He suggested visiting NBAA’s Web site to learn more about which legislators support our industry, “…and vote,” he said.
Pete Bunce (GAMA) said his association had decided last year to open its organization to rotorcraft manufacturers for the first time. (As did all the panelists, he also congratulated HAI for a dynamic and vibrant Heli-Expo.) He suggested that funding issues with the FAA have compromised its ability to keep pace with the certification process. Technological progress is being compromised by a lack of ability to receive approval for new and improved products.
“We can demand changes in how the FAA works,” Bunce said. “We can demand that they streamline the process of bringing a product to market. No one is more concerned with safety than those who fly and manufacture these machines.”
Jim Coyne (NATA) characterized his organization as representing general aviation’s smaller businesses. “We’re like the small business chamber of commerce for general aviation,” he said.
After expressing his frustration with the current Administration’s well-publicized negative characterization of general aviation, Coyne stressed how much of the general public does not realize the benefits GA brings to the country as a whole. “We need to bring that message to Washington,” he said, “and we won’t succeed unless we work together.”
Craig Fuller (AOPA) warned that the pilot population is declining, even as the general population is increasing. “From a business standpoint, we’ll be facing a pilot shortage,” he said.
According to AOPA research, between 70 and 80 percent of student pilots do not receive a pilot certificate. “That is not acceptable,” he said.
AOPA conducted follow-up research that revealed 47 specific factors that increase the likelihood of successful completion of flight training. AOPA then added a section to its Web site that “spotlight the things that work,” Fuller said.
Paula Derks (AEA) discussed advances in avionics over the past decade, with a proliferation of glass panels and other exciting technology for all aircraft types providing ever-more situational awareness. She said, “The economy slowed, but avionics research didn’t. The challenge, now, is in getting certified.”
Peggy Chabrian (WAI) remarked that this is the first year WAI is exhibiting at Heli-Expo. Over the past three years WAI has co-opted with EAA to form a “WomanVenture” element to AirVenture Oshkosh; AOPA’s Summit has “Women’s Wings;” and WAI has initiated a “Bring your daughter” program in relation to several aviation events.
“We need more pilots,” said Chabrian. “So we need to reach out to 10- and 11-year-old girls to show them what is possible for them in aviation.”
Rod Hightower (EAA) stressed EAA’s role as a champion of outreach, much of it on a volunteer basis. Over its 20-year history, EAA’s Young Eagles program has provided first flights for 1.6 million youngsters, which “has generated 18,000 pilot certificates, 2,900 CFIs, 1,900 A&Ps and 356 air traffic controllers, Hightower said.
He also stressed the importance of EAA’s Chapter Network (900 groups strong) in local outreach to the non-aviation public. “EAA’s chapters are a social center, but also a key enabler of outreach efforts at all levels.”