President's Position

Harrison Ford shares his GA story

June 1, 2010

Craig Fuller

You’ve heard me talk about the work being done through the GA caucuses in the House and Senate. Each caucus serves as a forum for senators and members of Congress to discuss the role of general aviation and the issues that affect the future of GA flying (see “GA in the Halls of Congress,”). Members of both caucuses have heard a great deal in recent months about GA Serves America—the campaign to protect our freedom to fly.

After so much talk about the value of GA, many members of the caucuses were interested in hearing directly from GA Serves America spokesman, pilot/actor Harrison Ford. And he obliged, making a trip to Capitol Hill to have a conversation with me before an audience of elected officials and top congressional staffers. Rarely have I seen such a robust turnout as the audience that gathered to listen to one of the great voices for general aviation today. Here are some of the thoughts Harrison Ford shared with an enthralled audience:

“GA does a great deal for this country, and it’s a story I don’t think we did a very good job of telling in the past. It’s become more important to get the word out about what GA does for America, so I’m proud to be here, proud to be associated with these people, and happy to invest my time in telling this story.”

“We’ve been losing our pilot base. Maybe 10 years ago there were nearly 700,000 active pilots and we’re now down to about 500,000 active pilots. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the cost of learning to fly and maintaining an aircraft. Part of the solution to that is the light sport aircraft category, which has lately been introduced, making training aircraft and small aircraft more available and at lower cost. But we have to continue to build people’s interest in aviation so that we have new pilots coming in.”

“America has a great legacy of aviation, we’ve led the world in aviation for much of the 100-year history of aviation, and it has accrued to this country in a really wonderful way. As a developer of innovative technology, general aviation is where it grows, where GPS, for instance, came from, as you know. Those technologies are generated in general aviation and then they find their way into commercial cockpits and by extension into all facets of our lives. So there’s a lot that comes out of aviation, and I feel very strongly that we need to support it in every possible way.”

“Ninety percent of pilots are now trained in GA, not in the military as used to be the case. So those are the pilots who are going to be flying commercial aircraft and providing the services of aviation in the future. We need to get people involved in aviation at a young age. One of the things I’ve always been impressed with is what good citizens pilots are. The sense of responsibility that they take, their interest in education are all traits that I think we want to encourage in young people.”

“One of the things people don’t realize is the importance of the GA manufacturing business and the economic impact of community airports throughout this country. There are 1.3 million jobs in GA and they pump something like $150 billion a year into the economy, so when communities are talking about closing some of these public-use community airports, it frequently is overlooked what the economic benefits are of these airports in terms of jobs and the services they provide for GA aircraft. You know commercial airports and the commercial fleet service only a very small number of airports and the rest of the country relies on GA.”

“There are 500,000 active pilots in this country. They are educated, concerned, active citizens, and although they come from many different political persuasions, I think that one of the things we have to do is to keep ourselves together to protect our freedoms and our right to fly. It’s a unique American freedom that we enjoy in this country, and I think we have to establish a political capacity in the pilot community. Five hundred thousand people—that’s a lot of concerned, effective citizens.”

“I’m pleased that we were able to resist the impulse for user fees, and thank many of you in the caucus for your contributions. That makes a huge difference to the pilot population not to have to face that further imposition of expenses.”

“General aviation pilots fly something like 118,000 hours as volunteers for a variety of different efforts each year, 118,000 hours. So volunteering your time as a pilot to be able to fly wounded warriors to medical care or fly cancer patients who can’t fly on commercial aircraft, to do all of those kinds of things is a very gratifying use of your time, so I encourage that as well.”

“I love the learning experience that I’ve had the good fortune to have. I love the training and the continued investment in building skill, and it’s become a very important part of my life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! See the entire discussion, and get the inside scoop on what Harrison Ford is flying, his work on the relief effort in Haiti, and how he stays current when he’s filming, on AOPA Live.

E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at craig@aopa.org.

Engagement tip: Get engaged with GA and help us preserve our freedom to fly. Watch the AOPA Live video of Harrison Ford’s appearance on Capitol Hill, and then join him in supporting the General Aviation Serves America campaign by making a contribution.