Fuller: Threats mount against GA, groups unite

July 14, 2011

Rally GAAOPA President Craig Fuller was the featured speaker at the July 12 luncheon of the Wichita Aero Club.

Addressing a standing-room-only audience of more than 200, Fuller provided a synopsis of general aviation’s condition in a slow-growth economy that has defied predictions with its long duration, and when challenges facing aviation range from threats to GPS to budget pressures that could scale back funding of airport improvement projects and hinder progress on the Next Generation Air Transportation System.

GA organizations, however, have “used the time wisely,” locking arms in a strong alliance, building strength through the congressional GA Caucus, and working with charismatic spokesmen such as actors Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman through the GA Serves America campaign. A goal of GA Caucus co-chair Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) is to recruit half of the 435 House members into the caucus, the value of which is “tremendous,” he said.

Fuller discussed the widespread opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s conditional approval of an application by technology venture LightSquared to establish a mobile communications network. Tests have shown that the network would pose serious problems for GPS reception, which operates on frequencies that have been protected until now. Fuller said that he had never before seen a policy process such as that followed in the LightSquared case, and he cautioned the audience that it was not a foregone conclusion that a satisfactory solution will emerge without continued vigilance and action.

Fuller reviewed the intensive work under way in the private and public sectors to find a replacement fuel for leaded avgas. He predicted that more pressure from environmentalists would be brought to bear on the Environmental Protection Agency, which to date has been engaged in ongoing efforts including direct participation in the FAA Unleaded Avgas Transition Aviation Rulemaking Committee.

He described the legal effort launched recently by GA organizations to challenge the Department of Transportation’s decision to drastically curtail pilots’ privacy by restricting their use of the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. Fuller described the issue as a rallying cry, and commended Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, whose city is the self-proclaimed air capital of the world, for speaking out against BARR restrictions.

Describing recent critical comments by President Barack Obama in the budget debate about corporate jet operators as a “pollster tactic,” Fuller defended the jobs creation and certainty that tax benefits held for the aircraft manufacturing industry.

Responding to a question about whether the export of aircraft was beneficial, Fuller described the market for aircraft as a global venue, pointing to the example of China, which he said is building 100 airports each year.

Efforts to “get our members out and flying” remain a top priority through the AOPA Aircraft Partnership Program, and the AOPA Flight Training Student Retention Initiative with its goals of identifying ways to improve the flight-training model and increasing the likelihood that a student will succeed. In the future, he said, most flight training will be provided by GA.

The luncheon marked Fuller’s second address to the Wichita Aero Club, having made his first official public appearance as AOPA’s president before record attendance in Wichita in January 2009.