GA roots focus of Graves' town hall

April 2, 2012

Rep. Sam Graves

Protecting pilots and antique aircraft, the beginning and foundation of general aviation, were the focus of a town hall hosted by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) March 31 at Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla. AOPA President Craig Fuller and leaders from the Recreational Aviation Foundation, Commemorative Air Force, Antique Airplane Association, and Helicopter Association International joined Graves to discuss what the associations are doing to protect GA.

Graves, a pilot and warbird owner, is co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus and one of GA’s avid advocates on Capitol Hill.

During the town hall, Fuller thanked Graves for his efforts to support GA and build the caucus by educating fellow members on Capitol Hill about the importance of the industry. However, Fuller noted, Graves couldn’t convince his colleagues to join the caucus without the support of pilots nationwide. “You never get the response we’ve had without the members of our organizations.”

Graves echoed that sentiment, pointing out the importance of aviation organizations working together: “It goes back to being able to have one voice.”

A united voice is key, but there’s also strength in numbers. “One of the things that concerns me the most these days … is that the constituency is declining,” Fuller said of the pilot population. “I can tell you when your constituency is declining that’s a problem.”

Fuller outlined AOPA’s initiatives to help boost the dwindling pilot population, including research into why 70 percent of students who start flight training drop out, an awards program for flight schools and instructors, and flying clubs that help lower the cost getting into aviation.

Commemorative Air Force President Steve Brown explained the work his group is doing to preserve American military aviation history and interest the next generation in flying. In addition to operating the world’s largest fleet of warbirds at 156, the group offers flights in the only Boeing B-29 still flying today and tours the country with its Red Tails Squadron and Rise Above exhibit. The program takes lessons from the Tuskegee Airmen and educates children about the “travails they went through to serve their country,” Brown said. “If they can rise above all the adversity they had to overcome to fight for their country,” then the children can learn to rise above the challenges they face.

Maintaining aviation’s history, those warbirds and antique aircraft, can be costly and difficult. However, the Antique Airplane Association and Graves worked to insert language in the FAA reauthorization bill that was signed into law in February to make type certificate information for these aircraft available to the public.

Antique Airplane Association Executive Director Brent Taylor explained that the language will help preserve type certificate data and ensure that aircraft records aren’t destroyed.

Ed DiCampli, executive vice president of the Helicopter Association International, and John McKenna, president of the Recreational Aviation Foundation, spoke about their respective association’s efforts to protect GA as it is today. DiCampli explained that helicopter operations in some states are coming under fire because of noise complaints. So, the association created a noise complaint hotline to gauge just how many people were complaining about the helicopters in a certain area of New York. DiCampli said that 80 percent of 800 calls during a one-year period came from 10 homes. “So, do we really have a noise problem?” he questioned. Noise complaints that start with helicopters, he said, can easily spread to fixed-wing aircraft operations.

McKenna explained the Recreational Aviation Foundation’s mission to preserve backcountry strips. The group has successfully lobbied in several states to extend liability protection to private landowners for recreational use of their landing facilities.

By working together, the groups demonstrated during the town hall that aviation’s past, present, and future are being protected to allow future generations the freedom and joy of flying as pilots know it today.