AOPA Airport Support Network
Guide to Obtaining Community Support for Your Local Airport
Sample Speech 1: What is General Aviation?
"What is general aviation?" Many people labor under a wide variety of misconceptions concerning this unique segment of aviation. One of the primary reasons for this is that general aviation has also been termed "private flying." That phrase has, unfortunately, led to the conception that general aviation is a fraternity of wealthy playboy types who wear baseball caps, are called "Ace," and fly around the skies just for the fun of it. This is clearly not the case.
By definition, general aviation is all flying in the United States except that done by the scheduled airlines and the military. General aviation is by far the largest segment of aviation in our country, made up of a fleet of aircraft totaling almost 200,000. Contrary to what is often popular belief, about one-third of all general aviation flying is for personal reasons; the remaining 70 percent of general aviation flying is for business, medical, agriculture, and community service activities, to name a few. And certainly enjoyment of aviation is nothing to be defensive about. Aviation, like camping, boating, and other leisure activities, is a proper use of resources.
One of the most effective ways in which to demonstrate the magnitude of general aviation is to briefly compare its operational numbers with those of the air carriers.
While general aviation has a fleet of aircraft totaling almost 200,000, the air carrier fleet totals about 6,000.
General aviation flies almost four billion air miles every year. The air carriers log about five billion.
General aviation logs 30.1 million flight hours a year. Air carriers log fewer, about 17.2 million.
General aviation aircraft made 48 million flights. In 1991, the air carriers made 10 million.
To further demonstrate the overwhelming size of general aviation, last year this segment of aviation transported more than 120 million people. This is more than the largest U.S. airline — American Airlines — which transported 76 million passengers last year. In fact, it takes more than the combined total of 19 of the smaller air carriers to equal the number of persons transported by general aviation.
Because of the myriad of activities, the individual use, and the random routes of personal air transportation, it is difficult to assess the total economic impact of general aviation. It is certainly safe to say that each time an aircraft flies somewhere, people aboard that aircraft are spending money in a community other than the one in which they live. People are purchasing fuel for airplanes, renting automobiles, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, entertaining, etc. And this social and economic activity is bringing benefits to all people, whether or not they personally use the airplanes or airports.
Although the overall story of general aviation cannot be told by the simple recitation of facts and figures, the numbers do begin to describe the size, versatility, and broad impact of general aviation and begin to effectively tell its story.
However, what really makes general aviation an important national resource are the pilots who fly the aircraft, the individuals and businesses that own them, the availability of airports from which those aircraft operate, and, of course, the American public's need for the services of general aviation. Let's focus on the pilots.
There are 692,095 currently active certified pilots in the United States.
Learning to fly an aircraft is not quite as simple as learning to drive an automobile. Certified pilots undergo intensive training in the classroom and in the cockpit. Over and over again, they demonstrate their unique ability. They are knowledgeable in all aviation rules and regulations, pass rigorous federal flight and written examinations, and are in excellent physical condition.
They continually upgrade their skills, and their physical condition and flying abilities are reviewed and tested on a regular basis. And in order to acquire these unique skills, pilots have invested tremendous amounts of time and money in the communities in which they reside. From a purely economic point of view, it is estimated that the various pilot certificates and ratings in service today, multiplied by an average cost of obtaining these skills in today's marketplace, are worth more than $2.2 billion in 1985 dollars.
And what about safety? Contrary to popular belief, the motivation of self-preservation for pilots does not cease when they get out of their cars and climb into the cockpit. Pilots are mature, rational, logical-thinking individuals who care deeply about the safety of their passengers, themselves, and the people living underneath their flight paths. They are the first ones at the scene of an accident, and so it should come as no surprise that they are safety-conscious. The figures prove this. Last year, general aviation completed 99.999 percent of its operations without a fatality and completed record-setting improvements in safety. But who are these men and women who achieved this record?
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest aviation organization in the world, with more than 413,000 members, recently completed a market research study in an effort to identify the typical AOPA member. The results substantiate the belief that general aviation pilots are, in fact, upstanding members of their communities.
For example, the average AOPA member is 46 years old, married, has two children, owns a home, and has two automobiles. He holds a private pilot certificate and is as likely to hold an instrument rating as not and flies a single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft approximately 153 hours every year-and he likes to fish. Look around you. He is your neighbor and your friend.
These are people whose time is quite valuable and who require the utility and flexibility offered by general aviation aircraft. And therein is the true value of general aviation-its utility and flexibility.
For general aviation to be of value to the American public, four major criteria must be met. First, there must be pilots. Second, there must be aircraft. Third, there must be airports available, and fourth, there must be a public need for the other three.
General aviation serves a wide variety of public needs and is in the public interest.
General aviation aircraft are used to fly doctors, attorneys, and businessmen from all walks of life to locations around the globe. They are flying in anything from a two-seat, single-engine aircraft to a Boeing 727.
General aviation aircraft are used for traffic reporting, television news gathering, and police observation. General aviation aircraft transport emergency medical patients on a continuous basis. They dust crops, put out fires, haul cargo, deliver mail, patrol pipelines, and move your personal and business checks to Federal Reserve locations each night.
General aviation transports local, state, and federal officials, and yes, it even takes people on vacations.
This is what general aviation is all about, and we have barely scratched the surface. Everything it does is, in one form or another, in the public's interest. But general aviation has always been a public benefit, and as time goes by, its value to the American people will increase dramatically. Let me explain.
There are almost 17,600 airports in the United States. Approximately 5,500 are open for public use. General aviation serves the aviation needs of people living around all 17,600 airports.
In contrast, airlines operate into and out of fewer than 388 airports on a scheduled basis. In fact, more than half of all air carrier flights originate at just 20 or so locations. The point is, while the air carriers are certainly the arteries of the air transportation system in this country, general aviation is most certainly the veins and the capillaries. If it were not for general aviation, air transportation would not serve the aviation needs of the total population, and the small-and medium-sized communities would be isolated from the air commerce benefits available from major population centers.
To further demonstrate that general aviation is the backbone of the air transportation system in this country, 3 of the top 10 airports in this country have more general aviation operations than air carrier operations.
Because of deregulation, air carriers are further changing their operations — eliminating unprofitable routes and serving fewer communities less frequently. Naturally, in order for aviation to continue serving the needs of the American people, general aviation will have to increase its operations to help fill the void. Unfortunately, however, while general aviation grows, the nation is losing airports. This country continues to face serious airport/community relations problems. Some of these problems revolve around aircraft noise, and some revolve around aircraft safety, but most seem to revolve around land development issues.
Certainly these issues should be dealt with on a mature and rational basis. However, they should not and must not be allowed to effectively restrict airport operations or eliminate airports altogether. That is not in the interest of the American public.
In order for general aviation to serve the aviation needs of the American people, state and local governments, as well as the federal government, must adopt a pro-airport, pro-general aviation philosophy and pursue it aggressively.
We must aggressively encourage the reduction of operational limitations such as airspace restrictions and airport curfews.
The ultimate value of general aviation, which contrasts it to the air carriers, is the flexibility and utility of the aircraft and the pilots. General aviation operates where the air carriers do not operate, serving locations they cannot or choose not to serve. If airports are lost and restrictive airspace regulations continue to be implemented, the value of general aviation decreases drastically. If this happens, the biggest loser will not be the aviation community. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of people who earn a living in aviation will be severely impacted. But so will the rest of society. And that's a message to keep in mind.