'Let's build for tomorrow,' Fuller says
The future for general aviation is bright, but it will require collective action by individual pilots and industry leaders to realize GA’s potential, AOPA President Craig Fuller told the Wichita Aero Club on Jan. 28.
While acknowledging that GA is caught in the downdraft of the economy, Fuller said, “We cannot afford to focus only on the problems of today. Now is the time to lay the groundwork for recovery. Now is the time to launch the initiatives that will accelerate our climb back to growth and prosperity.”
Fuller is in the Midwest meeting with GA industry leaders. The Wichita Aero Club presentation is his first official public speech since taking AOPA’s left seat Jan. 1, and his first trip outside the Washington, D.C., area since President Obama’s inauguration.
“I must tell you it has been an exciting and moving time,” said Fuller. “And I have seen a new spirit of hope in a city known for its cynicism.”
GA must tell its story
Fuller told the 230 Aero Club members the new mood in Washington gives GA the opportunity and the imperative to improve its image with opinion leaders and the public.
“Experience taught me long ago that if you do not define yourself, you are defined by your adversaries,” said Fuller, citing his 28 years working in the Washington political arena. “All of us in aviation have a role to play. We must be engaged in the political process. We must define ourselves so our adversaries don’t. We cannot afford to be passive and wait for better days.”
AOPA is now taking the message about the value of GA to wider audiences, Fuller said. He noted that, perhaps surprising to most pilots, there is a good base of public support for GA. Sixty-two percent of voters surveyed on election night said that general aviation is an important part of the nation’s transportation system.
“They know a little; they need to know a lot more,” said Fuller. “AOPA, along with other key associations, is committed to telling this story.”
Getting out of Washington
Fuller described some of the many public relations initiatives AOPA is making on behalf of GA, and he previewed a new electronic publication that will bring useful GA information to all who need it. The AOPA “Aviation eBrief” will be a comprehensive digest of all things GA, and it will be available free to everyone.
But Fuller added that nothing substitutes for face-to-face contacts. So he will fly his Bonanza A36 and the AOPA CJ3 to get him in front of AOPA members and all kinds of audiences.
“I’m determined to get out of Washington and Frederick just as much as I can.” And he intends to speak to groups “who still look at pilots with amazement.”
Resolving problems in Washington
The AOPA president said there are still some “nagging issues” in Washington, D.C., that must be resolved. First among them is FAA funding.
While the FAA reauthorization debate of 2008 led to an agreement not to impose user fees on GA, Congress did not pass the final legislation. Congress must reconsider the issue before temporary funding under a “continuing resolution” expires at the end of March.
“We do not want to replay the user fee debate,” Fuller said. “If we must, we have AOPA members ready and willing to take up arms.” The legislative deal brokered last year would allow GA fuel tax increases—not user fees—to help fund FAA operations and air traffic control modernization. That legislation should be revived, according to Fuller.
“At a time when so many other challenges require our attention, we don’t need a continuing fight over funding. While this debate goes on, we can’t make progress on air traffic control modernization, investment in airports, and other critical improvements.”
He called on the new Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, to quickly nominate an FAA Administrator with superior management and labor relations skills.
“In my talks with the Obama transition team, I asked them to consider someone who has a technical understanding of the aviation industry and the political acumen to manage the FAA and all of the constituent groups,” said Fuller. “The next administrator must lead by building unity.”
Fuller said he has spoken several times already with members of the Obama administration, “and I can tell you that they recognize the importance of our aviation community. But that doesn’t mean we can sit back and expect them to take care of us and our needs.”
Economy and GA will recover
General aviation will recover from the economic recession.
“The truth is, it’s been this way for us many times before,” Fuller said. He recalled how GA was nearly decimated during the Great Depression of the 1930s, yet it was also at that time that AOPA was founded.
“Seventy years ago our visionary founders realized that if GA had a strong, unified voice, we could take charge of our future,” said Fuller. “They knew the economy would recover, and they wanted to be sure general aviation would be ready to take off when it happened.”
Today, Fuller said, GA should be part of economic recovery efforts, including any economic stimulus package. He noted that with the right investments and incentives, GA could create more than 40,000 new jobs. Investing in airport and airway infrastructure would put people to work, help local communities, and encourage more economic investment.
“Our early push for inclusion was well received, and I am pleased to tell you that it appears over $3 billion has been targeted for aviation projects in the initial stimulus legislation,” said Fuller. “That means jobs and economic activity at our airports.”
Fuller called on all involved in GA to become active in the political process and to take the lead in showing others GA’s importance to the economy and the national transportation system.
“We have some very tough fights ahead of us,” said Fuller, “but I firmly believe that by working together and by standing up for what matters, our future can be even more exciting than our past.”
January 28, 2009