Training and Safety
“Aviation 2010 – Let’s Build for Tomorrow”
AOPA President Craig Fuller
at the Wichita Aero Club, January 28, 2009
This is day 28 for me as only the fourth president of AOPA. And, it is truly an honor for me to make my first official speech to the Wichita Aero Club here at the epicenter of general aviation manufacturing.
I don’t need to tell you this is a challenging time. You know that.
For many of us here, aviation is more than a passion and a pastime—it is our livelihood. Whether we work directly within the industry or we use aviation to fuel our business interests, GA is vital to us, and it is suffering in the current economic climate.
But 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.
And that’s what I want to talk to you about today—where we have come from, what we are doing right now to ensure our future, and some of the big issues we need to address with a unified voice.
In this regard, I salute you for taking an important step. Forming the Wichita Aero Club is an important means of focusing on the future. You will attract leaders in aviation. You will draw the best thinkers of our time. And, by doing so, you will help chart the path for a stronger community dedicated to flight.
I want you to know that I thought long and hard about just where I wanted to deliver this first address as the president of AOPA. I am more grateful than you know for your invitation.
This is my first trip out of the Washington, D.C., area since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I must tell you it has been an exciting and moving time. And I have seen a new spirit of hope in a city known for its cynicism.
I enjoyed dinner one night with a contributor to President Obama’s campaign. He served in the military Special Forces in Vietnam and today is a successful businessman. But, he had never attended a presidential inauguration. This time, he came with his family, stayed with friends, and went to every event possible. He stood for hours on the Mall to hear a concert. On inauguration day, he arrived in his reserved seating area at 7 a.m.—four hours before the swearing in ceremony would begin.
Why did he do all this? He summed up his feelings like so many others who came to Washington….he said, “I just had to be here.”
He is passionate about the change that has come to Washington; a change he believes will drive us toward economic recovery and renewed confidence as a nation. It is that excitement and hope I find throughout Washington today, from individuals on both sides of the political aisle.
Already I have had several opportunities to speak with the new 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. We don’t just put our aircraft on autopilot and expect to get to our destination safely, and we can’t just wait and hope to be carried along as the economy eventually recovers.
The truth is, it’s been this way for us many times before.
In 1929, there were 132 aircraft manufacturing firms and they built more than 6,000 aircraft. By 1934, 48 remained, making about 1,300 airplanes. But companies and the industry survived.
Just a few years after that, AOPA was founded—70 years ago. Think about that. AOPA got its start in the bleakest of times. Talk about optimism. We were still in the midst of depression, the country was about to go to war, and the government was about to ban GA flying.
But our visionary founders realized that if GA had a strong, unified voice, we could take charge of our future. They knew the economy would recover, and they wanted to be sure general aviation would be ready to take off when it happened. AOPA was founded then to defend and promote general aviation, and to be an advocate for the citizen’s right to fly. That’s still our job.
And AOPA’s founders were right, of course. General aviation manufacturing surged after the war—35,000 aircraft were produced in 1946. That number dropped to more realistic levels after the manufacturers discovered that not every pilot returning from the war was going to buy an airplane. But still, the industry thrived.
History tells us we will recover, but it also tells us it will take time. General aviation has historically been a lagging indicator of economic health. But experience tells us that growing consumer confidence will lift our industry, increasing new pilot certificates and bolstering manufacturing. And we have a role in making that happen. We can speed our recovery and ensure a strong future for general aviation, but we must take action, and we are.
The Obama team reached out to us early in the transition process. In our private meetings, and later as part of a larger group of aviation leaders, I told both the Obama administration and members of Congress that aviation must be part of any economic stimulus plan. With the right investments and incentives, we could create more than 40,000 high paying jobs, improve aviation safety, and create positive effects on the economy.
Investing in aviation infrastructure will put people to work, help local communities, and encourage more economic investment. There are plenty of “shovel ready” aviation projects out there. And it’s not just construction. Charting new WAAS approaches, adding lights and runways markings, will increase the safety and utility of GA airports by giving them satellite-based precision approaches. And that will make them stronger engines of economic activity in smaller communities.
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. That’s money that will help build a recovery. It means jobs and economic activity at our airports.
That allocation is one more signal that many in the new administration really “get it.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood understands the importance of investing in infrastructure, whether it’s airports or highways.
We got off to a good start with the Obama Administration, but we had an early skirmish with the Congress, and it is a reminder that we must remain vigilent in protecting our aviation freedoms.
Just weeks ago, Congress set about framing requirements for companies to receive federal funds through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). One of the conditions? Companies receiving TARP funding must get rid of their private aircraft and top executives couldn’t fly GA. That’s right, to receive federal assistance these companies would have had to get rid of their corporate aircraft or leases.
The great news here is that the idea ran its course in less than a week.
There was an outcry from all aviation organizations and great help from some good friends in the House, including Kansas Representatives Dennis Moore and Todd Tiahart. When the dust settled, the aircraft divestiture language had been removed from the bill, and Barney Frank, the powerful House Financial Services chairman, commented on the importance of general aviation to businesses and jobs nationwide.
While it’s good to know we’ve got lawmakers who really grasp the value of our industry, this is just the kind of threat we must be vigilant for. And it’s the kind of threat that comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the utility, value, and nature of general aviation.
This brings me to a larger point. We must take responsibility for telling our important story—to politicians and to the public.
As you have heard, I have been in Washington for awhile—about 28 years. Experience taught me long ago that if you do not define yourself, you are defined by your adversaries. We have been letting our adversaries set the perceptions of GA. How many of you have seen that cartoon of the corporate jet cutting in front of all of the airliners lined up for takeoff? Or the video of the corporate CEO sipping champagne in the back of a private jet, worrying about making his tee time? All of this feeds a “planes are perks” mentality that must be turned around.
So, AOPA is going to take the message about the value of GA to wider audiences. We start with 414,000 members and that's a great start, but we also want to reach others for whom GA is important....even those who may not know it.
Fortunately, we have a good base of public support. Sixty-two percent of voters surveyed this past 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. I can tell you that we at AOPA, along with other key associations, are committed to telling this story.
Of course, there are some government agencies that need educating, too. Frankly, one federal agency that doesn’t seem to understand us is the Department of Homeland Security. The “Large Aircraft Security Program” in particular fails to reflect a basic knowledge and understanding of general aviation in the way it seeks to impose commercial air carrier security requirements on private aircraft.
We have been dedicated to airport security for a long while. The “Airport Watch” program is in place across America, and we know proper security is important. But security regulation must be based on a good understanding of how GA works. That’s why we’re bringing security experts to TSA hearings across the country to counter the flawed approach of the Large Aircraft Security Program.
And we aren’t the only voice speaking out against this plan. Once again, members of the Kansas delegation have stepped forward to show their understanding of what’s at stake. Just a few days ago Senator Sam Brownback, Senator Pat Roberts, and Representative Todd Tiahrt sent a letter to TSA “strongly encouraging” the agency to reconsider the Large Aircraft Security Program and clearly laying out the value and importance of general aviation to the nation’s transportation system and economy.
Issues like the Large Aircraft Security Program resonate with those of us in the industry. But they are mysterious at best to the broader public. So we need to find new ways to bring the general aviation story to new audiences. You know there’s much more to general aviation than the occasional tragedy played out on the evening news. But so much of that other news is buried or lost in the clutter of information that bombards us each day.
To tackle that challenge, and bring useful information about GA to those who need it, we are launching a new publication. It will be free and available to anyone, not just our AOPA members. It’s going to be sent electronically and it’s called “Aviation eBrief.”
“Aviation eBrief” launches on February 9, but now that you know about it, just go to our web site, AOPA.org, and sign up today. You will be among the first to receive a comprehensive electronic digest of all things GA, and, again, we’re making it available to everyone--for free.
All of these communication channels are good, but nothing substitutes for face-to-face contact. So I am determined to get out of Washington and Frederick just as much as I can. As you probably know, I now fly AOPA’s CJ3 along with my Bonanza, and both of them are going to be working hard to get me in front of all kinds of audiences. I look forward to being with our members, but also to talking about aviation to groups who still look at pilots with amazement.
These initiatives require fuel—and it’s every bit as precious as what we burn in our aircraft. That’s where the AOPA Foundation comes in. The foundation is a nonprofit charitable group that has embarked on a $50 million capital campaign dedicated to improving the understanding of GA's role in communities across the country, preserving our freedom to fly, and promoting safety through the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
Let me talk for just a moment about ASF. Safety is a topic that is always timely, always important. And the AOPA Air Safety Foundation helps tens of thousands of pilots fly safer every year. With more than 20 online interactive courses, as well as live seminars, safety briefs, and reports on critical safety subjects like bird strikes and icing, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation brings pilots information that can help them stay safe, and it does it all at no cost to those pilots. That is part of an aviation story worth telling.
Also, as part of our overall effort to better communicate our general aviation story, I want to put the spotlight on airports where expansion is creating jobs and economic opportunity. The success stories are out there.
Some of you might have noticed a story in my new blog, “AOPA NOW”, about a wonderful stop I made a couple of weeks ago at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina.
I talked with the airport authority and toured a junior college filled with students preparing for aviation careers. It was remarkable to see first-hand how this one airport is contributing to the region’s economic development. It is, by the way, a tribute to an airport manager who has been nurturing the develoment of GSO for 41 years.
Another important opportunity for us is our newly launched “Let’s Go Flying” Program. It expands on our commitment to help those who have dreamed of flying take the next step. Let’s Go Flying.com is more than just an information portal. It shows people engaged in the experience of flying with videos and personal stories about the ways real pilots use general aviation for business, family travel, challenge, and adventure. It addresses the barriers to entry and shows that learning to fly is not as difficult or expensive as some people think. The new online presence helps potential pilots pick a flight school and instructor. And we’re creating the opportunity for rich social media on this new Web site, to provide encouragement and support from fellow pilots and from AOPA.
We are so committed to encouraging people to try, or return to, flying that we are even doing something different with our sweepstakes airplane this year.
Rather than refurbishing a classic as we have in the past, we’re going to be crisscrossing the country with our pristine “Let’s Go Flying” Cirrus SR22. Our travels will highlight the tremendous utility of general aviation. A generous donor gave us the SR22 and we want to put it to the best use possible before giving it to one very lucky AOPA member.
Let’s Go Flying is also about outreach to the news media. We’ve already been successful in placing journalists in the left seat of private aircraft, and you can assume a good many reporters are going to get an introductory flight in our sweepstakes airplane.
This aspect of our program has a special significance to me because I learned important lessons by working with the White House press corps for many years. The truth is, if you want to get a story told, you need to clearly share it with the media.
Now right here in this room is one of the best aviation reporters in the business. I’d like to ask Molly McMillin of the Wichita Eagle to come up here for a moment. Molly comes from a flying family, and she has covered aviation for a good number of years. But she didn’t take up flying herself until just recently. On November 1st, Molly soloed her father’s Tri-Pacer out of Augusta. Frankly Molly, you must be a bold pilot to learn to fly in a Piper here in Wichita. And I am honored to present you with this certificate commemorating your solo.
There are just a few more topics I’d like to touch on before taking your questions.
We have some nagging issues in Congress that must be resolved. The FAA Reauthorization debate of 2008 led to an agreement not to impose user fees on us, but the actual Authorization was never passed by Congress. Instead, FAA funding became part of a Continuing Resolution that must be reconsidered before the end of March.
We do not want to replay the user fee debate. If we must, we have AOPA members ready and willing to take up arms. But our hope—one that we have shared with the Obama team—is that FAA Reauthorization can be passed out of Congress in the next couple of months and give us all some certainty over the next four years. We are joined in this view by almost all the other aviation organizations. While there is no decision yet from the new Administration, I am hopeful that we will soon have a reading on where they stand.
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. As those issues languish, we fall further behind and the bill for fixing the problems goes up.
Last year we negotiated a deal that would allow general aviation fuel tax increases to help fund modernization. Now would be the perfect time to revive that legislation.
NextGen is part of this modernization initiative, and we have a long way to go to make it reality. This latest take on air traffic control modernization needs to be better defined, and the costs and benefits to aircraft owners are obscure at best. While AOPA has long supported satellite-based navigation, surveillance systems, and data link to the cockpit, what the FAA proposes today just doesn’t do much for us. In part, that’s because they’ve opted to overlay existing radar systems, instead of building out to provide services where we don’t have them now. And, the FAA’s proposal doesn’t take full advantage of newer technologies to bring valuable information into the cockpit to improve pilot decision making and awareness.
As the new administration moves forward with modernization plans, it will need to pay more attention to all of the users—and that includes the controllers. Problems and glitches can’t be resolved without the input of the people who use the system daily.
And let me be blunt. We must return to a civil dialogue between FAA management and controllers. Shouting past each other hasn’t worked.
In fact, I think key qualities for the new FAA Administrator will be people 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 agency and all of the constituent groups. The next administrator must lead by building unity. Divide and conquer tactics won’t work.
So, there are many challenges and opportunities ahead for us. I’ve outlined some of the things AOPA is doing to address them. But 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.
The dialogue you promote here at the Wichita Aero Club is a very important step in the right direction. Bring people here who can see your commitment to aviation. Bring people here who can make a difference. Energize them. Then hold them....hold me....accountable. We have some very tough fights ahead of us...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.
Thank you for inviting me to be with you. I look forward to your questions.
Changing perceptions – the new definition of general aviation.