AOPA President Phil Boyer and Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) during discussion of GA's future.
With the recreation of the Wright brothers' first flight on the sands of Kill Devil Hills, celebrating the first hundred years of flight, only a few hours away (weather permitting), general aviation leaders are already looking ahead to the next century. Speaking as part of a panel on the future of general aviation, AOPA President Phil Boyer said the key is going to be improving public awareness.
Anticipation and crowds have been building. And during the week leading up to today, thousands of pilots and others have been visiting the AOPA Pilot Facility at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, a gift from AOPA members to the nation.
"I'm extraordinarily proud of this facility," said one AOPA member. "I think this is the most fitting thing we could do to honor the Wright brothers."
Yesterday, visitors got a good view of the association's CitationJet, N4GA, after air traffic controllers unexpectedly offered Boyer a low pass over First Flight Airfield. "It was tremendously exciting to fly over this hallowed ground and show what a modern general aviation airplane can do," said Boyer.
Later, during a briefing for media from around the world on the future of general aviation, Boyer talked about one of the greatest challenges facing general aviation during powered flight's second century—improving public understanding of GA. "We have to give people a better understanding of general aviation or, as I wish we had called it, personal aviation," he said. "Our future depends upon raising the level of understanding and acceptance of personal aviation."
The distinguished panel also included Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), a longtime Capitol Hill friend of general aviation, and visionaries Vern Raburn of Eclipse and Alan Klapmeier of Cirrus.
Oberstar expressed optimism about general aviation's future, pointing to the value of new technology in making aviation "safer than we ever thought possible."
Raburn echoed that theme, adding that he believes GA is on the verge of a "rebirth" as both transportation and recreation. He painted a picture of a future where general aviation can match the speed, comfort, safety, and cost of the airlines—with a degree of romance the airlines can't touch. And Klapmeier agreed that safety and comfort are critical to making GA broadly accessible. "We have to change the way airplanes work to make them user-friendly," he said.
Boyer noted that pilots today were more optimistic about the future than anytime in the past 10 years. But he said that the nation would have to do a better job protecting and developing its aviation infrastructure.
"Since man set foot on the moon, we have closed 25 percent of our general aviation airports," Boyer said. "To achieve the promise of personal aviation, we have to change that."