President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Remarks for SATS 2005 Conference
6 June 2005
Good morning, Secretary Homer; Congressman Goode; Administrators Griffin and Blakey; Admiral Dunn, and invited guests. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be a part of this extraordinary event.
Today you have heard from our distinguished speakers about the remarkable promise and potential of the Small Aircraft Transportation System. As far as the technology is concerned, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has worked with all of the agencies and manufacturers responsible for the high-tech products and systems that give the SATS program its basic foundations. To my knowledge we are the only aviation membership organization that devotes a full-time person to "Advanced Technologies" - making this event a proud day for him and the over 405,000 member/pilots of AOPA.
Without wanting to embarrass them by name, in 1990 a weekly magazine covering aviation and space technology called our AOPA white paper on the Global Positioning System, "The Future Is Now," an unrealistic dream - that no small aircraft would be able to afford what would be a minimum of $12,500 for a GPS receiver. Yet, today this technology is used by cars, hikers, campers, and boaters and is the backbone for our future aviation system.
And AOPA was a supporter of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) in both Congress for funding, and with FAA on "sticking with it" - against huge opposition by the airlines. This system enhances GPS and gives small planes and community airports ILS-like approach capabilities. Our staff made many trips to Alaska, the test bed for automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), allowing pilots and controllers benefit in areas of no radar coverage, and providing valuable weather and traffic information for the safety of flight. There is an ADS-B antenna on AOPA's roof in Frederick. Our Bonanza and Archer - as well as my personal 172 - are ADS-B equipped. Now an East Coast implementation Plan takes the ADS-B program experience from Alaska and applies it under the Safe Flight 21 banner here in the lower 48.
Remember one thing from this talk, and that is that AOPA is fully committed to working for the technical success of SATS.
However, there is a key missing ingredient to all of our anticipation for the Small Aircraft Transportation System ... and to me, it is an extremely important one. Perhaps even more important than all the technology we continue to work so hard to perfect.
The problem surrounds the general public's fairly negative feelings about "small aircraft" - those "little airplanes." So in the very title of this forum today we are using two words that outside of "our world" have a negative connotation. Are we preaching to the choir at this event? Are we ignoring the huge task ahead of us all: to guarantee that, if we build it - SATS - they will come? The media certainly haven't helped; they've beaten up the small-airplane community severely and with great injury since 9-11.
Just look at the circus that was created over a very small plane's "Not-So-Excellent Adventure" into the ADIZ last month.
And remember: this is a general public that gets thinks of a Beech 1900 commuter propjet as a "little airplane." How squeamish will they be - or will they even accept the sort of aircraft we are witnessing at this event? Can the general public accept what we in general aviation take for granted: the single engine propeller airplane?
How many of you have offered a plane ride to a friend, only to have them turn you down with a response like... you're not going to get me into one of those little things. Or perhaps you have heard the words ... you mean it only has a single engine? Or better yet, where's the parachute?
At AOPA events, the number-one concern I hear among those who are pilots is: How can I get my wife to fly with me? Often when the one's partner doesn't want to fly in a small plane, they will not allow the children to share the joy of a spouse's achievement of being a pilot.
Are they commenting on the pilot - for many years I took it personally - finally realizing they're more likely thinking: Little airplanes just aren't safe.
Those of us who own "small aircraft" are very proud of our investments - but how are they viewed by the un-aviation-savvy general public?
"Rich Fat Cats" - Unsafe, noisy little airplane - Public fear of little planes falling out of the sky...all of these are issues and perception that must be changed before we can all celebrate the promise that SATS affords us as believers.
This negative public perception also is perpetuating a decline in the pilot population. In the last 20 years the FAA statistics show a 20 percent decline in active pilots. As fewer and fewer seek the left seat as a career, or for personal and business use, will we have the qualified pilots to manage the advanced flight systems of aircraft in the future?
The aviation industry itself is still not doing enough to promote learning to fly. The Be-A-Pilot effort started almost a decade ago wanes for financial support. AOPA, as the largest supporter and financial contributor, fails to understand how any company involved in aviation can ignore what is the lifeline to continued growth: a growing student pilot population!
If public perception of small aircraft and a declining pilot population are not reason enough to address more than SATS technology issues, ask yourself the question, where are all these small airplanes going to land?
We've lost about more than a thousand of our public-use airports in the last 25 years - down from 6,500 to about 5,300 today.
If we consider both public- and private-use fields, that's about one a week. Like an iceberg heading for the equator, it's been a slow, constant diminishing of our most critical resource: the GA airport. In fact, there has never been year-on-year growth during that period. I have pledged to make a point as AOPA's leader to attend any new GA airport dedication (even expanding that promise to general aviation airports that undergo significant improvements). In the decade since that proclamation I can count on one hand the commitments I have been required to fill.
Once in a while the general public, with their apathy and lack of understanding about small airplanes and the community airports they use, do take notice - like the night when Mayor Daley unleashed his bull...dozers.
AOPA, and I must compliment the FAA as a major factor in recent years, have saved scores of airports from the wrecking ball and developer's greed. Most recently, Leesburg, at the north end of this state, was in the crosshairs of a local developer. That's one we were able to pull out of the fire...for now...but the threat never ends.
The threat is always there and - like land values - it's mounting every day. That's because this is a general public that also looks at local airports with great skepticism.
At the headquarters town for AOPA, where we have a fantastic dual-runway GA airport - if you ask anyone in town (less than 5 minutes from Frederick Municipal Airport) directions to the airport they send you down I-270 to Reagan National, or Dulles - or east on I-70 to Baltimore.
Many in the general public aren't really happy about having an airport in their community. Never mind that the airport was originally way out in the middle of nowhere. Today, "nowhere" is gone and civilization - homes and businesses - is increasingly encroaching on airports. Zoning has become a gerrymandering joke as developers seek to squeeze as many homes into - and profit out of - each square foot.
If SATS is to succeed on a national scale as planned, this industry needs to wake up to the fact that passengers, pilots, and landing facilities for small aircraft could all be in short supply.
We all have a lot of work to do to educate the general public about general aviation, and I would maintain that, since 9-11, we are actually losing - not gaining - ground due to the paranoia about aviation.
This will be a long and difficult journey - I would maintain much more difficult than the technology advancements that make up the wonderful SATS program.
Rest assured that while I challenge all of us to invest in critical aspect of the "people" perception...AOPA pledges to spend considerable time and resources on this very issue. We have to! It's vital if small planes, their pilots, and the community airports they now use (and SATS hopes to use in the future) are to survive.
It is so important we recognize that the general public holds the keys to the SATS program - and their attitudes about small planes must change for SATS ultimate reality.
In closing, let's remember: with apologies for a loose paraphrase of George Lucas: Not long, long ago, in a place not far, far away from here, the Wright brothers launched an airplane, a dream and an industry.
It's taken 100 years for the public to lose interest and understanding about small planes - as was the Wright Flyer...we need to get the non-aviation-oriented public to return to that desire to fly in small aircraft in the next two decades IF all we are demonstrating today is become a reality.