AOPA President Craig Fuller flies his A36 Beechcraft Bonanza for business and pleasure.
Our General Aviation Serves America campaign to inform and educate policy makers, opinion leaders, and the public about the true value of general aviation is moving ahead at full speed. And our message—that GA serves all Americans, whether they fly or not—is getting attention on Capitol Hill.
Actor, pilot, and AOPA member Harrison Ford stepped forward to volunteer his time and talents to the campaign. And print, online, television, and multimedia ads featuring him have helped us get the attention of decision makers. Now actor and pilot Morgan Freeman has also volunteered his services to help keep interest high and the momentum moving.
While these famous faces are drawing attention to this effort, the campaign also features ordinary pilots telling the true stories of how they use GA to serve their communities every day—such as a doctor who uses his airplane to provide medical care to patients living on an island.
You can find all of our ads and a lot more information about the program online. I encourage you to visit the site regularly to check on our progress.
This campaign was launched with some very serious challenges in view, and we are fully engaged in the issues that will have a profound effect on our future.
The House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would fund the FAA for two years, without the user fees proposed by the Obama administration. Good news to be sure, but we’re a long way from being able to claim victory on this issue. The Senate is working on its bill now, and then the two versions must be reconciled. Even if the final legislation does not include user fees, it is likely to extend only two years—not long enough to complete modernization—and then the user fee issue is sure to be back on the table.
Security regulations that treat GA like the airlines are also a continuing problem. Again, we’ve made some progress, working closely with TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that GA’s needs are considered, but there is much, much more to do.
I have spent the past few weeks traveling the country speaking to groups about issues such as these, the GA Serves America campaign, and how they can help. We are actively raising funds to keep our messages in front of opinion leaders and policy makers, and we are very pleased with the support we’ve received so far. Of course, on this front, too, there is much more to be done. Opinions don’t change overnight, and GA Serves America is a long-term effort.
Knowing that this would be a major undertaking, we did some very important research to really understand what opinion leaders and policy makers think about general aviation. I have long valued research-driven communications programs, and our research gave us significant insights that I want to share with you, AOPA’s members.
First, let me define “opinion leaders.” These are people who read newspapers, vote, join organizations, and make political contributions as well as charitable contributions—in short they are people who influence others.
Perhaps the most encouraging finding for me was that among this group, more than six out of 10 report they have flown in a general aviation aircraft—and those who have flown in a general aviation aircraft have a more favorable view of GA.
It was also encouraging to find high levels of support for general aviation. However, the appreciation for the value of general aviation’s contribution to communities and the economy is not nearly as strong as we would like.
We discovered that as we shared more information with the opinion leaders we surveyed, their appreciation grew for the contributions GA makes to our air transportation system. And they realize that if GA is allowed to deteriorate, it will not come back. Once airports close, for example, they simply aren’t replaced.
On the subject of user fees, opinion leaders generally felt that added expenses are not appropriate for general aviation. Approximately 60 percent of those surveyed agreed that the airlines place the larger burden on the aviation system and should not be allowed to shift that cost to GA through user fees.
Taken in combination, opinion leaders and policy makers are open to learning about the value of general aviation. And, as the perception of our value grows, we can better defend our positions.
I long ago learned that if a group is not well understood or valued in Washington, then that group is vulnerable. Our survey convinced me that there is an underlying awareness among key people that general aviation is an important part of our transportation system. However, many details need to be filled in to strengthen their support.
We are off to a good start, but just as we must continue to work to get our message out, we also must continue to learn about how GA is viewed and the best ways to improve how we are perceived. We will continue to share these insights with you as the program reaches ever more people.
E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].