The generals who command the defense of general aviation are hoping you’ll join their armies. Craig Fuller of AOPA, Pete Bunce of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Matt Zuccaro of Helicopter Association International, and Ed Bolen of the National Business Aviation Association described their plans during a forum moderated by Tom Poberezny of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
At the end of the forum Poberezny asked the group for the single most productive thing the associations, already working together in a coordinated defense of GA, can do. “Motivating our members to go out and tell people about their passion,” Fuller said. “We have to share our story.”
Zuccaro said he agreed, adding that the helicopter pilot population is declining. Bunce said the greatest effect comes from understanding the issues of all the groups and working on them together. Noting that business aircraft are the primary target of user fees, Bunce asked, “Does anybody think user fees won’t come to the rest of general aviation [if they are imposed on business aircraft]?” Bolen noted the strongest defense is to present a united front. “United we stand, divided we fall.”
He said that last year, “… there was a conscious effort to divide the general aviation community.” In the eyes of opponents, business aircraft were portrayed as “fat cats in corporate aircraft” and GA pilots were portrayed as “rich hobbyists.” The strategy, he said, was to “pick them off one at a time.”
Fuller described AOPA’s GA Serves America campaign. The campaign, headed by Harrison Ford as a spokesperson, is working, Fuller said. When he talked to White House officials, the receiving official greeted the AOPA delegation with, “The Harrison Ford group is here.” Fuller said his focus is reaching opinion leaders who fail to understand how fragile GA is. “If any group is not well understood, it’s vulnerable,” he said.
Bolen noted that GA is under attack, and business aircraft are at the point of the spear. He said the assault on GA is the most important challenge the industry has ever faced. “The challenge is for all of us to collectively tell the story of general aviation.” He said part of that story includes the 1.2 million jobs GA provides, whether it is flying or catering flights. “GA means jobs. It is a lifeline to communities without airline service. Companies depend on general aviation to be competitive. We are essential,” Bolen said.
Left to right, Craig Fuller of AOPA, Matt Zuccaro of HAI, Pete Bunce of GAMA, and Ed Bolen of NBAA
Bunce spoke to another issue threatening GA—the need to switch to an environmentally friendly fuel. “You would think it is an easy solution. It’s not. After 20 years of work by all these associations, we’ve not been able to find the answer. We are just plain running out of time.” The Environmental Protection Agency has decreed that either GA come up with a timetable to phase out 100LL, or it will dictate a fuel solution for the industry. “The answer is either 94 octane unleaded, or it is synthetic fuel,” Bunce said. “It is not ethanol. Ethanol is bad. A lot of people don’t get that.”
In his closing question to the panelists, Poberezny probed for some positives in the industry: "What are the opportunities? Too many times we focus on the negatives and the problem. What are the opportunities?"
Fuller cited the growing light sport aircraft industry as a "huge opportunity for us." The LSA movement will help to not only attract the young, but also will help older pilots stay in flying. Bunce added that the LSA industry also will help to keep flying affordable.
Another opportunity that Fuller pointed out is the modernization of ATC and the NextGen program.
Zuccaro noted that ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast) is extremely valuable in the Gulf of Mexico because, right now, helicopter pilots can't talk to ATC over the Gulf. He said IFR operations in the Gulf (to oil platforms) drop 95 percent when the weather is IFR.