In Washington, D.C., it has become fashionable to take shots at the use of private aircraft. Some legislation has been contemplated that would force companies to sell or stop using private airplanes. Initially, many of us watched in bewilderment. Why would officials challenge one of the nation’s leading industries? And, why would those who benefit so much from private flying suddenly fall silent?
I agree that companies receiving federal funds to remain solvent must accept new rules and greater scrutiny. But it seems shortsighted to single out one type of asset for criticism. And my greatest concern is that the affected companies never articulated the sound reasons they use private aircraft in the first place.
Just a few weeks ago, I toured the Midwest, talking to leaders in the general aviation industry. Meetings with Cessna, Cirrus, Hawker Beechcraft, and Garmin filled me with a sense of pride for what our aviation sector has achieved. The range of aircraft being produced, and the innovations they embody, is inspiring.We have challenging economic times ahead, and today’s tough decisions reflect that. Even so, the GA industry is preparing for the recovery that is sure to come. The products available today, and the offerings being prepared for the future, suggest general aviation will come out of this downturn well positioned to serve a world still determined to travel.
During my tour I had opportunities to fly the Cessna Citation CJ2+ as well as the Cirrus Perspective. I also flew a simulated King Air. Each of these aircraft employs state-of-the-art avionics that make flying easier and safer. And everyone involved takes tremendous pride in their products. The tour also gave me the opportunity to meet with the American Bonanza Society. My ABS membership began in 2003 with the purchase of my A36 Bonanza. I must say, the visit with the leaders of ABS, based in Wichita, really opened my eyes to the value of a strong type club. The organization’s dedication to owners, pilots, and the fleet of more than 17,000 Bonanzas and Barons is remarkable.
I also spent the better part of a day at Garmin. Its headquarters in Olathe, Kansas, continues to grow, along with the company’s global success. The visit showed me just how dedicated Garmin is to turning out world-class equipment that works as advertised. That has certainly been my experience with the GNS 530/430 combination in my Bonanza. But, when I look at what is now available and the directions in which Garmin is going, I am excited about future upgrades. It truly does just keep getting better!
I later stopped in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, to meet with the Aircraft Electronics Association. While there, I also had the chance to visit with one of AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteers, who shared the exciting story of Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport. Airport users are bullish about the future and plan to lengthen one runway to accommodate even more GA aircraft. The expectation of greater economic activity and the involvement of the community make the airport a model for others.
The final stop on the tour was in Duluth, Minnesota, home to Cirrus Design. The company’s story has been told before in this publication, but reading about what brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier have achieved just doesn’t do it justice. Flying the Cirrus Perspective, with its specially designed Garmin avionics, was an exceptional experience. Sitting in a model of the Cirrus Vision jet and talking to the lead designer about the cockpit and panel presentation was a reminder of the Cirrus team’s focus on delivering aircraft that are easier and safer to fly.
This leads me back to where I started. We have an industry filled with leaders who design and develop aircraft and avionics that are the marvel of the world. Shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to defend all who make the industry great? I think we should, and we have been, and we will continue to do just that at AOPA. An attack on the use of any type of private aircraft is an attack on all of us. Even as we defend GA, we must lay the groundwork for preventing future attacks, by educating and informing policymakers and others about the value of general aviation. The use of private aircraft promotes economic activity. With more than a million jobs in general aviation, there is a lot at stake. Beyond that, much of the time spent flying in private aircraft is done by people using their aircraft in the pursuit of business. Indeed, GA airports connect cities across America. They spur economic activity and produce jobs well beyond the airport boundaries.
All of us who are involved in GA must tell our story. There will always be people looking for easy targets, and GA has been an easy target because it is not well understood. It is up to each of us to rise above the fray and work to make the contributions of general aviation known to the broader world.
E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].