AOPA President Craig Fuller addresses the crowds at the General Aviation Serves America Rally.
Wearing their support for general aviation on their lapels and announcing it with signs, attendees at AOPA Aviation Summit gathered at Center Stage in the Tampa Convention Center exhibit hall Nov. 5 to show that restrictions and user fees can’t stifle their passion for GA.
The GA Serves America rally began with the crescendoing drumbeat of a five-piece band approaching through the exhibit hall and led into more live music, with speeches from National Air Transportation Association President Jim Coyne, AOPA President Craig Fuller, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III.
“You have a chance to get involved in AOPA in a way that you’ve never been asked to be involved before,” said Manchin, a longtime pilot and supporter of GA. He urged people to invest in aviation and protect the asset America has in its air transportation system.
“If we do away with general aviation as we know it today, God help us, we’ll never be able to get it back,” he said.
In the midst of a recession, people are looking for ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs, and Manchin said GA has the capability to help if policies don’t get in the way. “I’m saying, ‘Just leave me alone in aviation and I’ll keep jobs going,’” he said.
The GA Serves America campaign has raised $4 million so far to argue for the value and importance of GA to the nation, Fuller said, and the effort has already resulted in an amazing amount of support in Congress.
“We are winning. We are making a difference,” he said. Leaders in Congress have spoken out against proposed aviation user fees, and supporters of aviation can continue to make a difference by communicating their message to elected officials, especially as we enter an election year, Fuller said.
The challenge ahead is great. “There are people who would prefer, I suppose, to eliminate general aviation,” said Coyne, the master of ceremonies and chair of the GA Serves America campaign advisory committee. But pilots have to fight back, he added.
The rally included a performance of “America the Beautiful” by Tampa Idol winner Samantha Fousek and a video featuring the Summit theme song, about the freedom of the wide open sky. It concluded with a video message from GA Serves America spokesman Harrison Ford and a burst of confetti over the stage.