The first quarter of the year has been an extraordinary roller-coaster ride for the general aviation community as a whole and for AOPA and its members in particular. Soon after learning that there would be no user fees in the Obama Administration’s budget proposal, I got to give away our Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22. I would be hard pressed to find a more uplifting experience than giving away an airplane to a dedicated and grateful pilot.
But before we could fully absorb the fact that we would not have to devote precious resources to battling user fees, the mood had changed. A pilot in Austin, Texas, used his airplane to commit suicide, first burning down his own home, and then flying his aircraft into an office building. His desperate action sparked renewed questions about GA security and I found myself on CNN and FOX News explaining what a rare and unusual occurrence this act represented. Suicides involving aircraft are quite rare—accounting, on average, for fewer than two of the more than 30,000 suicides in the United States each year. Fortunately, most in the security community seemed to agree that new regulations would not be effective in preventing a disturbed individual from committing such an act of violence.
While the entire tragedy gave new fodder to some of general aviation’s most persistent detractors, our outreach to the General Aviation Caucus members in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate ensured rational and reasoned comments would carry the day. Many AOPA members expressed their concern to me directly that general aviation might suddenly be at great risk again. I must tell you that we do not see signs of reactions of the kind some feared.
You can be certain that events such as the one in Austin, and the insistence of some in the media on repeating old inaccuracies and propagating old misperceptions, will not force us to deviate from the positive agenda we have set for the future. Yes, we must occasionally detour from our mission to address negative news coverage or argue for calm and reason in the face of tragedy, but it’s equally vital that we work to quickly shift the focus back to where it belongs—on the many ways general aviation serves our nation.
We at AOPA, and our partners throughout the aviation industry, won’t forget our commitment to focus on the future. We are continuing to spread the word that General Aviation Serves America, moving the campaign into the states where election results are likely to have the greatest impact on our future. Throughout this year, we will be hosting more events than ever at airports around the country. (I hope you’ll join us and show your support when the General Aviation Serves America campaign comes to your area.) And we are continuing to bring our message to decision makers in Washington, D.C., both through advertising and personal contact.
As you know, this year I am encouraging every member, every pilot, every aviation enthusiast to get more engaged with aviation. And we at AOPA are getting more engaged, too. We’re doing it through numerous new and expanded initiatives and programs to help restore the pilot population, protect our airports, continue to improve safety, and create a positive image of general aviation.
To head off our detractors and demonstrate our dedication to aviation, we also must demonstrate that pilots are a responsible group. And we need your help. In many ways, it’s the little things that can make a difference—such as remembering to secure your aircraft and hangar every time, going beyond basic currency and proficiency requirements to seek out extra learning opportunities, and taking simple precautions such as maintaining appropriate insurance coverage in the event you are involved in an accident or incident.
At AOPA, we strive to make it easy for every pilot to exercise those personal responsibilities, with programs such as Airport Watch to help you learn what to look for and how to respond when it comes to suspicious activity at your airport, free online and live seminars from the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to help you fly safely, and competitively priced insurance with easy-to-understand packages for both renters and owners through the AOPA Insurance Agency.
When we each take personal responsibility for the way we fly, we show government decision makers and the world that we, as individuals and as a community, are honorable and trustworthy—good custodians of this important segment of our national transportation system.
Engagement tip: Get engaged with GA. This month take the time to set your aviation affairs in order and demonstrate your commitment to personal responsibility. Review the Airport Watch program and be sure to keep your eyes open. Take an AOPA Air Safety Foundation course or quiz. Make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the way you fly by visiting the AOPA Insurance Agency online or calling them at 800-622-AOPA. You can find links to all of these programs online. And be sure to check our Web site for stories about what your fellow AOPA members are doing to engage in aviation as well as ideas about how you can get more involved to get more out of your flying.
AOPA President Craig Fuller was Vice President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff. E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].