More than 200 pilots joined AOPA President Craig Fuller and Cirrus Aircraft Vice President of Domestic Sales Jon Dauplaise in a redwood hangar at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in California to rally general aviation on April 16.
The lively give and take with pilots on the issues facing GA reminded Fuller of the “remarkable breadth and depth of understanding” that members of the general aviation community possess, he wrote in his blog about the event, which was hosted by Josh Hochberg, president of Sonoma Jet Center.
The town-hall style event also marked the first for Cirrus to participate under the Rally GA banner, and featured the company’s airplanes on display, along with vintage and racing aircraft. Fuller credited Cirrus with doing an excellent job of demonstrating the utility and benefits of aircraft ownership to its customers and to pilots considering making their first aircraft purchase.
“Craig Fuller and AOPA bring unity of voice to the GA community,” said Dauplaise. “I left the event with great confidence that our concerns around a wide variety of issues from future fuels to regulatory challenges are being heard. Cirrus looks forward to being a part of the process alongside AOPA as we move ahead.”
There is still a long way to go, but signs of a recovery for GA have emerged, Fuller told the audience.
A full plate of challenges also faces GA, and Fuller briefed the audience on AOPA’s advocacy efforts on a variety of fronts, including submitting formal comments this month to oppose restrictions sought by the FAA in the Block Aircraft Registration Request program, and urging reform or elimination of burdensome and outdated security regulations. Those and other regulations have created a patchwork of duplicative and sometimes contradictory rules that pilots must follow, he said.
Long term, GA must also keep focused on assuring reliable FAA funding and long-term reauthorization, he said. The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) must provide benefits along with the mandated changes in equipment. The search for an unleaded avgas must address the needs of all users without fuel-supply disruptions during the transition, Fuller said.
Some good news as Congress works to find common ground on differing versions of FAA reauthorization is that funding again seems destined to be free of user fees, and the GA Caucus now has a strong base that consists of more than 100 House members and 29 members in the Senate.
A strong congressional GA Caucus will be a strategic advantage as GA works on legislative fronts, especially to assure that Airport Improvement Program dollars continue to go to infrastructure development and are not channeled to NextGen projects, he said. In an AOPA Live interview, its current leaders, Reps. Sam Graves, (R-Mo.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.), discussed efforts to recruit their colleagues in a Congress with many new members who may not be familiar with GA’s contributions to local communities and the national economy.
Fuller added that the Airport Support Network continues to grow, and now has 2,300 volunteers, establishing a presence at almost half of the nation’s public-use airports.
A major concern remains strengthening the pilot population, and Fuller addressed several pilot questions on that topic. In 2010, new private pilot certificates were down 51 percent from the previous year, and the dropout rate for student pilots sat at 70 percent. Fuller described efforts under way to reverse that trend through the AOPA Flight Training Retention Initiative and research on the issue.
Finding a solution will take collaboration, he said. Across the industry, a coalition of manufacturers, schools, FBOs, flight instructors, and others is rallying to the cause.
He urged the pilots to share the good news about GA and to stay informed—which AOPA can help them do through a variety of outlets: AOPA Live video reports, daily editions of Aviation eBrief, and weekly ePilot and ePilot Flight Training Edition newsletters.
Fuller introduced John and Martha King, founders of King Schools, who also addressed the audience, speaking to innovations that help flight training appeal to today’s student and expressing their belief that GA’s best days are still ahead.