When Mark Baker invited me to join the AOPA leadership team this past January, I jumped at the chance. Through the years I have been involved in all facets of aviation, but I’ve always especially enjoyed the people in general aviation. They’re intelligent, passionate, and committed to what they love. So naturally I was attracted to the idea of being part of the world’s largest general aviation organization.
But what really made me want to be part of AOPA is the energy and vision guiding the association’s fight for GA’s future. I can sum up that vision in one simple phrase: Members first.
It’s my job to make sure we put member needs first in all our advocacy efforts. That means choosing the right battles to fight, engaging in a strategic and tactical manner, and looking beyond the present to understand how today’s decisions and policies will affect future generations of pilots.
I spent more than two decades serving as a senior congressional staffer on Capitol Hill, including positions as staff director for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and as the majority staff director for the House aviation subcommittee. Those roles taught me that actively engaging in the political process is essential to achieving one’s goals in the advocacy arena. But when I talk about getting engaged, I don’t mean just AOPA’s government affairs team. I mean all of us—every AOPA member and everyone who cares about GA.
Members of Congress, regulators, and state lawmakers are faced with hundreds of decisions every single day. In an environment where so much is happening, it can be tough to filter out the noise so the issues that matter to you can be heard.
That’s why we approach issues from every possible angle. And it’s why your engagement is so critical. Decision makers listen to their constituents because in the end, “all politics is local.”
I spent my career in Washington, D.C., but I can still say that my own values remain unaffected by changing political winds. My father was a career Marine and I spent 12 years as an infantry officer in the Army reserve component. I believe strongly in duty, honor, and country, as well as hard work, persistence, and dedication. And I firmly believe in doing the right things for the right reasons. That’s why I find such enjoyment in advocating for the freedom to fly. General aviation serves our country well, and I’m proud to be in a position to help make it stronger.
In recent months, all of us at AOPA have rededicated ourselves to meeting and tackling the challenges facing GA. It’s a tough environment right now. Funding is tight. Politics are contentious. Many of GA’s biggest supporters are engaged in tough election battles.
But that just means we have to work harder and smarter to achieve our goals. And we are.
I know that many of you, like me, are frustrated with how long government takes to get things done. But I want you to know that with your energy behind us, we can get the bureaucracy moving.
When Mark Baker came on board as AOPA president and announced that third class medical reform would be a top priority, we began to see progress after a two-year stall. Working with Congress, we saw the introduction of legislation that would let many more pilots fly without going through the FAA’s costly and arcane medical process.
Today, the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA) has more than 150 supporters in the House and Senate, and we continue to work with members of Congress to keep growing those numbers.
GAPPA’s momentum and pressure from the GA community have prodded the FAA to finally get moving on a proposed rulemaking of its own. That proposal has been sent to the Department of Transportation for review, and we are pushing to get that process expedited so we can get relief for pilots as soon as possible. We are committed to resolving this through the rulemaking process or the legislative process—and we will not relent in our efforts to get this done.
Medical reform is a contentious issue, and while most things look easy from a distance, almost nothing is easy in Washington. The federal bureaucracy is too large, too costly, and all too often disconnected from the realities of the citizens it purports to help. But we’ve done it before. We brought a halt to unwarranted stops and searches of GA aircraft by Customs and Border Protection; we’ve prevented or reversed tax increases in a dozen states (see page 36); we’ve kept user fees at bay; and we’ve brought a swift halt to the FAA’s ridiculous proposal to test thousands of pilots for sleep apnea. If we can do these things, we can obtain third class medical reforms through persistence and hard work. Our members come first and you can count on that!
Jim Coon spent 25 years on Capitol Hill in several senior staff positions, including staff director for theU.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.