Even without so much as a single piston under the cowling, a Cirrus SR22 trucked in for a general aviation advocacy day at the Ohio capitol proved to be a powerful conversation starter.
AOPA Great Lakes Regional Manager Kyle Lewis had a hunch that a static display on the statehouse lawn Sept. 18 would be useful. He was not disappointed.
“They had never been that close to a general aviation airplane, or a small four-seat airplane,” Lewis said. “I talked to a lot of people about flight training opportunities … AOPA’s You Can Fly program … high school STEM… and, obviously, advocacy.”
Legislative staffers posed for selfies, children got their first up-close peek at a piston airplane (the engine was absent, this being an aircraft made for show displays). Lewis had first thought to truck or taxi his own Van’s RV–12 right into the statehouse rotunda, but worries about engine fluids and weight nixed that idea. So, in November, he reached out to Cirrus Aircraft, and pitched in with coordinating the logistics for a one-day aircraft display outside the building where state lawmakers are being encouraged to appreciate GA, and increase state spending of aviation taxes and other revenue on aviation uses, one of AOPA’s top legislative priorities in the state that was home to the Wright Brothers.
“General Aviation is a keystone in the growth and development of any community, big or small,” said Lewis, who shares the same Ohio hometown as former Ohio Aviation Administrator Norm Crabtree and former Governor James A. Rhodes, both of whom were instrumental in building airports in 84 of the state’s 88 counties in the 1960s.
AOPA Vice President of Airports and State Advocacy Mike Ginter also attended the Sept. 18 event, offering insight and helping educate lawmakers and the public about the value and benefits that GA brings to any community. Ginter’s message started with a simple phrase: “The most important ‘Main Street’ in any town is the runway.”
Ohio Aviation Association Executive Director Stacey Heaton also spoke, and the state association joined members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter in celebrating GA and fielding questions form lawmakers and their staff.
Lewis said that the Cirrus was not the only topic of aviation-related conversation that day, but it provoked plenty of questions just the same. (Among these: How much does it cost? How fast can it go?) Lewis said those questions created a perfect opening to talk to people who might never have dreamed they could fly an airplane themselves, much less own one.
“That was kind of the theme… general aviation, how is it accessible to the average person,” Lewis said. “It was really an educating event.”
Lewis said the successful engagement of so many nonpilots, many of them in positions to make decisions, proved an object lesson in the power of airplanes to amaze and provoke curiosity, one that is not lost on any of the GA advocates who took part.
“It was a very big statement that aviation is important,” Lewis said of the Cirrus. “It was a show-stopper. People were taking selfies with it all day.”
The hope now is that the buzz created by an engineless airplane will translate into a favorable reception as AOPA and other advocates work to persuade state lawmakers to invest more of the dollars collected from aviation fuel taxes (more than $16 million per year) in aviation.