By Charles Spence
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although many in Washington have the mistaken idea that everything of importance takes place here, that is far from the case. More and more in recent years, general aviation interests are recognizing that although much affecting flight is based on actions — or lack of actions — by Congress and the FAA, public opinion and local issues are just as important.
Six years ago GA groups recognized the importance of this and established the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
Through its efforts, 48 of the 50 states have issued proclamations about general aviation and its importance to the local economy, as well as the importance of general aviation airports to everything from emergency medical flights to cargo delivery to search and rescue operations. Only California and Oregon are still to be heard from. In addition, many communities and cities within those states have issued GA proclamations, bringing the total number to 62.
Started by groups like the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and others, the Alliance has grown to include many more groups. In the past few years, 70% of the new members have been non-aviation organizations, including local governments and businesses that recognize what GA does.
The Alliance now has 6,033 members. Individuals, governments, organizations may join.
The following organizations are members of the board of directors: NBAA, AOPA, NASAO, the Air Care Alliance, the League of Rural Voters, the National Air Transportation Association, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, the National Farmers Union, and the Helicopter Association International.
There are six employees in the Washington office, including Executive Director Selena Shilad. Her work includes visits to various communities, meetings with local officials, speeches to various groups, and generally bringing the story of the significance of general aviation to economies at all levels, as well as its values for business and pleasure travel.
For many years, some believed general aviation was small and could not buck the more powerful airline industry. In fact, about a half century ago when a few mid-air collisions between general aviation aircraft and air carriers brought general aviation into a more public position, the role of GA was not understood by much of the public and government officials. This made the work of general aviation organizations much more difficult.
The airlines, manufacturers of air carrier aircraft, and managers of large airports had the mass media on their sides. At this time a major motion picture was made involving as a major theme the collision between an airliner and a GA airplane. The original script called for to collision to be caused by a drunken pilot in the GA airplane. This was changed to be caused by the lone pilot suffering a major medical attack. (On a personal basis, I met with the producers of the movie and for years proudly thought I had influenced the change. Not until years later did I learn that I had nothing to do with it. A friend at the FAA told the producers the agency would not cooperate unless the change was made.)
Efforts to get general aviation more broadly known are paying off. They have brought about caucuses in both the Senate and House, the Alliance for Aviation Across America, some state and local governments getting involved, and GA’s alphabet groups. But it is only the beginning; much more work needs to be done.
Abraham Lincoln said it well: “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without public sentiment, nothing can succeed.”