By Curt Epstein
Continuing its mission to educate the public and elected officials about the importance of general aviation, the Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA) held a press conference on the eve of the NBAA Convention in Orlando to highlight the advocacy organization’s recent achievements. Participants included board members NBAA president Ed Bolen; Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro; Tom Hendricks, the recently appointed president of the National Air Transportation Association; and Niel Ritchie, executive director of the League of Rural Voters, who has been a key supporter of the grassroots movement since its inception. The Alliance has recently launched a new website, www.aviationacrossamerica.org, and among its features is an interactive map of the U.S. showing a snapshot of the economic impact of general aviation by state and by community, taken in most cases from state-sponsored studies. “This has been a huge resource for our members to get out there and make the case for general aviation,” said Selina Shilad, the association’s executive director.
The organization has been instrumental in educating and rallying support from elected officials. So far, 46 of the 50 state governors have signed proclamations recognizing the value of general aviation to their constituents. “If you look at where our industry was a few years ago there were a lot of governors who didn’t even know what general aviation was,” said Bolen. “They weren’t about to go out and say general aviation is critical to my state.”
When the specter of user fees resurfaced recently, the Alliance was able to submit a petition to the White House signed by 117 city mayors and town managers citing the crucial need for general aviation services and the hardships the new fees would impose on their local operators. It has also served as a source for media seeking to highlight the issue; during the press conference Shilad showed a compilation of local news broadcasts describing the impact of user fees on community operators. Bolen described the group’s work as a “virtuous cycle.” The Alliance presents economic impact data to elected officials who will issue a proclamation or resolution proclaiming the value of GA. That will then attract the attention of the media, who will then further spread the information to the public. Bolen also pointed to the introduction over the past several years of the House General Aviation Caucus and the Senate General Aviation Caucus, which now include 40 percent of the legislators–further proof the message is being heard.
The Alliance was founded in 2007 to combat claims that general aviation was either a frivolous hobby or an unnecessary business expense, and the group has grown to a diverse band of more than 6,000 associations and individuals, most of whom are not directly involved in the aviation industry, but who recognize that without general aviation their way of life would be affected.