|Jim Coyne, President, National Air Transportation Association; Ed Bolen, President, National Business Aviation Association; Rod Hightower, EAA President/CEO; Craig Fuller, President, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Pete Bunce, President, General Aviation Manufacturers Association; Matt Zuccaro, President, Helicopter Association International; Henry Ogrodzinski, President, National Association of State Aviation Officials.
The presidents of all seven major general aviation associations gathered at AirVenture on Wednesday to discuss a broad range of critical issues. It was certainly the first time all of the association heads had been on the same panel at AirVenture, and perhaps the first time all had been together ever in history. The theme of the discussion was “Stronger Together” as the associations set aside their narrower and more-specific interests to present a united front on regulatory and other issues facing all of general aviation.
Each of the presidents discussed a specific concern and then joined in a group discussion of the greatest immediate threats for general aviation.
Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, the group that represents FBOs, fuel suppliers, maintenance providers, charter and fractional flying, spoke first about legal action against leaded avgas in California.
Unique laws in California allow private citizens to bring action in court against possible environmental problems, and some have targeted leaded avgas. Coyne said his and other groups are fighting the court suits and are pointing out that aviation regulations, including how fuel is made, must remain national and not be chopped up by each state issuing its own rules.
AOPA President Craig Fuller talked about how the national discussion over the debt limit has renewed congressional interest in imposing user fees for all airplane owners and pilots who fly in the system.
Fuller said the threat is very real because many in Congress have pledged not to increase taxes, but a “fee” can give them a way to increase revenue without voting for a tax increase.
Again, the best defense against user fees is for all concerned to directly contact their congressional representative.
Helicopter Association International President Matt Zuccaro informed airplane pilots of a government proposal aimed now at helicopters, but which has great potential to impact all who fly.
Attached to a Senate bill that would authorize FAA funding is language that would force the FAA to create specific routes based on noise complaints from homeowners.
The target of the proposal is the eastern end of Long Island where helicopter noise is an issue each summer. If the bill as proposed is enacted, noise complaints would be enough to force the FAA to ban flights over specific areas and put aircraft on a designated route even when flying VFR.
In effect, citizen complaints would require the FAA to make new rules that apply to all pilots rather than the FAA considering the impact of such regulation on all.
Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the group that represents companies that make everything it takes to build and maintain an airplane, pointed out how damaging the anti-business jet rhetoric and tax increase proposals coming from some in Washington can be to employment.
More than a million people work in building and supporting general and business aviation aircraft, and those jobs would be in danger if tax increases make flying more expensive.
Bunce pointed out that aircraft and components are the strongest export component of the U.S. economy, and the government says it wants to support export business, but then vilifies those who use the very products that sustain general aviation manufacturing.
EAA President and CEO Rod Hightower said EAA shared concerns on all of these issues and more, but would be taking the lead in devising ways to grow the pilot population.
Hightower said EAA has done a great job of attracting attention to flying through the Young Eagles and other programs, but the next priority is to create programs that help people complete their training and earn a certificate after they have been successfully introduced to the joy of flying.
All of the association presidents on the panel vowed to continue using their newly established close relationship to preserve the rights aviators have enjoyed, but they warned that all pilots and airplane owners need to be ready to let their government officials know they will not stand by quietly while flying is made unreasonably restrictive and expensive.