|GA organization leaders stressed the importance of working together to bring more people into aviation. (photo by Jason Toney)
EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower hosted his fellow GA organization leaders at the Welcome Center for a discussion about issues facing the industry on Wednesday.
Joining Hightower were Craig Fuller, president/CEO, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; Ed Bolen, president/CEO of National Business Aviation Association; Pete Bunce, president/CEO of General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association International; and Henry Ogrodzinski, president/CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
To open the session, moderated by EAA's Mac McClellan, Hightower stated, "Whatever type of flying you want to engage in is here on this stage." He stressed the importance of GA groups working together to bring more people into aviation and to preserve the flight privileges so that aviators are able to engage in "whatever type of flying-sport flying, business flying-we want to do.
"We have a tremendous passion for bringing people into aviation," he added, citing the successful Young Eagles program for kids as well as the Eagle Flights program launched a day earlier for adults wanting to pursue aviation.
"We believe one of the most important things we can do is to excite people about aviation, inspire them to fly, inspire them to build, inspire them to participate, give them something to do and actively engage" in aviation.
Zuccaro described an ongoing issue on which HAI has lobbied extensively-the political forces that seek to wrest airspace control from FAA authority. Examples given were National Park Service restricting airspace and the ongoing struggles to advocate for where helicopters can operate in the New York City area.
Fuller touched on the declining pilot population, noting that 70 to 80 percent of student pilot starts fail to result in pilot certificates.
It will take time (to turn around), but a shrinking constituency will affect us all," Fuller said.
Bolen applauded GA organizations joining forces approach initiated by Hightower shortly after becoming EAA president in 2010. "We proved that stronger together works," he said, specifically referencing the grassroots movement from throughout GA that helped overturn the DOT's attempt to prevent operators from blocking their aircraft movements from being viewed on the Internet, formerly known as NBAA's BARR program.
He also said that despite the many turn-backs of user fees on GA operations, it will likely not go away since the government is in a fiscal crisis and all potential sources of additional revenue will be pursued.
"Celebrate the success, but stay vigilant," he told the audience.
Bunce said that the Part 23 rewrite currently underway should greatly streamline certification requirements for aircraft and components so that the price discrepancy between a new certified aircraft will not be so great as opposed to experimentals. That is one reason the GA fleet averages 42 years old.
Ogrodzinski, whose agency works on behalf of state aviation authorities as well as Guam and Puerto Rico, is predicting deep cuts in airport infrastructure funding - about a half-billion dollars - in the upcoming budgeting cycle, making it a challenge to ensure safe, secure airports.