As we all know, general aviation covers a wide range of aircraft types, from Cessna Skycatchers and Robinson R22s to Gulfstream G650s and Sikorsky S92s and everything in between. Whether it’s a vintage Cherokee flying 40 hours a year or a shiny new King Air flying 400, if it’s privately owned and flown for business or pleasure, it falls under the big tent of general aviation.
The truth be told, it’s not that big of a tent. Which is why we need to stick together. I’ve never been a big fan of the term general aviation and try never to use it when talking with nonaviation folks. It has a vaguely military sound to it and doesn’t exactly describe anything. I prefer the terms personal or business aviation.
Personal gets our message across loud and clear without any of the “exclusive” connotation of the term private, and business aviation makes it clear that the use is all about getting work done.
Regardless of what kind of aviation we practice — many pilots fly more than one category of aircraft — we want and need our voices to be heard in Washington, where on a regular basis laws are passed and regulations promulgated that affect what we do, where we can do it and how much it’s going to cost us to do it.
Depending on what we fly, the organization that we turn to in order to make our voices louder than they could possibly be without the clout that comes with numbers will vary. From Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) for light-airplane fliers to National Business Aviation Association for business-aircraft movers and shakers, EAA for homebuilders and warbirders, HAI for helicopter operators and SAFE and NAFI for instructors, there is a web of organizational effort that we can and should avail ourselves of to amplify our separate voices. Even if it’s not entirely true across the board, it’s not hard to convince nonpilot legislators that all of us pilots have the same goals. The difference between an LSA and a Cessna 150 will be lost on them. When they see us as a grand assemblage of 600,000-plus pilots instead of fragmented groups of 100,000 here and 15,000 there scattered across a range of interests, it’s harder for them to dismiss us. Numbers are our friend.
On balance, the organizations that represent personal and business aviation do a great job of representing the concerns of their members. This is as one would expect it to be. After all, if NBAA doesn’t fight against user fees and restricted access, it isn’t serving the needs of its members. (And for the record, NBAA does a great job of representing its members.) Then again, there are any number of user groups out there that run roughshod over their members’ wishes. As members we need to make our voices heard. If you don’t like what your organization is up to, let it know. An informed and vocal member is the best kind of member.
I probably don’t need to tell any of you that the association that stands for us pilots who fly light GA airplanes is AOPA, which is headquartered in Frederick, Maryland, a short drive from Washington, D.C. (The association also has an office downtown.) Anyone could start a new organization and hold itself out as the voice of light GA. There could be a dozen such organizations. But there aren’t. There’s just one: AOPA.
That’s a good thing, so long as AOPA truly speaks for its members (us pilots and owners), effectively lobbies legislators and rule makers to do the right thing by us, and works to shape a light-aviation world that is best for us. I don’t agree with everything that AOPA does — for instance, I’m more concerned about unmanned aircraft than it seems to be — but on balance, I think AOPA does an excellent job of speaking for us and working for us, as does NBAA for bizjet users and HAI for helicopter users, among others.