General Aviation Hasn’t Forgotten Aunt Edna

The ATC privatization debate a decade later.

Aunt Edna
In 2007, Airlines for America (then known as the Air Transport Association) created Aunt Edna to appeal to the common traveler and gain support for airlines against business aviation interests.Vimeo

No matter how often the ATC privatization debate comes up, only a few people seem to remember that even a decade ago, the strongest supporters of the move to split air traffic off from the FAA were the major airlines. In fact, the idea of splitting ATC away from the FAA first began with the airlines.

Despite the final vote on the bill being postponed this week, H.R. 2997 supporters see themselves as being more magnanimous with general aviation this time around, offering business aviation a ride free of user fees to garner their support. But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and his supporters are struggling to understand why more than 120 aviation organizations around the U.S. don’t seem to be buying what they’re selling. Could it be that the business and general aviation communities haven’t forgotten about Aunt Edna?

Set the wayback machine for 2007 and the press was rife with stories of a Mrs. Doubtfire lookalike, a woman who had it out for business aviation, or as the lady named Aunt Edna called them, the "fatcats and bigwigs who didn't pay their fair share of the cost of operating the ATC system." Aunt Edna thought it was time to say what no one else would, that business aviation had to pay more to fly in the U.S. Much more.

Aunt Edna was created by the Air Transport Association, the Washington-based airline lobbying group that changed its name to Airlines for America around 2011.

The Aunt Edna program created a YouTube sensation with animated shorts showing business jets full of fat cats cutting in line to push in front of the big airliners that had been dutifully waiting their turns in the takeoff line. In another, Edna took business aviation to task for how little they paid to use the ATC system when compared to the airlines.

ATA’s efforts included Capitol Hill lobbying against business aviation, PSA-like spots on CNN’s airport TV network and anti-business aviation posters on the sides of Washington D.C. buses. The ATA efforts even included a push suggesting the airlines should be given priority in the ATC system over business and general aviation flights.

The Aunt Edna campaign eventually fizzled, but as then-president of NetJets, the late Jim Christiansen, said, “We’re all for … paying our fair share. If we had all gotten together in a room and figured out how to really educate the public instead of the ATA spending millions on these ads and propaganda, we’d all be better off.” Christiansen’s advice could just as easily have been spoken last week.