Getting Aviation's Message Across

When it comes to the pilot community, there's strength in numbers.

Sun 'n Fun Fly-In

Sun 'n Fun Fly-In

** With hardware from bizjets to ultralights, the
big tent that is general aviation is on full
display every year at the Sun 'n Fun fly-in.
The challenge for members of flying organ-
izations from EAA to NBAA is to serve their core
members while keeping GA's message unified.**

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.

In some cases, there's competition for members. NBAA and AOPA, groups that have cooperated well for decades, both covet as members people who own and operate light turbine-powered airplanes. AOPA even has a Turbine Edition of its AOPA Pilot magazine. The truth is that the two organizations can afford to compete in a friendly fashion for these relatively few pilots and owners, since there's little to lose for anyone in the process. AOPA's regular advocacy nicely covers the needs of people who fly TBMs as well as those who fly Skyhawks, as these pilots' concerns are largely the same. The same is true for NBAA's support of light jets. Through its extensive lobbying and public relations efforts, it's already supporting those users, so it doesn't detract from its efforts to add light turbines owners to its rolls.

The problem comes only when an organization forgets, as Texas football coach Darrell Royal famously said, to “dance with who brung ya.” It’s fine with me if AOPA wants to court King Air owners, and I have no problem with EAA, to cite another example, looking to add TBM owners to its ranks, but if either organization were to forget its core constituency, piston aircraft owners and pilots for AOPA and homebuilders, warbirders, ultralighters and antiquers for EAA — something I don’t anticipate happening — we members would be and should be concerned. After all, we didn’t sign up and pay our dues in order for our association to do its own bidding but to do ours.

This is mostly hypothetical, of course, but you get the idea. Insist on your association following its mission and doing its job, and if that mission starts to creep or the organization starts falling down on the job, let it hear your voice. Don't like its stance on ADS-B or the new Part 23? Tell the association leaders about it. Have issues with the direction of your organization? Let it hear about it. Before you do that, however, you need to be a member and you need to be informed. If you're reading Flying, something tells me you've already got the "informed" part of the equation covered.

Technologies' Effects on Risk
I find it interesting to see the arc of acceptance by pilots of new technologies. As sophisticated users of advanced devices that carry with them a relatively high degree of risk, pilots are on the far end of the bell curve of early adopters, so the early debate is often boisterous. A new technology or practice is introduced; pilots debate it vociferously, live with it over time and ultimately grow to accept it (at least for the most part). It's been this way with autopilots and laminar flow wings, whole-airplane recovery parachute systems and ELTs, transponders and single-engine IFR.

One of the dissenting arguments you often hear when a new technology is introduced is that it will cause pilots to do things in an airplane they otherwise wouldn’t do. I’ve always been perplexed by this argument, not because it’s irrational but because it’s patently true. It’s like saying that having good-quality radial tires and high-end suspension on a car will cause drivers to go faster around curves than they would in an old jalopy outfitted with bias ply tires. Of course they’ll go faster.

That’s the whole point.

In aviation terms, I think that there are two examples that bring the absurdity of the argument to light: ice protection and having a second engine. Would I do things in a twin that I wouldn’t in a single? You bet I would. Like flying across the fat part of Lake Michigan in the wintertime. I don’t make that flight in a single, but in a twin, it’s a no-brainer. Here’s another one: Let’s say that there’s a good chance of ice in the layer I’m flying through on my way to clear skies. Would I depart on that flight in an airplane not equipped with ice protection? No way. Would I make that same flight in a model with approved ice protection? Isn’t that what it’s for?

I was thinking about this the other day when I was facing just such a situation. I was launching out of Dallas Love (KDAL) on a drizzly gray morning with low visibility and a good chance of ice in the 5,000-foot layer that started at 300 feet agl. I was flying an airplane with synthetic vision, an excellent autopilot, FIKI and a chute. Did I feel more secure than if I’d been in a comparable single with none of those technologies? You know it. Would I have made the flight without those new technologies? Not on that day.

So I was glad to have it.