Archive for 2009

Making the connection

Friday, June 26th, 2009

If you’ve been following our General Aviation Serves America campaign, you’ve heard me talk about GA’s remarkable power to connect people despite distances, and sometimes even across time. Well just this week, I experienced those connections first hand, thanks to a serendipitous fuel stop.


Returning to AOPA’s Frederick, Md., headquarters after a series of meetings in Arizona, I decided to make a stop for food and fuel in Ponca City, Okla. The service at Greenwood’s Oklahoma Jet was friendly and efficient. And when the alert staff recognized the 4GA N-number of AOPA’s jet, they asked if Ponca City Mayor Homer Nicholson—an active AOPA member—could stop by and say hello.


From left, Mayor Homer Nicholson, reporter Louise Abercrombie, AOPA President Craig Fuller, and Chuck Greenwood of Greenwood's Oklahoma Jet.
From left, Mayor Homer Nicholson, reporter Louise Abercrombie, myself, and Chuck Greenwood of Greenwood’s Oklahoma Jet

Naturally I was delighted to meet both Mayor Nicholson and reporter Louise Abercrombie of the Ponca City News, who wanted to know why I had chosen Ponca City as a stop.


The answer was twofold. First, it offered a GA airport with fuel and great food right along my route. Second, it was my mother’s hometown, and the place my aunt and uncle spent most of their lives.


But the connection, it turned out, went further. I soon learned that Mayor Nicholson knew my family and was familiar with my uncle’s industrial welding business. Abercrombie had been working at the local newspaper when I visited Ponca City with my parents as a young boy in the 1960s. 


What began as a convenient fuel stop in a familiar locale from my distant past turned into a wonderful opportunity to connect not only with that past, but also with the wonderful people who make up that community today. You can’t do that on the airlines!



Whirlwind weeks

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meetings on Capitol Hill and travels around the country. No matter where I go, I am talking about the General Aviation Serves America campaign—the work we’re doing, the progress we’re making, and the need to keep moving forward.

Just since the beginning of this month, I have been involved in meetings with NATA and EAA that have led to valuable promises of cooperation for our mutual benefit. You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: We can accomplish far more together than we could alone.

In many ways that’s the premise behind AOPA—pilots working together for mutual benefit—so it only makes sense, when the future of general aviation is in peril, that we join together with other pilot and aviation organizations to speak with one voice on the issues that matter the most.

Nothing invigorates me or helps me focus more than getting out and talking to people. I guess that’s the dividend of a life spent in public policy. This past weekend I even got to give a commencement address to graduates of UCLA’s political science department. Seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of those new graduates—their drive and passion to make the world a better place—was truly energizing!

An informal talk with pilots in Santa Fe, N.M.
An informal talk with pilots in Santa Fe, N.M.

And I’ve crisscrossed the country talking to pilots—from New Mexico to New Hampshire and everywhere in between. Each group I talk to is a reminder of just how savvy and passionate pilots are. Everywhere I go, the people I meet have a clear understanding of the issues affecting us and know what’s at stake. Everywhere I go, I get the same question: How can I help?

For one, keep flying. Numbers talk, and there’s no better way to show the policy makers that GA is important than to show them just how many people fly by GA every day. And, when you fly, you support the general aviation businesses that make such a significant contribution to our nation’s economy. Again, it’s a case of numbers.

For another, tell people about general aviation. Be proud that general aviation benefits your life and your business. Encourage a colleague or friend to take a flight with you, and give them a taste of what general aviation can bring to their own lives.

And of course, visit the Web site. Check on our progress, find out more about how you can get involved, and make a donation if you are able.

I will continue my travels around the country and hope to have the opportunity to speak with as many AOPA members as possible. And, just in case I don’t make it to your hometown in the next few weeks, I will be at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh next month. Hope to see you there.

Playing in Peoria at the Illinois Aviation Conference

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

I was very pleased to accept an invitation from Andy Priester, president of the Illinois Aviation Trades Association, to speak at this week’s annual Conference in Peoria.  It was great to have a chance to share ideas and discuss issues with leaders in aviation from throughout Illinois.

My focus was on our new campaign, General Aviation Serves America.  We are excited to find growing enthusiasm for this campaign to help opinon leaders and decision makers across the country better understand the value of general aviation and it’s critical contribution to the nation’s air transportation system.  Andy surprised with the news that IATA elected to support GA Serves America with a generous contribution.  THANK YOU, IATA!

The visit to Illinois also gave me an opportunity to recognize the leadership of Illinois’ Congressman Jerry Costello.  His leadership as chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee is something we are grateful for every day. His full engagement addressing security issues and opposition to user fees are key examples of his commitment to general aviation.

I left this afternoon very appreciative for the opportunity to share what we are doing with these aviation champions.   The spontaneous applause for the GA Serves America video showing our ad program suggested to me that Harrison Ford definitely plays well in Peoria!

A Day at Sporty’s

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Today, Karen and I enjoyed a great time at Sporty’s world headquarters in Batavia, Ohio.  As most know, it is located right at the Clermont County Airport (I69).

We joined with hundreds of other pilots to hear the winner of the new Cessna Skyhawk announced.  A pilot from Portland, Oregon was the lucky winner and he was reached by phone while we stood by to hear his reaction to the good news.  You can learn more about the plane and the winner by CLICKING HERE.

Of course, there were plenty of aircraft to check out and a many great products to look at during the fly-in.

Not to be missed were the barbecued hot dogs!  And, I found out they are available every Saturday….

Many thanks to Hal Shevers and all the folks at Sporty’s for the great time!

AOPA Turns Seventy Years Strong!

Friday, May 15th, 2009

It was seventy years ago at Wings Field in Pennsylvania that an inspired group of aviators formed an organization to protect and promote general aviation.  I think they would be proud of those who have shared their dream and built the AOPA of today. 

We are pausing this morning to celebrate what we are referring to simply as AOPA SevenZero.

To take us back a few decades, the display featured here was awaiting us outside the doors of our headquarters at the Frederick Airport in Maryland.

Happy 70th Anniversary!

GA serves the world

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to Montreal, Canada, where I had the privilege of telling the general aviation story to leaders of the international civil aviation community.


I spoke before the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council about the value that general aviation brings to all the countries where it is allowed to thrive.


At times this has been a very sore point. In many countries, general aviation struggles just to survive under the burdens of heavy user fees, strict regulations, and prohibitive cost structures.


But recently, I have seen some real progress in this arena.


The European Parliament recently adopted a sweeping pro-GA resolution. The Agenda for Sustainable Future in General and Business Aviation, as it is called, acknowledges the differences between GA and commercial operations and calls on member nations to invest in general aviation. It also stresses the importance of keeping regulation in proportion and ensuring GA access to airspace and airports.


It’s somehow ironic that even as Europe is coming to a greater understanding of the many benefits GA brings and actively taking steps to nurture it, we in the United States are facing some of the greatest threats GA has seen in a generation or more. Perhaps the biggest of these is something that has caused so much harm to general aviation in other countries: user fees. More than $9 billion a year, if the President’s budget is adopted.


Naturally, I spoke about the GA Serves America Campaign, and how we are using it to educate decision makers in this country. I also talked about how those ideas are true all across the globe. Really, GA serves the world.


It was wonderful to be able to share this story with an appreciative audience at ICAO—a body that deals mainly with commercial aviation. They were interested to learn about the many missions GA flies and had numerous questions about safety and the work of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. After the presentation, several participants came up to me to express their thanks for the reminder that GA is a vital part of the global transportation system.


At the end of my presentation, I reaffirmed my personal commitment to be part of the solution to the many challenges facing all of aviation. And I had the chance to give the ICAO representatives a model of a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, just like the one I own and fly. They promptly displayed it in their chamber where it joined numerous commercial models.


I hope it will serve as a reminder that GA rightfully holds a place as a valuable component of the aviation community all over the world.

Open House at Georgetown, Delaware (KGED)

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

After flying about 30 hours in the past eight days, I looked forward to a flight in my Bonanza to the beach late Friday afternoon.  I headed from Frederick, MD to Sussex County/Georgetown (KGED) – an airport that has become very familiar over the nearly 18 years we have been traveling to a home at a beach community in Delaware. 

On arrival, I picked up a crew car from the good folks at the FBO and learned from Delmarva Aviation’s Garrett Dernoga that they were sponsoring an open house and had encouraged Cirrus owners to fly in.  I checked to see if our Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22 was in the area and learned that PILOT’s Dave Hirschman welcomed the chance to fly over this morning for breakfast at the airport’s fine restaurant.

As things turned out, the Georgetown pilots group was meeting for breakfast and our fine airport support network (ASN) representative, Bob Young, was in attendance.  He invited me to speak….and, I invited the members to go take a look at the sweepstakes plane.

Dave and I along with our good friend Ray Gebhart spent the next few hours visiting with people who came to the airport by plane and by car.

After all the places I have been during the past 8 days, it was great to just spend some time at a local airport talking to friends who fly.  We are finding more opportunities to “fly out” from our base in Frederick….this was one day that just seemed to come together naturally….and, sometimes that’s the best way!

A vision for aviation, too

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

President Obama today announced his vision for high speed rail in America—a vision that includes efficiently moving people and goods between large population centers, and a vision that calls for an investment of $13 billion in federal general fund spending over the next five years.

I’d like to see the President embrace a similar vision for a proven transportation system—aviation. We already know that aircraft large and small move people and products nationwide, making enormous contributions to our economy and the public good. General aviation alone contributes more than 1 million jobs and $150 billion annually to the economy. We also know that investment in airports, aviation infrastructure, and modernization of the air traffic control system are desperately needed to maintain aviation’s exceptional safety record.

With that in mind, I am deeply troubled by the inconsistencies in how these two transportation networks are to be funded. It appears from the administration’s proposal that federal funding for high speed rail will come from the general fund, money derived from all taxpayers whether they use rail or not. At the same time, the administration’s budget proposes that aviation be paid for through billions in new user fees while the general fund contribution to the FAA would decrease substantially.

Aviation works for all Americans, even those who don’t fly. A safe, efficient, modern air transport system is fundamental to ensuring our economic prosperity. It simply doesn’t make sense to impose new financial burdens and reduce public funding for aviation on the one hand, and offer up billions in taxpayer money for high speed rail on the other.  We need a vision for aviation, too—one that maintains the general fund contribution and lets us move forward with the modernization we so urgently need.

Calm in a Crisis

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Pilots are a special group of people—that’s something I’ve always known. And pilot training does much to teach and reinforce such traits as courage, decisiveness, and the ability to remain calm in a crisis. But it was really brought home to me yesterday when I heard the story of a low-time single-engine pilot who safely landed a King Air carrying his wife and two daughters when the pilot of the charter flight died shortly after takeoff.

Doug White and his family had just attended his brother’s funeral in Florida when they boarded the chartered King Air bound for their Louisiana home. But about 15 minutes after takeoff, the King Air pilot lost consciousness and died. White told his wife and children to pray, and contacted air traffic control for help. White isn’t instrument rated and the plane was above a cloud layer and climbing on autopilot when he took the controls.

Air traffic controllers provided guidance and vectors, and enlisted the assistance of another pilot who was familiar with the airplane to give White the information he needed to take the aircraft off autopilot and hand fly it to a safe landing. And, of course, you can hear it all on the air traffic control tapes.

The thing that struck me the most about this incredible exchange between White and controllers is the calm decisiveness of everyone involved. It’s hard to imagine a more stressful situation. Lives were on the line, and everyone knew it. But even so, no one succumbed to the strain. Everyone worked together to get that plane, and the family in it, safely on the ground.

AOPA’s Aviation eBrief was among the first aviation media to report the story yesterday afternoon. You can read the story and listen to the remarkable exchange between White and air traffic control by visiting the eBrief archive. I am sure you will be moved as I was.

Situations like this one are rare, and they test the mettle of everyone involved—yet in these exceptional and difficult circumstances, pilots and controllers call on their inner strength and their rigorous training to work together for a good outcome. I couldn’t be more impressed with White and the controllers who helped him. Thankfully few of us will ever face such a challenge, but if we do we can have confidence in our training and the professionalism of controllers to help get us through.

A Trip to Oshkosh

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

During the past week, I had a chance to fulfill a commitment I made during my transition into AOPA…I’d promised Tom Poberezny that I would come to Oshkosh. 

It was a pleasure to spend some time with not one, but two members of a legendary GA family. I flew to Oshkosh, Wis., for a meeting with Tom Poberezney, chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and his father and past chairman, president, and founder Paul Poberezny, who retired earlier this year.

I have been lucky enough to visit Oshkosh during AirVenture before, but this was my first trip away from the crowds. As much as I love that exciting airshow environment, it was wonderful to experience the museum and see the sights on a quiet morning, and I highly recommend it if you have the chance.

Strolling around the museum collection, with its more than 200 aircraft, was like traveling through time, making stops at key moments in general aviation history…like joining Tom in the cockpit of the B-17! And seeing the grounds, emptied of the throngs of people and aircraft that take part in AirVenture each summer, I realized what an enormous undertaking that event is. It’s hard to imagine that EAA began in Paul Poberezney’s basement in 1953, and started with only 36 members. But most great enterprises come from humble beginnings, as AOPA did 70 years ago.

Talking with Tom, Paul and the EAA leadership team, we all could see opportunities for our two organizations to cooperate and collaborate.  Tom suggested and I agreed that an important next step is to return to Oshkosh with some of our AOPA leadership team and look at ways we can work together. Key members of our two organizations will be getting together in the near future to explore those opportunities and more, and I for one can’t wait to see all that we can achieve together.

And of course planning is well under way for EAA Air Venture, July 27 through Aug. 2. I’ll be there, and so will AOPA’s Big Yellow Tent. I hope you’ll join us and be part of the excitement at one of general aviation’s premier events.