Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) CEO Craig Fuller was preaching to the choir today. And the packed house of aviation enthusiasts loved every note.
Today’s Wichita Aero Club meeting at the Airport Hilton drew more than 200 aircraft manufacturers, suppliers, pilots, civic leaders and media. Fuller – whose long, distinguished career includes serving in the Reagan and Bush White Houses (1981-1989) – was quick to highlight questionable actions on the part of the federal government. Billions in proposed user fees. Rhetoric that bashes “billionaires and their jets.” The LightSquared proposal and its potential to disrupt GPS signals. The FAA’s plan to curtail the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program. It’s high drama in Washington, he said, with Sunday sessions at the White House and negotiations going on around the clock.
“I’m concerned where aviation comes out in all of this,” he said.
Fuller addressed many challenges faced by general aviation – unmanned aircraft crop dusting in China to av fuel lead emissions – and acknowledged the economy occupies the pole position. He lauded the joint effort of multiple aviation organizations to overcome “the worse economic downturn in 70 years.” He said, they all “kind of locked arms,” realizing there was more to be gained by working together than individually.
The precipitous drop in pilots – from 800,000 fifteen years ago to just over 600,000 today creates great concern, Fuller said. Not only are fewer pilots coming out of the military, he said, 80% of student pilots never become licensed pilots. AOPA launched an industry-wide initiative last summer and continues to work to retain and grow the pilot population.
Fuller rallied the crowd, reminding attendees that AOPA has been fighting the good fight since 1939 – promoting aviation safety, advocating for the industry and communicating key issues. “We like to share the good news that’s happening,” he said. He closed by adding, “It’s a great community. It’s a resilient community.”