When members of Congress assailed Detroit’s Big Three CEOs for having the audacity to fly to Washington for bailout hearings, they hemmed and hawed. And fumbled. Hats in hand, outstretched for public dollars, the intelligence, judgment and decisiveness that propelled them to the pinnacle of American industry utterly failed them. They’ve been characterized as deer in headlights and, clichéd though that is, it’s apt.

Unfortunately, the entire private aviation industry froze in the middle of the road, too, while an 18-wheeler of public resentment over the greed-stoked crumpling economy flattened it. There’s nothing much rational about this tailspin, and there’s no point lamenting the inaction and missed opportunities that sucked aviation into the vortex. Except for this: understanding the damage done when the industry reacted slowly and tepidly to the juggernaut of criticism can help propel a stronger response now.

The Facts Are on Our Side

Across the board, manufacturers, industry associations and other aviation supporters are now working to get the message out. General aviation is, first and most important, an essential tool of American productivity and economic power and, second, one of the very few bright spots in American manufacturing innovation and accomplishment. Those facts haven’t changed and won’t unless the Luddites win out.

Powering Small Business and Communities Nationwide

Dave Higdon, writing in the newsletter World Aircraft Sales, notes that the great majority of business aircraft fly for small businesses. While only a small percentage serve Fortune 500 companies, perhaps as many as 40 percent are small, 4-6 seat aircraft powered by a single piston engine.

Moreover, while commercial aircraft serve just 500 mostly urban airports, business aircraft fly in to 5,000 small airports. They are the lifeblood of rural America. Without them, thousands of companies would be forced to relocate, ensuring the collapse of small and medium-sized cities and their economies.

Add Your Voice

Businesses from small mom-and-pop operations to the largest corporations have all made hard, calculated decisions that aircraft benefit their efficiency, productivity and, ultimately, their bottom lines. As Pete Bunce, CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, told a Wichita audience this week, it’s astonishing that private aviation should even have to defend itself.

But defend it we must. And we’re gratified to see a growing groundswell of efforts to do just that. We’d simply say: if you’re part of the great majority of Americans who depend on or benefit from private aviation, and you’re not jumping into the fray, it’s time you did. Be smart about it, but don’t mince words. We’re on the right side of this debate. Regional economies, and American productivity, hang in the balance. Not to mention thousands of jobs.

We’re also starting to see the first tiny glimmers of hope that there’s an end to this economic eclipse. It would be a great shame if aviation, and the economy as a whole, suffers permanent damage because we didn’t speak out forcefully enough.