|Taking back Aviation in our own hands is the premise of this month's article. We have a choice. We can stand to the side if we are content in how our nation perceives our industry or passion by media experts or self promoting government officials, even our president. Or, we can stand up, unite and pull together our many resources and revive a once illustrious industry where kids dreamed of being a participant. The following is an example of how my organization and fellow aviators, Missouri Pilots Association (MPA) and the Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Association (GSLBAA), took the task at hand.
On Thursday, March 24th, approximately 100 General Aviation pilots, mechanics, instructors, flight attendants, directors, managers, consultants and technical sales people all converged into the marble portico of their State's Capitol Building, all with the same purpose: To make certain that their voices were heard by their elected officials. A quarter of this passionate group chose to deliver their message by way of a path that even automotive and other corporate executives now fear to take; they travelled to meet their legislative officials on board a corporate jet.
Now this was no ordinary jet. It was a 14 executive seat, 24 ton, Rolls Royce powered, 'Next-Gen' Embraer Legacy 600 that Mr. Gregory Babcock, the regional representative for Embraer Business Jets, made available to anyone from Missouri who wanted to take their General Aviation Message to the their State Capitol in Jefferson City.
The main proponents of this face-to-face meeting with State Lawmakers were the Missouri Pilots Association (MPA) and the Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Association (GSLBAA.) The MPA is more than just another flying club; it is a body of pilots and other like-minded people whose focus is on general aviation in Missouri both now and for its future. The MPA claims that it is successful and has become the envy of many a state for its strength and unity. The Association was founded in 1953 and has now grown into one of the largest non-profit state General Aviation organizations in the U.S.A. The goals of the MPA are to improve aviation safety, provide educational opportunities, promote a positive image for General Aviation, and to protect and preserve the rights of pilots and aircraft owners.
GSLBAA was formed in 1976 to create a voice at the local, state, and regional level, allowing the St. Louis area aviation community to be more proactive, and effective, when issues are presented. Its objective is to be in-tune to local level issues that affect aviation and related businesses. Members of GSLBAA have the opportunity to belong to a unique organization found in very few cities across the U.S. and one that will allows them to grow professionally, with other pilots and associates in the aviation industry. GSLBAA is one of the oldest local professional aviation organizations in the country. The Association claims that many other cities have patterned their organizations after GSLBAA.
The passengers on the Legacy 600 that flew out of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport (KSUS) included owners, presidents, directors, managers, pilots and flight department managers from 12 major companies that are based in St. Louis. These companies included:
One which is the World's largest private Coal Company (annual revenue $6+ Billion); an Agricultural seed and chemicals company (annual revenue $11+ Billion); a cable and telecommunications investment/management company (annual revenue $50+ Million); a 91-year-old corporation that sells heavy earthmoving equipment (private company/no revenue data); an investment corporation which owns 161 companies in 34 different industries (private company/no revenue data); a privately held petroleum products distributer (annual revenue $6+ Billion); and the World's largest car rental company (annual revenue $13+ Billion.) Most of the companies mentioned, do currently operate business aircraft.
The specific issues that both of the aviation delegations wanted their State Representatives to fully understand is important to them were as follows:
State Bill number 1000, which proposes the transfer of approximately $2.3 million from the State Aviation Trust Fund, which if approved, will delay or cancel airport improvement and safety projects at Missouri airports, should be 'killed-stone-dead!'
The State of Missouri should be designated as a 'Fly-Away' State, just like it's neighbouring states, whereby 100's of millions of dollars would be attracted to Missouri because foreign/non-Missouri aircraft owners could choose to bring their pre-buy inspections to Missouri, close the transaction and then stay while repairs, improvements and upgrades are performed to their aircraft before it is taken to its new home-base.
Additionally it is important that the State mandate that all of its Business Councils and Associations receive familiarity training on the importance and uses of a Business Aircraft as a valid business and sales tool that enables a corporation to leap ahead of its competitors. Commission a State endorsed study, or at least use the data available at the "No Plane - No Gain" website https://www.noplanenogain.org/
Lastly the politicians were all urged to sponsor and promote a General Aviation Business Trade Show for the State of Missouri. The purpose is to promote and encourage Aviation Businesses to move to, or 'start-up' in Missouri; to encourage the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) to hold its Annual Meeting and Convention in a Missouri; to encourage the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to hold its Annual Meeting and Convention in a Missouri; and to encourage the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) to hold its Annual Meeting and Convention in a Missouri.
It is too early to report on the results that were achieved by this very positive and worthwhile outing to the State Capitol of Missouri. However, judging by the debriefing conversations that were heard on the return journey's home, it is safe to say that everyone believed that their message was heard "loud and clear."
So how does this recent proactive day-trip within the borders of Missouri affect you, is a fair question to ask? Well there are 50 separate States in this country, as well as there are 100's more government assemblies across the World. I would like this story and others like it (if you are willing to do a little research to discover them) to inspire you to organize and act within your own General Aviation Community. Take your local message of wants and needs necessary for General Aviation to prosper in your region, out into the offices of your elected officials. Deliver a clearly defined list of actions that they can use, consider and debate. Make them understand that your views are not to be ignored. You are effectively their ticket in office. If they want to stay in office for any length of time, they have already learnt the importance of hearing the opinions and ideas of their constituents.
To assist you in your plight of becoming an effective General Aviation Advocate and Lobbyist, please consider all of the following concepts:
Prepare for the meeting
Be informed on the issues that are important to you in General Aviation in your region, and on a national front. Research and place your local needs into the national and global environments as well. Gather and analylize data derived from the government that you are to present to, along with other sources. Then relate these statistics to your message.
Practice your message delivery
Once you have all of your ideas, concepts, statistics and data organized into simple bulleted action items. Think through the meeting before hand along with the approach that you shall take to deliver your message to your representative. Once you have practiced your delivery and adjusted its flow, its effectiveness shall be doubled or tripled when you 'go live.'
Identify both yourself and your influential connections
Government and Ministerial Officials are professional networkers. They live and die through their connections with influential people and organizations. If you are a member of an aviation association, work for a company that is involved in aviation, or you share the same point of view of a notable person that you know personally, it is critical to announce this connection to your targeted representative.
Be specific about what you want
The message: "I want government to back-off regulating how and when I can fly" is far less effective than: "The Large Aircraft Security Program, Docket Number TSA-2008-0021 that was proposed by the Department of Homeland Securities, Transportation Security Administration in 2008 and 2009, if brought back in a second run, shall cause my local airport to shutdown because it does not have sufficient funds to comply with the fencing and gate access requirements. Also employer: The XYZ aviation co. Inc. will also have to close-down because it cannot afford to relocate to another airport in another region or state, thus eliminating 23 jobs at this company that has a payroll that ranges from $27,000 P.A. to $93,000 P.A."
State your views clearly
A single sheet of paper with bullet points is the most effective tool for you to use as a 'hand-out.' Be practiced in delivering a clear and concise 'sound-bite' for each of the points on your sheet. Then be prepared to expand on anyone of them, when asked to do so.
Make yourself their expert
Lawmakers are usually kept on a very short leash with regard to the amount of time that they can spend listening to your face-to-face presentation. Often you are introducing concepts and ideas that they may never have 'heard of' or considered before. Offer to make yourself completely accessible to them and their staff, as their expert on the issues that you have brought to their office for action. Be honest.
There is a proverb that states: "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions." Listen very intently to your message recipient after you have finished your delivery, because you may well miss the opportunity to take your argument to the 'next-step' in the required process for it to be acted upon if you still have your mouth open, and your ears closed.
Write a personal letter of thanks to every official that you met and delivered your speech to. Call their office regularly to remind them that you expect them to act upon your requests and concerns. What at first appeared to be a low priority issue will quickly make its way to the top of a governor's agenda if his constituents call about it almost every week to find out how he has dealt with it?
Don't burn any bridges
As much as you might find the political way of achieving things contrary to your own way of thinking, never make your mind up about a politician immediately based upon the first impression that you had of that person. Often if given the second, third or fourth chance even, you might be surprised by wide differences can be narrowed to a shared point of view.
If you are still not convinced that this example should be your own "call to action" to lobby on behalf of General Aviation, please allow me to share a letter that was written by Mr. Jonathan Rimington, the current President for the Missouri Pilot's Association, which reads as follow:
"...At an airport near you there is a mechanic scratching a living at what he loves.
There's an airplane lined up ready for takeoff with a mother and child aboard. The child is the only one wearing an oxygen mask. The hospital awaits them in a far-off big city. A twin-engine aircraft is circling well clear of the pattern freely offering priority to the mercy flight.
Aboard the inbound turboprop is a local businessman with a new contract in his briefcase, successfully signed at a meeting 300 miles away earlier in the day. He's both relieved and grateful that now his 73 employees will have work for the next several months while he negotiates a new contract with a new client. He also knows that it is the lower overhead his small-town factory enjoys that has kept his price competitive.
A student pilot, encouraged by hopes and dreams of a career as an airline pilot has just performed a wheelbarrow landing and is gently bouncing down the runway accompanied by a brave and patient instructor who is remembering his own early landing attempts many years before. They survive to have a serious talk before taking off and trying again.
Twenty-seven kids bubbling with enthusiasm masking just a little fear at their forthcoming first flight line up awaiting their turn to board one of the small planes standing by to take them. They are guests of the local MPA chapter. A teacher tries in vain to quiet the children but is drowned out as the aircraft hosting the first three children roars into life prop turning and the sudden rush of air is tearing at loosely worn jackets as it taxis away. The teacher does not know it but years from now one of two twins on that field trip that very day will one day fly fighters in the military while the other twin will eventually become head of the FAA.
The small restaurant will sell seventeen hamburgers and thirty-two ice cream cones to those kids on this same day.
A cab driver pulls up in front of the FBO to pick up a pilot and passenger to take them to the local hotel. They are there to view a local high school football game and are scouting for talent to recruit for the college they represent. In the meantime the FBO owner tops off the airplane with forty-one gallons of AvGas, one of seventeen aircraft he has refuelled today. It's been a good day.
A local contractor is putting up a new corporate hanger and the FBO has just agreed to supply Jet-A fuel as soon as the hanger is near completion. The hanger will house two turbo-prop aircraft for the owners of a new software company building their headquarters in town.
The Mayor is feeling pleased; ninety-three new jobs are coming to town. She is gratified to have supported the recent runway extension. The owner of the restaurant that was on the brink of closing and located across the street from the new software company is full of hope for the survival of their family business. The twenty hangars on the field currently house eleven aircraft. The others sit empty only because the aircraft they normally hold are in use. The hangars earn the city $36,000.00 a year in rent.
The student pilot is still trying to get his landings right and the mechanic is about to complete his fourth annual inspection to date this month at an airport near you. General Aviation airports are vital to local communities, our State and our nation..."
Now it is your turn to act as well.