In last week’s USA Today article about Aviation Trust Fund dollars being rudely sucked away from big airports to keep podunk runways usable, the Air Transport Association again portrayed itself as the White Knight, the vanguard of a movement for truth justice and the American way, all focused on their altruistic need to save the taxpayer from the skullduggery of those non-airline airplane operators … that would be us of course. NBC aired a companion piece. Heck, almost like the stories were well … you know, coordinated or something. Where could they have come up with that idea?
The response was predicable with Jim Coyne of NATA writing a Letter to the Editor castigating them for a “poorly researched … misleading” story that of course completely ignored how many of those airplanes at smaller airports that often receive grant money from the fund, helps keep those pesky little business and general aviation airplanes away from the big airports.
NBAA President Ed Bolen wrote one too. It said the USA Today piece was “one sided … lacking in balance … a gross misrepresentation of the value of general aviation public use airports …” Both leaders are right of course. Obviously too, ATA never read the piece of research from Oxford Economics and released by the U.S. Travel Association that points to the value of business aviation.
So what’s my beef? Simple. Too many NBAA and NATA members – and plenty of AOPA members too I’ll bet – assume that with Jim and Ed on the job, not to mention a dedicated staff of association types, we can all sleep easier while they fight the battle … and it has become a battle in case you haven’t been paying attention.
Looking at the USA Today piece now, a week later, I see 721 comments, a tidy little sum for any news story. After reading dozens and dozens of the comments at USA Today, I didn’t see one letter from the American Association of Airport Executives, or even an airport manager trying to set the record straight. Why not? I’ll tell you why not, because we’re not well organized enough to do battle with an association like ATA … at least not yet.
Let’s review. The associations can’t fix our problems. Only we the members can. NBAA and NATA can help, but we need to do the leg work because our associations don’t have the millions ATA gets from the likes of United, Delta and American. And we’d better start right now because business and general aviation are playing way too much defense to suit me. ATA comes after us on user fees and the associations start writing letters. Did that effort change perceptions? Barely.
But remember when TSA came after GA earlier in the year with the new large-aircraft security proposal? Some 7000+ comments later, TSA backed off.
So I’m sitting here at my desk trying to imagine why association members still think staff should handle the dirty work. Then I saw the John and Martha video. While certainly designed to capture an audience for their seminar at NBAA, one everyone thinking about buying a jet SHOULD attend, it is also a succinct political call to action. Why? Because John and Martha are saying the same thing we’ve been saying for years. Members need to make it happen. Although well intentioned, associations don’t have the staff anyway. And besides, folks on the Hill expect the associations. They don’t expect us, pilots, airport managers, business owners and air traffic controllers.
What do we do Next?
Check out today’s papers and you’ll see our model for success, the Flyers Rights crowd run by Kate Hanni. While I don’t agree with everything she says philosophically, you can’t knock the fact that Hanni has managed to organize people on the Hill like no one else in this industry in recent memory. The tarmac legislation is just inches from passing. We need to do the same thing Mr and Mrs. airport manager.
Grass roots organizations can work if people are motivated. I remember when I interviewed Hanni a few years ago. I was the 15,000th person to sign her petition. Now she has 27,000. Trust me. Twenty seven thousand people focusing on anything gets attention.
BTW Mr. May
You may have heard that ATA is worried that passing the Flyers Rights legislation will have unintended consequences for airline passengers. Wait until more small airports shut down because of this kind of shooting-themselves-in-the-foot ATA strategy. I think I’d call more business airplanes trying to land at MSP, ORD, ATL, DFW, DIA and IAD some unintended consequences too, wouldn’t you. So Mr. May, be careful what you wish for.
Perhaps it’s time to start giving the ATA a little taste of business aviation airport support, Flyers Rights style, as if our industry’s survival really depends on us. Difference might be that I don’t think we need to be offensive to go on the offensive. Bet I can convince John and Martha. Who else?