'United Front' Waters Down Advocacy
It first registered with me because of the odd way in which it was presented. In an almost pitch-black tent with a cold January breeze blowing through, EAA President Rod Hightower was addressing fold-up tables full of members of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers' Association at Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring a couple of months ago.
"Anyone heard of BARR? You know what BARR is?" he asked above the chattering teeth (it gets impressively cold in central Florida when the jet stream aligns properly) and there was barely a murmur of assent.
Of course studious followers of our AVwebBizFlash would know that a considerable number of pixels has been expended by us and other bizjet-related media on the Block Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, which allows aircraft owners to block their identities in the FAA database. Last December, after initiating a rule change to ban the practice, the FAA simply abandoned the idea. NBAA, with support from EAA and AOPA had launched a lawsuit against the rule.
It was a silly thing brought on by the current administration's politically-motivated fat-cat assessment of bizav as an excess enjoyed by the excessively rich. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that as both parties lined up their transportation for this year's political furball, they suddenly understood why GM didn't want Ford to know where it was going or why USC didn't want Ol' Miss to track its recruiting flights. But I digress.
It's hard to imagine an issue further removed from the mogas-fueled, Solo Cup-sipping masses in the tent that night. So why did Hightower bring it up? Well, he used it as an example of the work of the "united front" of EAA, AOPA and NBAA on issues of mutual concern.
I get it. It doesn't hurt the powers-that-be to know that citizens with a broad common interest, like those in general aviation, are upset by something they're doing. We've seen variations of the united front on issues like user fees and the Washington ADIZ.
Somewhere along the line, however, the current leaders of the group decided it worked so well that it would apply to most of their public presence and they would speak with one voice, at least in public.
The result of the united front has been a homogenous soup of PR schlock that, in my opinion, sends the wrong message to members of each organization and, more importantly, to those in Washington who are continually looking for an opportunity to shift more costs for aviation infrastructure to those who build, fly and maintain aircraft.
These days, whenever there's an issue that generally affects anyone involved in the industry, the three groups get together and issue a single news release that reflects a common position on the topic. I watch them come into my inbox in virtual lockstep. By the way, EAA usually jumps the gun by about 30 seconds. You guys might want to look into that.
But it makes no sense for these distinct groups to have exactly the same thing to say about anything. They represent different constituencies whose use of aircraft may overlap but certainly aren't identical. By speaking with one voice the groups water down the representation of their own members by assuming the identical positions of other organizations.
What puzzles me is that the three groups seem to think this tack makes them appear more powerful. I don't think so. The attention span for GA in Washington is the beat of a fly's wing and by melding their messages into a single compromise position, the alphabets lose the opportunity to effectively address the issues in the true representation of their members.
No one understands boilerplate like a politician and that's what's been coming out of Oshkosh, Washington and Frederick in the past few months.
So, by all means talk about things, understand the issues as they relate to your peer organizations and support each other as you see fit. But don't dumb down your advocacy to a one-size-fits-all stew of mushy fare that serves no one by trying to serve everyone.