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'United Front' Waters Down Advocacy

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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.

Comments (16)

Amen.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 24, 2012 3:37 PM    Report this comment

Russ, I couldn't agree more! If the three groups have that much in common and in parallel, why do we need three groups? They need to refocus on what their core values are for their members (and not necessarily their advertisers) if they want their voices to be neard by their members and the general public.

Posted by: Richard Norris | March 26, 2012 5:42 AM    Report this comment

Russ, Washington is all about numbers. Tell a Senator you speak for 75,000 voters, you get a yawn. Tell him you speak for 600,000 voters, he will listen.

Posted by: Jim KLick | March 26, 2012 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Long ago, I was hit up by a "professional" fund-raiser for a big donation to one of the alphabet groups. I contacted the group involved and complained about the tactics of the "professional" f fund-raiser (who gets a hefty slice of the collections!). I was told this was an "evil necessity" to effectively raise large amounts of money. A "necessity" for who? The organization, not the member. I reminded him that the group ought to be considering the best interest of the members, not the bureaucracy of the organization. I agree wtih Richard - focus on the core values for the members!

Posted by: JOHN AUSTIN | March 26, 2012 7:31 AM    Report this comment

When it comes to dealing in politics "United, we stand to be heard clearly, divided, we just become part of the roar of the crowd." When a politician is approached by a single representaive of somewhat disparate groups, such as the EAA/AOPA/NBAA saying "We all support this and will work with you to accomplish this" it makes a much greater impression than being approached by the groups seperately with three different agendas. Yes, the politicans should be made aware there are differences within the group, but they have come together to support a single plan. For those who feel each group should act independently, I refer you to the current Republican Presidential campaign.

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 26, 2012 8:07 AM    Report this comment

The real issue here is not cooperation among the groups, that has proven to be effective and necessary in this environment. The issue is not understanding the audience. Ron Hightower should understand that the Sebring audience would probably not be interested in the BARR issue. They want to know about the 2nd class medical, the non-ethanol auto fuel, the shakeout in the LSA market and not issues that only apply to the jet crowd. Coordination and cooperation is not a bad thing, but you have to know your audience.

Posted by: Lindy Kirkland | March 26, 2012 8:29 AM    Report this comment

Russ is 100% correct! As with “crying wolf”, the leveraged power of multiple aviation alphabets lobbying together will quickly diminish as politicians begin to understand the lay of the land.

More importantly, there is ample evidence that AOPA (as an example to which most of this audience can relate) is simply not listening to its core constituency and serving their best interests. Examples: the policy of accepting that an unleaded fuel must happen soon, even though no actual harm has been demonstrated. Focusing almost exclusively on continuity of supply of avgas when most personal pilots are deathly afraid of huge price increases and performance loss and necessary hardware changes. Strongly supporting ADS-B when it is clear that most small G.A. pilots will experience almost no benefit. Promoting 406ELT when there is ample evidence that they have a success rate no better than 121.5ELT, that is around 30%. This, when new emerging technology performs much better.

One more point. The alphabets generally have a governance structure that is far too secretive and impenetrable for regular pilots. Yet their executives’ personal fortunes and daily fun depend heavily on commercial advertisers and pandering to stakeholders other than regular pilots. If they don’t change, they may self-destruct.

Posted by: JIM HERD | March 26, 2012 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Russ - thank you for stating the obvious and echoing what most of my fellow EAA chapter members have been saying for years: to each his own. We autogas supporters have been screaming this for years - why do recreational pilots have to accept an overpriced, overoctaned, leaded fuel for weekend flying because the AOPA, GAMA and NATA don't want to irritate their members who fly airplanes that need an high-octane fuel. The EAA used to be focused on making flying affordable and fun for the common man, now they appear to be more concerned about the desires of their peers at other alphabets. GA is a very, very diverse community. One airplane does not fit all needs, nor should one fuel, or policies in D.C. for that matter.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | March 26, 2012 1:07 PM    Report this comment

There's power in numbers, and the alphabet groups need to get totally behind the effort to eliminate the third class medical, in order to save the most inspirational, innovative, creative and satisfying aspect of aviation, general aviation, where people fly out of a love for it, not greed and money domination.

Posted by: Ron Brown | March 26, 2012 2:33 PM    Report this comment

If you do not know the names of your State Senator and State Representative, as well as your Federal Senator and Representative, and contact them on a regular basis, you do not understand how the system works. Of course, you all vote in every election, even the local ones, right? Numbers and dollars are all they listen to. I cannot afford to buy my own Congress critter, so I count on the alphabet groups to add my vote and my money into a large enough group that will be listened to. I need 100LL in my Pitts. I don't care if non-ethanol auto gas is available for you, but we had all better stick together or GA will cease to exist for all of us.

Posted by: Jim KLick | March 26, 2012 7:11 PM    Report this comment

Jim, the Pitts is an amazing aircraft that I flew during my acro training on Amelia Island a few years ago. I would love to own one some day. The solution to the fuels problem though is allow free markets to do their magic and get the bureaucrats out of our lives. There is no reason why we should not be able to support 2, 3 or even 4 different fuels at airports where the market will bear the costs. Forcing one expensive solution on everyone will only accelerate the demise of the low end. Without it, we will never have the next generation of pilots who aspire to fly a Pitts.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | March 26, 2012 7:17 PM    Report this comment

Russ and several others seem to be surprised that these three groups seem to have the same position and how can this be with such a diverse membership? This has nothing to do with BARR or no BARR or the interests of the membership of these three organizations. The specificity of the issue is just coincidental at best but conveniently useful in advancing “personal benefit” producing activity. And there in is the “common interest”.

Posted by: HELGE SKREPPEN | March 26, 2012 7:37 PM    Report this comment

Kent, The oil companies are another example of where numbers and money are the only things that count. GA is such a miniscule part of "big oil's " output, I am surprised that they even bother with Producing it, much less ensure that it does not contaminate the equipment that produces and ships zero lead auto gas. Ask your local FBO how much money he spends on EPA and other beaurocratic paper work for one 100LL tank, and maybe one auto fuel tank. Ask him how much more he Is willing to spend on 2 or 3 other types of fuel. My guess would be, if you want it, put in the system and he will let you dispense it, if you get enough liability insurance to cover you, him, the airport, and the city. Start with those numbers, and then guess what the price per gallon will be.

Posted by: Jim KLick | March 26, 2012 7:41 PM    Report this comment

Jim, in many cases airports have spare fuel tanks for autogas, so this cost is minimal. Liability coverage for an additional fuel like autogas is around $800/year, according to insurance companies I have contacted. ~110 airports now sell autogas, and make good money from it. Not all will, but not all airports sell Jet-A, either. Autogas generally sells for $1-$2 under avgas where the two are sold together, but these FBOs report that the net margins are the same. One nice benefit - airports can, if they want, sell ethanol-free autogas to non-aviators, an important source of additional revenue. Let free markets determine what is best for all of us. More options generally are better than one and only one.

Posted by: Kent Misegades | March 26, 2012 8:00 PM    Report this comment

Kent, All I am trying to say is that numbers and dollars drive everything, and GA is a pimple on the butt of an elephant. We think we have a right to do what we do, but we depend on a lot of people not noticing that we even exist, and they won't notice that we have disappeared.

Posted by: Jim KLick | March 26, 2012 8:10 PM    Report this comment

Kent, as I have insisted in the past, please let readers of this blog know that you sell mogas systems as a business. I am asking you to extend this courtesy.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 27, 2012 4:54 AM    Report this comment

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