"Town Meeting" Issues: Avgas, Pilot Decline

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U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who chairs the General Aviation Caucus in the House, visited Sun 'n Fun on Saturday to host a "Town Meeting" with a panel of GA leaders. Graves, who is a pilot himself, said it's important for all of GA to "stick together" to ensure that vital policy issues are addressed. Pete Bunce, head of GAMA, took on the issue of avgas, and said considerable progress has been made since the initial "sky is falling" concerns that arose several years ago when the EPA proposed to reduce allowable lead emissions. He commended FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt's efforts to address the problem, and said a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to educate the EPA and others about the safety issues involved in finding a replacement. Bunce and AOPA's Craig Fuller essentially said that leaded avgas is not going to go away until a reasonable and workable "drop-in" alternative fuel is available. "There is no reason to believe 100 low-lead will become unavailable in the foreseeable future," Fuller said.

Another topic the panel tackled was the decline of new pilots. Bunce said GA needs to address the "elephant in the room" -- the poor salaries for professional pilots. "Nobody wants to talk about that," he said. Flight training is expensive, yet pilots are launching a career with salaries that won't pay their expenses, never mind their student loans, and "there is something fundamentally wrong with that equation," he said. Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Association Intl., said the key to reaching the next generation is to find heroes they can look up to in the fields of science and technology, the way they look up to athletes and rock stars. He also suggested that GA needs to make better use of social media to reach young people.

AVweb's Mary Grady met with Congressman Graves after the forum, click here for that podcast, with more details about the status of funding for the FAA, through-the-fence rules, and other GA issues.