When you have been around more than four decades, as I have, you tend to be a bit skeptical when yet another association wants to become a player in our industry. At least, that was my initial reaction to the early press on the General Aviation Airport Coalition (GAAC). Now after multiple phone conferences and a lot of good interchange with my peers and GAAC staff, I am “on board” with the value that GAAC brings to general aviation airports. Today’s general aviation airports are especially vulnerable as a result of an increasing number of unfunded mandates and decreasing budgets and staff. Finally, an organization dedicated to assisting them has arrived.
There are excellent organizations representing the aviation industry where we all exchange ideas and work together to achieve the mission. Certainly, the American Association of Airport Executives, the National Business Aviation Association, and the National Air Transportation Association are the most established and considered top leaders at the federal level.
AAAE does an admirable job as the voice for airports, and NATA continues to represent an airport’s commercial businesses commendably. In addition, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has always been a strong advocate for the pilot population.
Over the years, I have been a director for NATA and served on multiple committees for AAAE and NATA. However, even with all the extensive work and accomplishments of those organizations, general aviation has never had a durable and dedicated voice at the federal level. Each airport’s challenges at the local level have often been a very solitary fight.
In rough numbers, there are about ten times as many general aviation airports as commercial service airports. While some of them are very operationally active, and the densely populated ones receive local recognition for the most part, it seems that unless the news is bad or the residential neighbors are trying to shut them down, very little attention is paid to general aviation airports.
Having an association that is dedicated only to general aviation could be just what the industry needs. Perhaps what is surprising is that an industry with a reported $150 billion impact annually did not have its own association, until now.
Progress by GAAC has already been made with the focus of the organization by the establishment of two committees -- federal and local. The federal committee will address legislative and policy issues, in addition to strategic advocacy, while the local committee concentrates on the basic mechanics of airport management, operations, community outreach, and local government issues. An interim executive committee has been selected and consists of airport managers from five different states. This group, along with others, will provide input on the early direction of the organization.
GAAC is being managed by The Ferguson Group, a government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C., that represents local governments and several other coalitions. GAAC is also aggressively seeking input and membership from all sizes of airports and information can be found at GAAirportCoalition.org. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend that you participate in one of the free monthly conference calls and decide if the GAAC can help your airport.