AOPA President: It's All About The People, Not The Tools
AOPA President Phil Boyer Monday reminded aviation leaders that
the greatest technology in the world will fail unless the people
who use it understand and accept it in the first place.
At a special ceremony to publicly unveil NASA and the FAA's
Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS), which would create an
alternative to the nation's crowded highways and commercial
airports by leveraging the nation's thousands of general aviation
airports, Boyer noted that the industry faces two simultaneous
uphill battles: improving the general public's perception of
general aviation airplanes and airports; and ensuring that there
are enough future pilots to make the system viable.
Boyer harkened back 15
years, reminding aviation leaders attending the ceremony that, when
AOPA proposed to Congress that the then-new Global Positioning
Satellite (GPS) system be made available for civil aviation, many
in the industry said it would never work. They said aircraft
owners would never spend the money to install GPS receivers.
Now GPS is the backbone of the United States' future aviation
system. He added that AOPA is dedicated to advanced aviation
technology, noting that AOPA is the only aviation association with
a staff member devoted full-time to advanced aviation
"Remember one thing from this talk," Boyer said. "And that is
that AOPA is fully committed to working for the technical success
The problem, he went on to point out, is not the technology but
the perceptions of the people who would use it.
"The problem surrounds the general public's fairly negative
feelings about 'small aircraft' - those 'little airplanes,'" Boyer
said. "So in the very title ("Small Aircraft Transportation
System 2005: A Transformation of Air Travel") of this forum today
we are using two words that outside of [the aviation] world have a
negative connotation. Are we preaching to the choir at this event?
Are we ignoring the huge task ahead of us all: to guarantee that,
if we build it -- SATS -- they will come? Remember -- this is a
general public that thinks of a Beech 1900 commuter propjet as a
Boyer said the continuing negative public perception is having a
real effect on the pilot population, as fewer and fewer people seek
to learn to fly. In the last 20 years the FAA statistics show a
20-percent decline in active pilots. And he called on the aviation
industry to take stronger steps to reverse the trend.
"The BE-A-PILOT effort started almost a decade ago wanes for
financial support," he said. "AOPA, as the largest supporter and
financial contributor fails to understand how any company involved
in aviation can ignore what is the lifeline to continued growth - a
growing student pilot population!"
Another dilemma facing the survival of the SATS program is the
ongoing decline in the number of the general aviation (GA) airports
upon which the entire system is predicated. In the last quarter
century, more than 1,000 public use GA airports have closed - down
from approximately 6,500 to less than 5,300.
"Like an iceberg heading for the equator, it's been a slow,
constant diminishing of our most critical resource: the GA
airport," Boyer said. "In fact, there has never been year-on-year
growth during that period.
"If SATS is to succeed on a national scale as planned, this
industry needs to wake up to the fact that passengers, pilots, and
landing facilities for small aircraft could all be in short
Boyer pledged AOPA's ongoing support and outreach efforts to
help the general public understand the benefits of general
aviation, and the promise of the SATS technology being
"It is so important we recognize that the general public holds
the keys to the SATS program -- and their attitudes about small
planes must change for SATS ultimate reality," he concluded. "It's
taken 100 years for the public to lose interest and understanding
about small planes. We need to get the non-aviation oriented public
to return to that desire to fly in small aircraft in the next two
decades if all we are demonstrating today is become a reality."