Your Local Aviation Group – “Where the Rubber Meets the Road”

By: Scott E. Ashton, Vice President Business Development, Gama Aviation Inc, and Vice Chairman, Connecticut Business Aviation Group

Business and General Aviation directly contributes over $100 Billion of annual economic activity to the United States economy. Our aviation industry is a leader in technology and is a major contributor to our balance of trade. General Aviation is truly an American industrial success story.

Furthermore, the general strength of our economy and our standard of living depends on continuous advancements in America’s productivity. Those of us in the aviation industry know there is no better productivity enhancement than the use of business aviation and that its use directly contributes to the success of its users.

So it’s frustrating to have our industry, which we know contributes so much to this nation, finding itself under attack from so many different quarters. From the political attacks coming from the holders of the highest political offices in this nation, to the TSA, to the airline industry, to state and local governments, to neighborhood groups, and certainly to the media, it seems that our industry has very few friends out there– especially now. The challenges can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, our industry, our individual businesses, and our personal livelihoods are truly at stake now more than ever.

As Vice Chairman of the Connecticut Business Aviation Group (CTBAG), I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that local relationships can have on the political process. Our impact really comes down to one word – Voters. Each of us is a voter, and local, state, and national legislators need to hear from us. On every issue related to our industry, whether security, taxation, or airport access, every single one of us has not only a right – but an obligation – to ensure that our voices are heard by our representatives.

At CTBAG, we’ve focused our efforts on two main areas – Access and Taxes. When the new board of directors, led by aviation attorney Paul Lange, was elected, we noted that there was had been a communication gap at the state and local government level and that we had few, if any relationships in the state government. While there were no major issues facing us at the state level at the time, we felt we now had an opportunity to build those key relationships within the state legislature and Department of Transportation in advance. These relationships have been critical to swiftly and successfully reacting to issues as they have arisen.

We invited influential members of the Connecticut General Assembly to our quarterly meetings so they could hear first hand from our members. We also “took to the hill” – meeting with legislators, economic development leaders, and Department of Transportation leaders, some of whom we knew were supportive of our causes, and others whom we believed needed to know more about the economic impact of aviation in this state. We also took up an active campaign of testifying at public hearings on issues that affected our members. For example, several members testified at the recent LASP hearings held by TSA, at the state capital in opposition to a proposed bill that would prevent safety improvements from occurring at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, and in support of a town effort to purchase a local airport being sold by its private owner.

A new issue has resurfaced in our state, as in many other states – Taxes. In search of tax revenues, several bills have recently been introduced in our state that would dramatically increase the cost of doing business in Connecticut. Working with the regional representatives of both NBAA and AOPA, our members are the “boots on the ground” in this fight. We have communicated with all of our members, keeping them up to date on the status of these initiatives and are encouraging everyone to contact their local representatives to provide specific data on the specific negative economic impact that tax increases would have on their business – and the resulting loss of jobs that would result. The fight is just starting, but our members are mobilized and have already launched a campaign to prevent these tax increases from damaging our members’ businesses.

Our success in the future is going to be built on the relationships that our members build with their state legislators, and an active membership who is willing to communicate with them on a frequent basis. In spite on the positive benefits our industry brings to our economy, we have few defenders right now and we are an easy target for those who want to tax us or otherwise vilify us. It is up to every one of us that earns a living in this industry to frequently communicate with their local, state, and national representatives. Those representatives need to hear from each of us on a regular basis on every aviation issue. If your state representatives don’t know you as the local expert on aviation issues, then you need to communicate more! Although it can be tedious, letter writing can be effective. When legislators receive 2 letters about an issue, they believe it’s not important and may not pay any attention to it. When they receive 200 letters, they know someone is paying attention to the issue and that they need to dig deeper into understanding it. Now, more than ever, local aviation groups and their members are going to be a critical part of ensuring that our industry continues to be a viable part of the economy. Our jobs depend on it.

Rules for a Successful Local Aviation Group

• Focus the Agenda – Don’t try and be all things
• Build Relationships – Identify key legislators and meet frequently
• Energize the Membership – Members have to be Involved and active in the process
• Frame the Argument – “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” is the Language of Legislators
• Work with the National Groups – leverage the organizing strength of NBAA and AOPA.

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