Every now and then a unique opportunity for content presents itself and when Sean Collins reached out about his take on aviation advocacy I was intrigued to say the least… I had invited Sean to share his thoughts and writing with us on ReviewBeforeFlight and he has graciously allowed me to share his most recent AOPA regional blog post here too. The writing that follows is from Sean, an AOPA employee and a general aviation pilot.
Advocacy: the Road to Anywhere
By: Sean Collins, AOPA Eastern Regional Manager
What is Advocacy? The online dictionary defines Advocacy as: public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. While accurate, I tend think of AOPA’s form of advocacy as more than that. For those of us advocating for General Aviation specifically, it is a great deal more. At AOPA we prefer to think of Advocacy as another word for Education—at least effective advocacy starts with education.
As my nephew quickly discovered at the start of his 7th grade school year, I like math though I am by no means an expert. In truth, I probably don’t remember much of anything from my college calculus course. I do, however, enjoy regular-old, every-day algebra and geometry! Helping him with his homework not only gives us a chance to bond but allows me the opportunity to teach him something. This brings life full circle as I watch him make the same mental mistakes (ignoring the negative sign) that my father used to watch me make time and time again. As for extracting life lessons, teaching math teaches patience; a necessary trait for any passionate advocate! Those of us who regularly work in policy be it state or federal knows it is rare that anything happens quickly.
Putting the “politics” of policy aside for a moment (not doing something just because), a lack of action is often the result of a difference of opinion, of which, in GA’s case is usually based in understanding. Legislative advocacy is really a game of endurance. With this in mind, the primary reason I enjoy our nightly math routine derives from acquiring a definitive and absolute result from the adherence to a strict set of rules producing an undeniable truth or fact. Sure, the mathemagicians [new word] out there could argue the accuracy of that statement say with “inequalities”, as an example of a linear set of correct answers as opposed to a single correct answer [though for those smarty-pants, I argue that constitutes an absolute outcome in itself—BAZINGA!!!]. However, so few of life’s hard questions provide such clarity with regard to right and wrong answers. The best part of math homework is being able to test ones answer, all but guaranteeing a good grade! In my own way, I apply this same logic to our Advocacy efforts at AOPA.
With regard to the “politics” of policy making, a successful lobbyist need know what makes a given legislator or gaggle of them [a term I generally reserve for a family of Turkeys], tick. Of course anyone watching CNN or Fox News could offer endless clichéd assumptions but going deeper than that, I believe the majority of our elected officials enter the legislative arena with the intention of improving the world around them. Unfortunately our world spins so quickly these days there is simply too much information for our representatives to be familiar with to adequately act and respond independently on every issue, so this is where effective advocates—aka Lobbyists—come in with guidance and education, usually in numerical form.
Concise communication aided by statistical data, serves as the only real catalyst for moving sensible legislation forward. As for sensible, I am referring to a legislative policy that makes sense for a set of problems or issues affecting a state—call it the big picture. As I discussed in my American East – Aviation – Division blog, a direct comparison of states becomes a conversation on apples and oranges. So while one of AOPA’s core initiatives is to reduce the cost of flying, we do not insist on a one-size fits all policy for achieving it. For example, we regularly support the Aviation Jobs Act which would provide for a targeted sales tax exemption on aircraft purchases in New York State. Conversely, we opted to forgo doing so in neighboring Pennsylvania where in 2014 political tensions revolved around property tax reform leading to public scrutiny of long-standing tax exemptions. Therefore as Regional Managers we spend a great deal of time studying our state’s economic conditions whilst working with industry to produce the all-important numerical data.
Unfortunately, as one individual representing GA in 13 states, it is unrealistic to have all boards nailed down all of the time so we rely on an age old staple of politics—constituency; yes YOU! How can you, GA supporter, impact GA policy in your state? First and foremost, maintain your membership in AOPA! If you don’t have one, get one because a membership in AOPA is a vote for GA and allows us to continue to do the work we do at the local level. Second, know your elected officials. Not just who they are, but get to know them. As constituents, they are far more interested in what you have to say than any of the alphabet groups because you vote. Thirdly, know your local aviation factoids and the industry’s economic impact. AOPA can help with this as can airport managers, state aviation associations and/or Department of Transportation. The Alliance for Aviation Across America is another great resource as well. Lastly, though it may seem silly, advocate from the heart! Communication occurs with the successful transfer of information to your audience. It will be much easier for strangers of aviation to receive the message once they recognize your love for aviation is genuine—remember no one likes a Krampus!
Keep General Aviation’s voice strong and JOIN or RENEW your AOPA membership today!
Editor’s Note: I have previously shared my thoughts on the value of an AOPA membership. Recently, I renewed my membership, now of 15 years to the Premier level. You can find my honest opinion on AOPA Membership in this previous post here on ReviewBeforeFlight.
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9