The Future of State Aviation Trade Groups

by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2017 issue

Midwest Flyer Magazine has been working with state aviation trade groups since the publication was founded in 1978, and has seen a gradual decline in participation among many member businesses beginning in the early 1990s.

Most of these organizations got started during World War II when general aviation flight schools were involved in training military pilots through the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), sponsored by the United States Government from 1938 – 1944. CPTP had the stated purpose of increasing the number of civilian pilots, with the underlying motive that they may be needed for military service should the U.S. enter the war.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor when the U.S. first became involved in World War II, CPTP became the War Training Service (WTS) and, from 1942 to 1944, served primarily as the screening program for potential pilot candidates. Students would attend classes at colleges and universities, and flight training was provided by private flight schools. Then upon graduation, WTS students were required to enter the military.

Some 435,165 Americans, including men, women and minorities, learned to fly under CPTP, including such notables as combat pilot, test pilot, and astronaut, U.S. Senator John Glenn; Medal of Honor recipient and World War II ace, Maj. Richard Bong; triple ace, Col. Bud Anderson; B-24 Liberator pilot, U.S. Senator and 1972 Presidential candidate, George McGovern; Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP), Dora Dougherty; and Tuskegee Airman, Maj. Robert W. Deiz. The CPTP achieved its primary mission, as told by Dominick Pisano in his book, To Fill the Skies with Pilots.

Many CPTP and WTS flight schools were full-service fixed base operations, which was a boom for general aviation. Then, immediately after the war, Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft and other companies were manufacturing aircraft in record numbers and this continued throughout the 1980s, and many fixed base operators became dealers, adding another source of revenue. General aviation was at an all-time high, and most state aviation trade groups got their start. Since then, the WTS program has been discontinued, local aircraft dealerships have been replaced by regional and national aircraft service and distribution centers, fuel sales and aircraft maintenance have reflected a decrease in flight hours, and many small town fixed base operators have either closed their doors or been consolidated by larger regional operators.

There was also a camaraderie among fixed base operators in the early years that does not exist as much today. Fellow operators would get together once or twice a year for lunch or dinner, to discuss common concerns and socialize. Vendors, such as insurance agencies, parts manufacturers and distributors, fuel distributors, and aircraft manufacturers add to the strength of state aviation organizations, and their support was – and still is – mutually beneficial.

Another reason state aviation trade groups organized was to make sure their members were getting a fair shake with local, state and federal government, and this remains a top priority among groups today. There is strength in numbers now, as there was 70 years ago.

Group health insurance was also a major benefit of membership, but the insurance industry has become so competitive, that most businesses today can get coverage for their employees on their own.

If state aviation trade organizations are to survive, it is our belief they need to focus on what they can do best, and recruit and retain members based on those objectives:

1) Represent: A state trade group’s primary role should be to “represent” the industry before local, state and federal agencies. Annual aviation days at state capitols have become highly successful in recent years in making legislators aware of the issues facing general aviation. Likewise, some states now organize delegations involving state aviation organizations, including the trades, airport management, and business aviation, and meet annually with elected officials in Washington to rally support for general aviation.

2) Promote, Recognize and Publicize: Promote and recognize excellence among member businesses with an annual awards program, and promote and support the industry with a scholarship program, such as a flight training scholarship at a member flight school. Once award or scholarship recipients have been named, it is of crucial importance to publicize this in trade publications, local newspapers and on the Internet.

3) Communicate and Educate: Communication and education among member businesses with news and information, and with local, state and federal officials, is of vital importance.

Let’s stop here before we get carried away and add more things than a state aviation trade group, made up of volunteers, can truly accomplish.

For instance, annual “conferences” have long been viewed as a necessity, but frankly, they take an enormous amount of time to produce, and are often made more difficult than they need to be with planning committee meetings involving a number of people, rather than allowing one person to plan and execute the event.

The day in which boards of directors of state aviation trade groups are willing to travel great distances to meet on a regular basis, are also gone, and no longer necessary with the advent of teleconferencing, which takes less time, is less expensive, and encourages greater involvement and participation.

In summary, we feel that state aviation trade groups can serve a useful purpose and can thrive using all-volunteer boards of directors, but the goals and objectives have to be realistic, and directors have to be willing to make a commitment and accept a certain amount of responsibility. Otherwise, they are just going through the motions and doomed for failure.

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