When automotive industry leaders flew to Washington on private jets seeking a government bailout, it did more than create an image they were corporate fat cats. It hurt general aviation as well, industry officials say. Most general aviation is not simply a luxury available only to the rich; it's a cost-effective way to do business and an economic lifeline for small communities, said speakers Thursday at the Oklahoma Aerospace Summit in Oklahoma City. But the industry has had to battle not only a variety of economic conditions but other perceptions as well. "We don't know why they took those planes that day. But we wish they would have said, 'Business aviation is important to our company. It's important to our survival and we need it,'” said Edward Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association. General aviation has suffered bad press, regulatory threats and economic distress in recent years, but is essential to economic development, said Victor Bird, director of the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. For example, the Michelin tire plant was located in Ardmore because executives could easily fly into a nearby airport. "It's about time,” Bird said. "It's all about access. This is the secret of general aviation for business purposes.” Bird praised lawmakers for passing legislation that would protect airports from encroaching land use, such as tall buildings or wind turbines. General aviation also faces pressure to eliminate use of leaded fuel, which powers 167,000 piston-powered aircraft in the United States. Lead boosts the octane of the fuel and protects aircraft engines, said Pete Bunce, president and chief executive officer of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. He said the industry is seeking to lower but not yet eliminate lead levels while aircraft are retrofitted with new fuel systems. Bunce praised one Oklahoma company, General Aviation Modifications in Ada, for efforts to develop a new high-octane fuel formula that could meet mandates of the Clean Air Act to transition to unleaded fuel. CONTRIBUTING: The Associated Press
General aviation in Oklahoma
• Oklahoma has 141 public use airports serving 8,313 FAA-certified pilots in the state, along with 11,469 general aviation aircraft.
• General aviation contributes $1.2 billion annually to the state's economy. Source: Alliance for Aviation Across America