February 11, 2013

In one of the largest, most colorful legislative bodies in America, there is a new force at work on behalf of general aviation (GA), aimed at educating lawmakers about its benefits. At the root of this effort are lawmakers like Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin).

Kuempel is founder of the Texas Legislative General Aviation Caucus, a group formed during the 2013 session. Although not a pilot himself, Kuempel found it easy to grasp the necessity for general aviation in a state as big as Texas.

“In Texas, aviation brings necessary and immediate resources to communities – especially when they just can’t get them quickly enough. In rural communities, aviation can bring medicine. It can get people out quickly to a trauma center. It can quickly reach and help control wildfires. We were finding that people don’t realize why we need general aviation,” Kuempel said.

After discussions with constituents in his South Texas district, Kuempel decided to act. Working with a group called Texans for General Aviation, he began to gather facts about the business of flying in the Lone Star State.

“I found that general aviation provides more than $15 billion in economic impact to this state. It provides more than 56,000 jobs,” he explained. Texas has more than 350 public-use airports – only 26 of which are served by airlines.

With those facts in hand, Kuempel set out to find other like-minded lawmakers among his colleagues in the state capital of Austin.

“I was very surprised at how many of my colleagues were interested in joining once some of the folks in their districts understood what was going on and urged them to join the caucus. I bet we have more than 20 members now. That typically doesn’t happen that fast,” said Kuempel.

At the first meeting of the Texas General Aviation Caucus in Austin, Kuempel acted as chairman. Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) was elected vice chairman. Reps. John Frullo (R-Lubbock) and Ralph Sheffield (R-Temple) also have leadership roles.

“I think it’s very exciting,” said NBAA Southwestern Regional Representative Steve Hadley. “What makes Texas so unique and so perfectly suited for aviation is its size and its tremendous population. Aviation brings all those entities together, and this is a great way of educating legislators about that reality.”

Hadley said the formation of general aviation caucuses within state legislatures is a growing phenomenon. “It’s an opportunity for local and regional groups to help make legislatures aware of the industry’s issues. Local and regional groups are extremely effective in educating legislatures on the social and economic issues.”

Such grassroots efforts at educating lawmakers can carry a lot of weight, Hadley pointed out.

“This new group backing the caucus, Texans for General Aviation, they’re all Texans,” he said. “They’re all supportive of these lawmakers because they know them. They’re all knowledgeable about the issues because they deal with them first-hand. So when they bring a message to the legislators, the legislators are more readily willing to relate – it’s closer to home.”

As the Texas General Aviation Caucus continues to grow during its first legislative session, Kuempel said it faces no aviation issues that require immediate attention, giving both its members and leadership time to educate their fellow lawmakers on the all-around importance of general aviation and its benefits to the Texas economy.

“That way, when there is an issue,” Kuempel said, “we’ll be that much more ready to deal with it.”