With terrorism, gun control, immigration reform, and so much more dominating headlines, it’s easy to forget that as recently as six weeks ago another subject monopolized the national conversation: the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration and, especially in the White House telling, their supposedly dire effects. While those cuts have begun to take a toll—a new Goldman Sachs report this morning blames sequestration and higher payroll taxes for the recent dip in retail sales and consumer sentiment—it’s been nowhere near as bad as many officials predicted. In fact, most Americans haven’t noticed.
In a bid to change this, many of the industries hurt by the cuts are renewing efforts to draw attention to their effects—none more colorfully than the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, which objects to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to begin shutting down 149 small and midsize airports on June 15 if the automatic cuts aren’t unwound. The AOPA isn’t just issuing press releases. No, it has corralled as its spokesman the most famous pilot in the galaxy—a pilot who has made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs and outrun Imperial starships. I speak, of course, of Han Solo. Or, as AOPA refers to him, “actor Harrison Ford.”
While he no longer pilots the Millennium Falcon, Ford is a dues-paying member of the AOPA and flies single-engine planes and twin-engine jets. He has previously spoken to members of the House and Senate about aviation issues, and in an interview with Bloomberg Government today (subscription required), he appealed to the FAA to keep small airports open. “General aviation is more than guys in corporate aircraft,” Ford said. “It’s police and fire services. It’s EMS. It’s a guy flying his fish to market. It’s tractor parts getting to a rancher or a farmer. It’s a broad range of businesses that are affected.”
As BGOV’s Laura Litvan notes, the AOPA is one of the biggest donors in Washington, having given $8.4 million to candidates and parties since 1989. It has a five-member lobbying organization. Now it has Harrison Ford, too. But with Congress and the president having seemingly accepted—for now —that sequestration will remain in place, it may take the power of the Force to save small airports.