At a meeting of the General Aviation Safety Council (GASCo) in 1991 David Ogilvy from the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), with the encouragement of the Director of Airspace Policy, suggested that if GA was to have a future it should do more to promote itself and form an umbrella organisation of the many GA organisations, in order to act as a central body that could address their common problems. Thus the General Aviation Awareness Campaign (GAAC) took shape spearheaded initially by AOPA, the then PFA and the British Gliding Association (BGA).
Having established its objectives, namely to retain and develop the facilities for GA, the next step was to arrange the finance necessary to fund its development. Funding was initially guaranteed from all the organisations within the GA family from the GA business aviation operators the British Business & General Aviation Association (BBGA) to the aircraft model builders the British Model Flying Association (BMFA). Air Total also offered to assist in funding for a limited number of years to enable the GAAC to get on its feet. Further funding was obtained from some 600 individuals and companies involved in GA, all committing regular financial support. And, for this support they were rewarded with regular newsletters to keep them in touch with GAAC activities.
Air Total sponsorship expired after some three years and new funding was sought. Air BP agreed to sponsor the organisation, on the condition that the word Campaign was dropped from the title. Thus the word Council was substituted for Campaign, though not before having to negotiate a number of hurdles with officialdom to entitle us to the use such a grandiose word. We therefore retained the same abbreviation, GAAC. After Air BP funding later ceased the GAAC has managed on its own resources, still being dependent upon the Member organisations.
Prior to inception of the GAAC, AOPA, in the guise of David Ogilvy, had handled all problems concerning individual airfields, except where other associations were already doing such work (such as the BGA and the British Microlight Aircraft Assocaiation (BMAA)). However two particular gaps were identified in this work, which the GAAC could fill:
i. A need to make available planning and airfield operation guidance that helped aircraft operators and flying site owners (potential and existing) to anticipate any potholes before they fell foul of both planning and aviation law.
ii. A need to educate decision makers within local authorities about the benefits of GA, through professional submissions into planning policy documents, with the aim of changing planning policy.
The GAAC met those objectives. A range of Fact Sheets and more lengthy planning guidance was professionally prepared by David Ogilvy and a chartered town planner (whose fees were covered by the donations). This advice related to technical and practical issues such as control of aircraft noise, restriction of movements and hours of operation. It also covered more specific planning guidance on matters such as safeguarding, enforcement and the planning process. (You can view and download the factsheets from http://www.gaac.org.uk/fact-sheets/).
The “education” branch of GAAC work comprised two key elements:
i. Supporting a PhD student with research into the value of GA to the UK economy as a whole.
ii. The planning consultant also worked closely with County Councils throughout the UK with the aim of achieving positive support for GA, at best, or no negative/restrictive policy, at worst.
This work was a success. The doctorate paper was recognised as being a valuable source of information, which had hitherto been unavailable, and is now widely used by decision makers and others who wish to understand the full nature of GA and its wider benefits and importance. This Report was produced in September 2004 and was (and still is in some respects, the definitive overview of General Aviation in the UK.
With the second strand of work, over time, many County Structure Plans incorporated positive paragraphs regarding GA, which set the context for all subsequent decision making in that county. It was disappointing that all such plans were later abolished in the context of government “improvements” to the planning system. The GAAC therefore had to fall back on general directives such as the present DoT GA policy pronouncement which appears to be more honoured in the breach than the observance, when housing development rules the day.
The GAAC has had, and continues to have, regular contact with Central Government, particularly the Aviation Division of the Department for Transport and the, then, DoE, the latter being the department concerned with all aspects of the planning process.
GAAC/AOPA became members of the Parliamentary Aerospace Committee . This met fairly regularly, providing a useful forum for the discussion of views about the then – and still threatened – GA movement.
Objections to the GAAC’s secretarial work being located in the AOPA office (it was claimed that it would be better located in a more ‘neutral’ location) led to it being transferred to the Royal Aeronautical Society’s headquarters at 4 Hamilton Place, London. More recently, with the increasing cost of retaining the HQ in the West End and financial constraints, the secretarial, financial and management duties were taken on by volunteer members. A new Registered Office Address was established at Bicester Airfield. In 2019 this changed to nearby Turweston Aerodrome.
In August 2000, Charles Henry was appointed Chairman of the GAAC and David was appointed an Honorary Vice President .