Edward Stimpson, aviation advocate, dies at 75

AP News
Posted: Nov 26, 2009 6:54 PM

Edward Stimpson, an aviation advocate who pushed to rejuvenate struggling small aircraft manufacturers in the 1990s by limiting lawsuits against them, has died after a five-month illness. He was 75.

He died Wednesday from complications related to lung cancer, though he wasn't a smoker, said his sister, Catharine Stimpson.

Stimpson, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association for 25 years, was a major proponent of legislation signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 to prevent general aviation companies from being named as defendants in lawsuits in crashes of small planes 18 years old or older.

By 1994, a wave of lawsuits was blamed for a downturn at small aircraft manufacturers such as Beech Aircraft Co. and Cessna Aircraft Corp., costing 100,000 industry jobs. Annual sales of single-engine planes averaged 13,000 from 1965 to 1982, but dropped to just 500 by 1993.

Catharine Stimpson remembered how Cessna used her brother's initials to signify the first 100 piston-powered planes the company built after resuming production.

"Whatever he did to preserve the industry was more than a job to him," she said in a phone interview from her home in New York. "He just loved the idea of being up there in the clouds."

Stimpson, who held a private pilot's license, also advocated against record attempts like 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff's 1996 bid to become the youngest person to fly across the country. Dubroff, her father and her flight instructor died when their plane crashed in Cheyenne, Wyo., prompting Stimpson to call for measures to "stop the circus-like, media-driven events."

He retired from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association in 1996 to become chairman of "Be A Pilot," an industrywide education and research program aimed at increasing the number of people learning to fly.

Stimpson was born in Bellingham, Wash., the oldest of seven children. He graduated from Harvard College and received a graduate degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. He and his wife, Dorothy, met as employees at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.

He settled in Idaho after being hired as a lobbyist for Boise-based engineering firm Morrison Knudsen Corp. in 1989. His wife became one of the state's representatives to the Democratic National Committee until 2000. They had no children.

In 1998, Stimpson received the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy for public service in aviation, an honor he shared with aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, World War II pilot Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle and Apollo 11 astronaut Neil A. Armstrong.

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And in 1999, then-President Clinton appointed Stimpson to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a Montreal-based group that promotes safe aviation around the world. The post carries the rank of ambassador; Stimpson served through 2004.

Catharine Stimpson remembered one flight she took with her brother in Washington state where his concern for safety caught her attention.

"He saw the pilot doing something he did not approve of," she said. "Believe me, that pilot will not forget what he heard."

For two decades, Stimpson was a board member at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, where a residence hall and laboratory have been named after him.

In April 2008, Stimpson was named to a Federal Aviation Administration panel to recommend improvements to airline safety measures after concerns arose that the FAA allowed Southwest Airlines to fly dozens of Boeing 737s without inspecting them for fuselage cracks as required and that Southwest's system for complying with FAA safety directives hadn't been inspected since 1999.