The Runway Behind, The Sky Ahead

June 1, 2011

Contact:  Chris Dancy
301-695-2159
chris.dancy@aopa.org

Editors: What follows is a review of 2010 for both the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the broader general aviation industry, and a look ahead to the opportunities and challenges for 2011, written by AOPA President and CEO Craig L. Fuller.

Frederick, MD – A new year begins!

What strikes me most is that for the first time in two years we are looking forward to an improving economy. Uncertainty remains, but there's more optimism in the land, I think.

Like many of you, I've read the retrospectives of 2010 and have reflected on the year just past. 

Our general aviation community has traveled through some challenging weather to be sure. However, we have a resilient community. And, we never really let up; thus, have accomplishments to show for it!

Consider....

  • No federal user fee was even proposed after a $9.6 billion fee was suggested two years ago;
  • No new state taxes were imposed on general aviation in the country, although several states tried;
  • Working with our colleagues in other aviation groups we helped leaders in Congress build large General Aviation Caucuses in the US House of Representatives and the Senate;
  • We are fully engaged at the highest levels charting a course for air traffic control modernization - NextGen - with benefits for general aviation;
  • We have launched an effort to strengthen flight training and help build our pilot population;
  • We ended 2010 with just over 405,000 members;
  • We publish two of the world's leading magazines: AOPA PILOT and FLIGHT TRAINING;
  • We reach almost 300,000 members once every week with ePilot, our electronic newsletter and have created a spinoff focused exclusively on avgas topics;
  • We reach 200,000 individuals each weekday with AOPA's Aviation eBrief covering news about general aviation around the world;
  • And, through our newest offering, AOPA Live our webcast video segments have been played a million times by aviation enthusiasts around the world;
  • Our AOPA team in the Pilot Information Center and Member Services had over 320,000 member contacts;
  • Our Airport Support Network (ASN) reached 2,300 volunteers at airports across the nation;
  • We launched our AOPA Lifestyle Collection which had over 10,000 views in the first 30 days;
  • We enhanced pilot safety with the Air Safety Institute reaching 161,828 unique pilots through its online quizzes and courses;
  • Speaking of the Air Safety Institute, it now sits within our AOPA Foundation which succeeded in raising a few million dollars for its vital mission related to: safety, building the pilot population, protecting our GA airports and enhancing the perception of general aviation. 

No, a down economy was no time to sit back at AOPA. I could not be more proud of our team - some 200 strong - who have responded to the challenges with new ideas and new enthusiasm for strengthening the general aviation community.

The question I've focused on throughout the holiday period is what lies ahead....so, that is the topic of this FIRST MONDAY of 2011.

Happy New Year!

A Look Ahead.... 

We sit near our nation's Capitol anticipating the start of a new Congress. Trouble is, so many of the long enduring problems remain for new Members of Congress, new Congressional leaders and a President with a White House staff he seems to be almost totally remaking at the top. 

The general aviation community saw some of our leaders leave Congress through self or voter imposed retirement. Yet, a number of new Members are traveling to Washington this week to take office as strong supporters of GA. Still, many are only slightly aware of our issues and concerns.

If there is a theme we keep hearing, it is one of fiscal restraint.

While I'm not one to take exception to policies designed to strengthen our economy, spending reduction efforts utilizing blunt instruments often have unintended consequences. So, our mission with many of the new Members of Congress will be to insure they understand the important economic contribution the GA community makes across the country.

There are some urgent needs to be addressed.

After at least 16 extensions, the Congress really should come together to pass an FAA Reauthorization to give some certainty to the leaders at the FAA with large long term programs.

There is no turning back with regard to modernizing our air traffic control systems. NextGen must still be carefully defined, but implementation is underway on this critical US infrastructure program and accepting the status quo simply is not an option.

More work will advance on the avgas issue. While fully expecting our high octane 100LL avgas to remain available to power our piston aircraft, there is an aggressive search underway for both lower lead and unleaded alternatives. We look for progress and greater certainty in what remains a multi-year process.

Funding challenges look likely to threaten the monies in the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) account and this money helps with the maintenance and expansion of airports across the country. Matched with state and local funds, these federal funds protect a vital national asset -- our public use airports. Look for challenges across the country to come up with necessary funding.

Our pilot population has been in decline for many years. We must not accept a trend that ultimately threatens our ability to maintain a strong general aviation community. In fact, our friends in the commercial aviation business are expressing stronger and stronger concerns about just where pilots will come from in the future. For the GA community, this should be an opportunity. For all these reasons, our AOPA Foundation will provide stronger focus on enhancing our flight training programs to more successfully train pilots.

I do believe that 2011 will see a strengthening in the business aviation sector. There are already some encouraging signs. Economic growth requires mobility and GA aircraft meet the need of businesses of all sizes. This is one of the reasons I value our work with the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). We found strong interest in the two Light Business Aircraft Conferences we co-sponsored this past year and look to do more with NBAA in the future.

As for reaching out at AOPA, there is no substitute for spending time with our members. The Town Hall program has been a real source of enjoyment and learning. Not one of the dozens and dozens of these Town Hall gatherings has failed to produce important insights from our members. Looking forward, we will do more of these and as often as possible try to work with those in the aviation community who are organizing their own events where our participation can strengthen participation.

It is also important to reach out to those yet to be fully engaged in our GA community. Each time I have had the chance, the rewards are real. People learn more about the importance of community airports. They learn how others are utilizing GA for personal and professional missions. And, some even go out and experience the freedom to fly for the first time. So, more time needs to be devoted to this important audience going forward.

Our theme for 2011 is RALLY GA. It's meant to energize those who fly and dream of flying to slip those surly bonds of earth and experience flight. I hope throughout the year that I can reach many of you who take the time to read FIRST MONDAY. I remain grateful for your interest and support....and, always welcome your thoughts and ideas.

The bottom line is that the mission our founders at AOPA established nearly 72 years ago remains the one we are set out on today. Our advocacy efforts all focus on protecting our freedom to fly. And, our communications efforts do all we can do to share the joy of flying with our members as well as all others with an interest in aviation.

- AOPA -

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