Letter to AOPA members from Chairman of the Board
Fellow AOPA members,
With Craig Fuller’s announcement in February that he would be stepping down as our president in 2013, AOPA began the search for the fifth president of the association. We are beginning a national search for a leader who will continue to lead the fight for general aviation in Washington, D.C., in your home state, and at your airport. General aviation is under attack from regulators, a poor economy, rising fuel prices, and a shrinking manufacturing base. AOPA has had difficult issues to surmount in the past, but today we seem to be facing several major issues at once. Rest assured that AOPA’s advocacy team remains hard at work fighting for your freedom to fly as the Board of Trustees undertakes its search for a new president.
The Board of Trustees, an unpaid group of volunteers who all fly regularly for business and recreation, has begun the process to identify our next president. The natural question arises: Who are we looking for? The selection process is not an easy one; unlike most corporate searches, we must narrow the candidates to include only pilots. The candidate must be an outgoing, passionate aviator who believes in the critical value GA brings to our country and citizens. The candidate also must be an experienced businessperson who can lead and grow the world’s largest aviation association. The candidate must be able to articulate and fight for our cause and beliefs in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 state capitals. The candidate needs to fight for our rights with an ever-burdening regulatory structure that has grown substantially since the tragic events of 9/11. Where the FAA was once the primary regulator, we now have agencies we did not work with before 9/11—like the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency—that are introducing policies or considering proposals that will limit our freedom to fly … and this does not include state and local authorities now positioning themselves as “protectors” of the public from GA aircraft.
Over the past several years, Craig’s seasoned Washington hand helped build the GA Caucus—the single most important bulwark against the current shenanigans on Capitol Hill; AOPA has continued to successfully beat back user fees at the federal level; we have fought against state-level GA tax increases and won numerous tax cuts that, when combined, save our members more than $100 million dollars a year in state taxes and fees; and we actively support local airport efforts through the work of seven full-time regional managers and more than 2,500 Airport Support Network volunteers across the country. And in the past few weeks, we’ve been focusing efforts on the threat of massive FAA budget cuts that could close more than 200 control towers, restrict weather and flight services, allow the navigation system to deteriorate, and derail aircraft certification.
The cost of flying continues to be a challenge for our industry. For example, avgas prices have risen from an average of $4.44 per gallon in 2007 to $6.62 today. New single-engine aircraft are prohibitively expensive due to the ever-increasing costs of certification and declining production levels, thereby greatly increasing the overhead costs per aircraft. Here at AOPA, we are not immune. We draw our membership from the pilot population, which having stood at 827,000 in 1980, is down to 610,000 today.
As many of you know, AOPA’s revenues are derived from three primary sources: membership dues; advertising in AOPA Pilot magazine and other media properties; and revenue from products and services such as the credit card, Pilot Protection Services, and insurance services. Membership dues remained unchanged from 1990 until 2010 when we raised them $6 per year, a 15 percent increase. During that period of time, the consumer price index of all goods and services increased 76 percent. Dues make up only 30 percent of our revenue. And once the economic downturn took hold, we also saw advertising in our publications fall greatly.
In response, we have worked hard to bring down our operational costs for 2013 while not sacrificing the day-to-day work we do on advocacy. You will also see AOPA concentrate on providing revenue-generating services that bring more people into aviation, increase access to affordable aircraft, and grow the active pilot community. These initiatives will be focused toward areas in which we have already provided services in the past and allow us to keep the membership dues as low as possible.
Through deliberate and careful stewardship, AOPA has reserves of $80 million invested in a diversified portfolio of investments. This may seem like a great deal of money, and it is, but let’s take a look at its importance in the coming years. At its current levels, the reserves provide $3.2 million of revenue that we do not need to harness from membership dues or other initiatives. Additionally, when GA faces a major battle such as we saw at 9/11 or with user fees, these savings provide the ready reserve to fight battles on a national scale. Finally, strong not-for-profit organizations should have reserves equal or greater to their annual revenues, a position that AOPA occupies.
So as we thank Craig for his hard work, your Board is looking for one of you to lead us in the years ahead. We represent all of general aviation, but we will not lose focus on our core member, the pilot who enjoys flying his owned or rented piston single as many hours as he or she can afford. A patriot that is growing weary of the over-zealous regulation of this wonderfully American success story. A person who will fight for your freedom to fly. Someone who understands how prohibitive the cost of flying has become.
The Board loves to fly as much as you do. I have two boys ages 13 and 16; my greatest joy will be to have them participate in this amazing way of life. You can be assured that AOPA will focus, focus, focus on keeping this generation in the air and providing the opportunity to allow our children to experience the joy of flight.
I appreciate and value your membership. You are the only reason we enjoy the freedom to fly.
Attention members: If you would like to comment, we invite you to email firstname.lastname@example.org. While we may not be able to respond to every email, each will be read and taken into careful consideration.