President's Position: State of the Association

A defining moment

May 1, 2009

This month marks the seventieth anniversary of AOPA’s existence. That’s an incredible achievement, especially when you consider that aviation itself has only been around for about 100 years. As AOPA members, each of us is an important part of that achievement, and I hope you take as much pride as I do in what we—pilots working together to protect and promote what we love—have accomplished in that time. You can read more about this history in “Seven Zero” (see page 58), but I want to take this opportunity to talk about our immediate past and our future.

Over the past year we have been working to deliver the best possible member benefits and services. At the same time, we have been vigorously defending general aviation on Capitol Hill, in state and local governments, and in the court of public opinion.

Last year we introduced a new Internet-based flight planner with an array of enhanced capabilities, and more are being rolled out on a continuous basis. We’ve upgraded our Web site to make it work better for you while adding new features such as blogs, video journals, and multimedia presentations. We’ve added communications tools, such as the daily Aviation eBrief e-mail newsletter. And we’ve continued to deliver award-winning content in AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training magazines, and our weekly customizable ePilot newsletters.

Our credit card, insurance, legal, and financial products are designed with pilots’ unique needs in mind, and offer you exceptional values while helping to support AOPA’s work on your behalf.

Even as we’ve delivered these services without raising dues, we’ve found new ways to approach some of the long-term challenges facing general aviation, starting with the declining pilot population. In the past year, AOPA took a hard look at the reasons for that decline and launched the “Let’s Go Flying” program to address it.

“Let’s Go Flying” includes a Web portal that connects people interested in flying with all the tools, inspiration, and information they need to get started and complete their training. In addition to providing traditional information resources, the site provides interactive tools, social networking, and other new methods of connecting would-be pilots with information that’s meaningful to them. At the same time, AOPA representatives are visiting a wide range of events, including nonaviation gatherings, so we can bring the excitement of general aviation to those most likely to become pilots.

Let me tell you why we are working so hard to recruit new pilots. If we want general aviation to be relevant, we need to build our ranks in order to be adequately heard when governments and communities make rules and allocate money for transportation. Imagine if there were only a few thousand pilots scattered across the country. How important would our needs be when measured against all the other groups competing for resources? The plain truth is that there’s strength in numbers.

Even as we have been aggressively pursuing that longer-term goal, we have continued to expand our day-to-day advocacy efforts. On the local level, we now have Airport Support Network volunteers at more than 2,000 community airports nationwide. They serve as our eyes and ears, promoting their airports and alerting us to potential threats before it’s too late. We’ve had some great successes, saving airports from incompatible development and helping communities understand just how valuable small airports are—even to those who don’t fly.

On the state level, our headquarters staff and regional representatives have testified on issues ranging from aviation sales taxes to airport protection, and they’ve worked with legislators, mayors, governors, transportation officials, and others to ensure that general aviation’s needs are considered in everything from development and transportation planning to revenue allocation.

In a sense, most of these efforts address what I’d call chronic issues facing general aviation—those that crop up repeatedly and must be dealt with on an ongoing basis, such as incompatible land use around airports, safety concerns, noise debates, and attempts to find new sources of revenue, sometimes on the backs of aircraft owners and operators.

But there’s also another set of issues facing general aviation today, issues I’d classify as acute. Urban pressures on airports, onerous regulatory proposals, lack of commitment of general fund revenues to support FAA operations and infrastructure, and an increasingly negative public perception of GA as “jets for the rich” have brought GA to a defining moment. Some of these challenges are so serious and urgent that I believe they could have a devastating effect on our future.

In this economic downturn, lawmakers are looking for ways to pay for the services the government must provide, including those offered by the FAA. One way to do that is through “user charges”—the current lingo for user fees. President Obama’s budget proposes assessing more than $7 billion in aviation user fees each year. What better way to raise money than to place the burden on a relatively small group? Add to that unfounded security fears that prompt government agencies to propose treating general aviation like the airlines, and we could be in real trouble.

As direct users of the aviation system, we know that it benefits everyone by moving the people, goods, and services that drive virtually every sector of our economy. Aviation is vital to the public good, so it makes sense that a significant portion of the money needed to pay for FAA operations, air traffic control, airport infrastructure, and other vital aviation-related services should be paid for from the general fund. And general aviation, with its smaller aircraft and personal nature, is nothing like the airlines, so it simply makes no sense to impose expensive, impractical, airline-style security rules on GA. We understand these things inherently. But many of the people who ultimately make these decisions do not.

We need to change that perception and we are—with “GA Serves America,” one of the largest and most important initiatives in AOPA history.

Decision makers, opinion leaders, and the general public need to know who we really are, what we do, and how our ability to fly strengthens the American economy. That’s why we’re kicking off our GA Serves America campaign with your stories about the impact of GA on state and local economies and communities as a whole. Using stories you have contributed through ePilot and AOPA Online, we are fighting back, defining ourselves instead of letting our rivals do it for us.

We intend to tell the real-life stories of the faces behind GA and the communities and businesses that depend on it each day. For small rural communities scattered across the nation, general aviation is quite literally a lifeline, delivering everything from food to medical care. Our missions are many, varied, and vital to this nation’s economic well being.

To get this message out, we are producing and distributing targeted radio, television, print, and online messages. I want to thank actor Harrison Ford for donating his time to help us produce the ad that appears on page 51 as well as his support for GA and the GA Serves America campaign.

We are also meeting directly with lawmakers from key states and in Washington, D.C., and making key members of our staff available for media interviews.

AOPA has invested $1.5 million in launching this campaign, but we know that will not be enough to deliver our message effectively to all the audiences we need to reach. That’s why we’re asking for your financial support.

Asking for money, especially in the current economy, is not something I do lightly. I believe that this campaign is absolutely vital for general aviation’s future. And I hope that as you consider making a contribution, you’ll remember that while the cost of just about everything has been steadily rising, AOPA has not raised dues in two decades—even while continually enhancing the services we provide to our members.

If you would like to make a contribution to this effort that will benefit us all, please visit the Web site for more detailed information and an easy-to-use contribution tool. Your help will make an immediate difference.

AOPA’s 70-year history is testament to what a committed group of individuals can accomplish when they pull together to protect and promote what they love. Together, we can add to that impressive legacy and ensure that the next 70 years are even more exciting and productive than the first.

Craig Fuller
AOPA President and CEO

E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at craig@aopa.org.


AOPA Air Safety Foundation: Safety outreach

As I write this report and reflect on last year’s success, I’m reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s quote that success is never final and failure is never fatal. In aviation, that latter statement isn’t always correct, but despite all the economic gloom we are eagerly anticipating 2009. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation continued with unprecedented outreach in 2008, reaching close to 200,000 individual pilots with targeted safety education. More than 40,000 pilots attended our premier live safety seminars, and ASF recertified almost 12,000 flight instructors. The ASF development team produced more than one dozen award-winning online educational products, dominating an education industry online course awards competition. Online course completions averaged more than 25,000 each month—several years ago we thought that 3,000 a month was pretty good.

Although ASF reached new heights in 2008, there were several high-profile accidents, proving that risk never takes a holiday and neither should pilot safety efforts. We can’t rest on our laurels, so more innovative safety products are scheduled for this year. Topics will include IFR procedures, accident re-creations, continuing weather education, and decision making, just to name a few. Visit the Web site regularly to see what’s new. If you’d like the opportunity to comment, I also have a weekly safety blog on ASF’s home page.

Industry/government partnership

Most pilots see only the “front side” of ASF; however, there are some very successful partnerships with industry and government that enhance our ability to be on target with the right program at the right time. The AOPA Insurance Agency’s Accident Forgiveness Program now has four participating underwriters. In this unique program, if a pilot takes one ASF live or online course every six months and has an accident or incident, the deductible and the ensuing premium increases are waived. That’s incentive!

Our relationships with leading aviation universities expanded in 2008. ASF is privileged to call Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of North Dakota, and Middle Tennessee State University partners in reaching collegiate aviators with our safety message. Students at these institutions and others will see even more ASF safety education in 2009.

Along with our industry partners, our relationship with the FAA remains focused on improving general aviation safety. In 2009 AOPA, ASF, and the FAA will join together to address runway safety. This relationship is already bearing fruit. The April issues of AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training included an FAA Runway Safety DVD and safety booklet. The FAA is also generously sponsoring a new ASF runway safety online course.

Security education

In the coming months ASF will release an online tutorial designed to help pilots to learn new border-crossing procedures using Customs and Border Protection’s new online tool, eAPIS. In partnership with AOPA, ASF is helping pilots avoid enforcement action by understanding new policies and procedures.

Reaching CFIs

ASF is the largest nongovernment provider of instructor renewal, but there will be still more outreach to CFIs in 2009. Instructors can find teaching tips and industry updates, and increase their instructional knowledge with the ASF Instructor Report, which is sent to all CFIs quarterly. Look for some new instructional products later this year.

Fuel for the engine

The year 2008 was a success by any measure and 2009 is full of opportunity, but first-class safety education can’t happen without support from pilots like you. ASF is funded by tax-deductible pilot donations, not AOPA dues. If you’ve taken an ASF online course, attended a live seminar, or read any of our safety publications and found them useful, please help support future courses to improve our safety record. For support opportunities go to www.aopa.org/asf/
development or call 301-695-2078.

Thank you!

Safe pilots, safe skies

Bruce Landsberg
ASF President


The AOPA Foundation: Successful launch

With a broad mission to advance general aviation, the AOPA Foundation was publicly launched in 2008. The announcement, which followed a research and quiet capacity-building period during which $27 million of a new $58 million capital campaign was committed, was greeted with cheers and applause at AOPA Expo 2008 in San Jose.

Long-time AOPA volunteer leader and philanthropist Thomas W. Haas is serving as national chairman of The Campaign for GA: Our Freedom to Fly. Haas has recruited philanthropic leaders from around the nation to assist him in this first-time capital drive. His team now includes Ned Bennett (Illinois and New Mexico), Jim Thompson (Texas), Greg Kozmetsky (Texas), Hal Shevers (Ohio), Marilyn Thompson (California and Maryland), and Lessing Stern (Utah). Plans call for more national and regional fundraising leaders to be added in 2009 and 2010.

The educational nature of the AOPA Foundation is expansive. Job number one is to educate the public about the importance and benefits of general aviation across America. The implications of such an image campaign will help AOPA to keep GA strong and safe.

The foundation’s objectives also include improving aviation safety, so working closely with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation is essential. In addition, funding will help preserve and improve community airports, and encourage learning to fly for both career and personal benefit.

This is a comprehensive fundraising campaign. All tax-deductible donations made to the AOPA Foundation or the AOPA Air Safety Foundation will count towards this ambitious goal. We hope that every AOPA member will participate. Members interested in learning more about the AOPA Foundation and/or making gifts online should visit the Web site.

Harvey W. Cohen
AOPA Foundation Executive Vice President