President's Position

Pent-up demand--are you ready?

April 1, 2012

 

It is always wonderful to move into spring. This year—at least at our headquarters home in Frederick, Maryland—we saw very little winter weather.

Still, getting our aircraft out and about without the icing factor is a treat. Craig Fuller

This also is the time of year that we think of as the start of flying season—the time when the calendar of general aviation events really starts to fill up.

However, as we enter April, I realized that I’ve already enjoyed the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, Florida. Then I marveled at the very large and well-attended Helicopter Association International show in Dallas. And, just in late February, I enjoyed a return visit to the popular Northwest Aviation Conference. I even had a chance to attend a large dinner of the Washington State Seaplane Pilots Association.

All this happened before Sun ’n Fun! And, of course, we always look to the annual event in Lakeland to see thousands of our members in the East who come to enjoy the Florida sun.

At all of these events, I really enjoy the chance to share stories about where people are flying. There was a good deal of interest in our very picturesque—not to mention fun— flight to the Bahamas ( “Another Day, Another Island,” March 2012 AOPA Pilot). Our team really did a fine job capturing the beauty of this adventure, and we hope others will explore their own adventure just off the Florida coast in the Bahamas.

Of course, the Northwest offers its own form of adventure. In fact, during the Northwest Aviation Conference, I again had the good fortune to meet over dinner with the leaders of pilot organizations from five western states. It was a great opportunity to learn firsthand what was happening in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. And, while we did speak about the big issues that affect our flying, the conversation soon turned to some of the great backcountry airports I need to visit in my Husky.

Everywhere I’ve traveled during the first quarter of this year, I’ve heard praise for AOPA’s formidable federal and state advocacy work. At the same time, whenever I spend more than a few minutes with a group of my fellow pilots, the conversation is sure to turn to where we have flown and where we might fly in the future. It is a constant reminder of how important it is to share the experience of flying with others.

I do think that our mood as a nation is improving slowly. Consumer confidence is drifting back up, albeit slowly. Of course, fuel prices are also drifting up! But, the point is that people are coming out in growing numbers to explore what general aviation is all about. They are attending shows. They are exploring our websites to focus on learning to fly. There is a genuine pent-up demand for flying, and this is a great thing—if we are ready.

To me, it is becoming increasingly clear that we will experience a shortage of pilots, which is why we at AOPA are so focused on sharing what we know about successful flight training. We want people to have a good experience right from the start, and we took two years to really understand what makes for a good and successful flight training experience. I’ve spoken about our flight training initiatives at every event this year, and many of you have already become part of this initiative to improve flight training in a very important way—by sharing your experience of success.

We have made it very easy to nominate any flight training organization or instructor for an AOPA Excellence in Flight Training Award. You just fill out a nomination survey that walks you through the most important areas of successful training based on our research. It’s all online.

As you share your flight training success with others, I hope you will encourage them to look at this site. We also provide something new called MyFlightTraining. This provides every individual interested in learning to fly one place to go where they can share and receive information tailored specifically to their own experience.

Every day I visit with people who ask where I’ve been and what I’m flying. We know we can attract people to flying. But, once we attract them to explore flying, we must stop losing them for reasons that are within our ability to change.

What encourages us is that we see changes for the better all the time. Recently, I visited San Marcos Airport in Texas to see the new, unique programs offered at the new training facilities at Skyport FBO, built by Redbird. Its simulators play a very large role in the training experience at the facility, and the company is seeing dramatic and positive results. The bottom line is that we can improve the training experience, and we can build our numbers.

Whether you belong to AOPA because you want to be engaged in the advocacy side of our mission or just to maximize your own enjoyment of flying, we all depend on having a growing constituency to protect our freedom to fly. That freedom is threatened as the number of active pilots declines. For all these reasons, I do hope you will join us in recognizing flight training programs that work—and in sharing your own flying experiences with others. To be honest, our future depends on it.

Email AOPA President Craig Fuller at craig@aopa.org.