Come Fly with Us

What tomorrow will bring--affecting the future of flying

May 1, 2012

AOPA Chief Operating Officer Rob Moran, AOPA President Craig Fuller, and the senior staff of AOPA have looked to the future and concluded: “What got us here, won’t get us there,” Moran said.

“A recipe for success in these turbulent times calls for an artful combination of quality service in our essential areas [advocacy, media, information, safety], expansion in areas of growth and opportunity, and exploration into new and game-changing possibilities,” he said. “You will see AOPA strengthening its core functions and moving thoughtfully—and with clear intent and purpose—into new opportunities in the coming year.”

Several factors contributed to the leadership’s thinking. Careful in-depth research helped draft a full review of the association’s future. AOPA’s tradition and legacy served as a constant guide as we evaluated our organizational capacity, developing an exceptional staff, and ensuring a steady track record of accomplishments. “We have an extraordinary profile with good credibility and strong record of successful advocacy; however, we cannot be complacent and we must avoid the limitations and obstacles introduced by expectations and assumptions,” Moran said.

The second realization that emerged is the organization’s changing economic base. “As advertising revenues shifted, the budget to fuel our world-class infrastructure became vulnerable, requiring us to identify other revenue sources and capitalize on them,” he said.

And, finally, AOPA has heard a clear and resounding message from its members and the GA community. Simply stated, we cannot tolerate pilot declines, challenges to GA airports, poor public understanding of GA’s image and contribution, and stagnation in the airframe industry. AOPA must act.

As Moran noted, “Our members and the pilot community look to AOPA to take the lead—whether in the formation of a coalition to collaboratively address a specific issue or the introduction of innovation or creative solutions, the expectation is palpable. With the encouragement and mandate from the AOPA Board of Trustees, we will make a significant investment in the future.”

Preserving the freedom to fly

AOPA’s mission—preserving the freedom to fly—is the focal point as the organization looks to the future. It has identified two key elements. The first is to affirm that at AOPA we act on behalf of our members. “We have a decidedly pilot point of view,” said Moran. This will guide efforts to refine flight training and target segments of the membership that present unique needs and desires, and has clarified the role and contribution AOPA will make in the new product arena.

The second element is a fuller appreciation of AOPA’s role as “enabler,” Moran said. “Closely connected to and supportive of our mission to preserve the freedom to fly is our ability to ensure that activities, programs, conditions, and assets necessary to capitalize on this overarching promise are in place.”

This has generated a short list of guiding principles that set the stage:

  • Link all activities to the mission;
  • Keep it simple and straight forward;
  • Act decisively, with agility and clear intent;
  • Continue our collaborative tradition;
  • Accept the reality that we may challenge the status quo;
  • Be willing to take risks and fail forward;
  • Pay attention to our brand and help our members and the GA community understand where we are going and how we are going to get there.

New initiatives

There are several initiatives planned that demonstrate how this process is being translated to action. The first is the expansion of the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative that began in 2010 and is moving into an execution phase where materials and activities to support student pilots, as well as flight instructors and flight schools, will be published and made available to the broad market. And, as part of this initiative, we will announce the first AOPA Excellence in Flight Training award winners at the AOPA Aviation Summit in October.

“In addition, we recently launched a new center in AOPA that will intensify our efforts to impact and improve the flight training experience while also serving the larger needs of the pilot population. It is imperative that we make growing and supporting the pilot population a priority for the benefit of the entire general aviation community,” said Moran. “This is part of a larger effort to renew our focus on providing AOPA members with the best tools, information, and services for the way they fly now and in the future.” This new center will be home to programs that focus on attracting and keeping pilots, including the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative, AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards, research to evaluate and test innovations and new approaches to the training experience, and a return to the sky program for lapsed pilots.

“By bringing these elements together we want to focus attention on the full range of efforts needed to successfully grow the pilot population and demonstrate AOPA’s long-term commitment to keeping general aviation strong,” Moran said. The new endeavor will focus on the pilot as consumer [product evaluation, regulations, government affairs] and the community of pilots, including flying clubs.

“The world around us is changing in profound ways. Our research and conversations with members and stakeholders have both reinforced and created a real sense of urgency for us,” Moran said. AOPA will be putting muscle behind initiatives and programs that enhance the image of GA and help it to grow. AOPA will focus on a wide range of activities. Efforts to introduce more young people to the joy of flying will be essential.

Additionally, outreach to the military is under way and AOPA has increased its outreach to international members. “We have approached the international aviation community in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration,” Moran said. “Our message: Let’s create a global community where we will share best practices, work in tandem, and design the ideal next era in general aviation,” Moran said.

AOPA is evaluating the contribution it can make to the crucial youth arena. “Recently we joined with Build A Plane to support that association’s initiative Kids Across America, which encourages kids to attend AirVenture in Oshkosh,” Moran said. “One of the key considerations in making this decision was its link to STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] programs in the school system.”

Core strengths

AOPA continues to focus on its core strengths. There are many programs, initiatives, and existing organizational capacity that demonstrate AOPA’s investment in the future.

We want to focus attention on the full range of efforts needed to successfully grow the pilot population and demonstrate AOPA’s long-term commitment to keeping general aviation strong.

The association has restructured its nationwide representation to focus on seven full-time regional managers who will act as the local eyes and ears of the organization, establishing AOPA’s presence in communities. The AOPA Government Affairs Division is active in the 2012 election. AOPA leaders will attend both the Republican and Democratic conventions and advocate for AOPA’s mission and goals, while also honoring the many state and federal officials who support GA.

Collaborative efforts with other aviation associations remain important. The petition submitted by AOPA and EAA for exemption from the third class medical requirement for recreational flying is only the most recent example our collaborative efforts can produce.

Across the organization, integral member programs and services will continue to be enhanced and improved. AOPA’s Pilot Information Center, with its depth and experience—recognized by members as an invaluable benefit of membership—has extended its hours in the evening and weekends to better serve pilots.

The Media Division, which has the skill and tenacity to continue excelling in these economically challenged times, will be the nexus for all information coming into and going out of the organization (look for a major redesign of AOPA Pilot in June).

The AOPA Foundation will capitalize on its potential and will continue to preserve and protect the freedom to fly.

“Just as a pilot calculates the best route for every flight, an organization needs to have a plan to fulfill its mission,” Moran said. “AOPA has a plan and a well-defined mission. While we continue to provide high-quality services, we will simultaneously explore and capitalize on new opportunities with the potential to bring added value to our members—and, thus, further our mission.”

Email the author at julie.walker@aopa.org.