President's Position: Looking West

Fully committed to building the pilot community

November 1, 2012

Craig Fuller

Well, we’re back from a wonderful AOPA Aviation Summit in Palm Springs, California! First, we owe the fine citizens and their elected officials in Palm Springs the thanks of a grateful general aviation community. We thank you all for making us feel so welcome throughout our stay—from our Parade of Planes to the forums and exhibits. Day after day, everything that could be done was done to make the AOPA Summit a success.

We reported from the scene in Palm Springs and we will provide more complete coverage in a future issue of AOPA Pilot and in the AOPA Live archives.

From the moment I set foot on the tarmac in Palm Springs, I sensed the excitement of our fellow aviators who found a trip to Southern California a great way to engage with all of us at AOPA. These gatherings really do renew the spirit and remind us of what a special community we share.

Even before the official start of AOPA Summit, we met with people interested in hearing more about our flight training initiative, which has now grown into The Center to Advance the Pilot Community. This center, led by Adam Smith, builds on our work around improving the flight-training experience and also looks to develop support for flying clubs and other programs that strengthen and build all that is good in general aviation.

Just a few days before going to AOPA Summit, another set of events took me to the Northwest.

First stop was in the Willamette Valley of Oregon where I had a chance to spend a weekend with a good number of our AOPA supporters. It also proved to be a wonderful chance to drop in on Richard (“Van”) VanGrunsven, the founder and leader of Van’s Aircraft. We sat and talked about the state of general aviation today. And, at Van’s, it’s pretty good. They expect to ship more than 600 kits this year and believe that more than 450 of their aircraft may be completed this year. Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined me for the discussions and we were very impressed with Van’s operation, where the focus is on advancing techniques to make the assembly of these fine aircraft both more efficient and safer. In fact, safety and training are topics the Van’s team is quite knowledgeable about and were the focus of much of our conversation.

Oregon sunshine (yes, that’s right) gave way to wind and rain during our arrival in Anchorage, Alaska. My visits to Alaska, where GA is so much a part of life, always advance my knowledge of what’s new in aviation. Our fellow aviators deal with the harshest of environments every day. Many have been using ADS-B technology for more than a decade and eagerly share the benefits and their concerns about future challenges.

During this trip, I joined colleagues who lead the National Business Aviation Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and the National Air Transportation Association in a day of events with U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Begich not only represents the citizens of Alaska, he also co-chairs the General Aviation Caucus in the U.S. Senate. Our respect for his leadership brought us out of Washington, D.C., and gave us all a chance to connect with passionate aviators.

I left Alaska and flew south to California. Since I learned to fly in the San Francisco Bay area, I never cease to be a bit in awe of the beauty of the geography, and flying in the region always feels a bit like coming home. We had views of all the bridges and the entire bay as we approached the city from the north. This visit gave me the chance to help the West Valley Flying Club celebrate its fortieth anniversary. During its four decades, this flying club has touched the lives of almost 11,000 pilots. It was a real treat to share the enthusiasm these aviators have for the next 40 years.

Finally, I stopped in at Pilatus at its North American headquarters near Boulder, Colorado. Located at Rocky Mountain Airport, this operation is larger than I’d imagined, processing around 60 aircraft from multiple hangars. The Pilatus aircraft make the trip from Switzerland in three days. Then, the North American team transforms them into the beautiful and efficient aircraft we are seeing around the country in growing numbers. The focus and determination of the Pilatus executives gives a visitor the impression that we are likely to see even more PC–12s in the months ahead.

These meetings with members and manufacturers allowed me to return to AOPA’s base in the East knowing our aviators in the West are fully committed to building our aviation community across the nation.

AOPA president Craig Fuller is an active general aviation pilot who has been flying for more than 35 years. Email craig@aopa.org.