President's Position: Journey to a center

A new pathway to success

October 1, 2012

Craig Fuller

Early in October, we will announce the creation of the AOPA Center to Advance the Pilot Community. I want you to be the first to know about this. And I want to tell you about the journey that has led to this important and exciting moment. During the past couple of years, all of us at AOPA have been working to determine how to build the pilot population and, beyond that, how to keep pilots motivated to fly. We began by sorting through the various approaches used today and then we drilled into understanding the differences between what is successful and what fails.

There are plenty of people who focus on the problems, but we’ve spent our time focused on the successes. We’ve learned a great deal and found allies nationwide who are ready to embrace initiatives that work. Now we are launching the AOPA Center to Advance the Pilot Community so we can share what we’ve discovered and keep finding new pathways to success.

We started where there was an obvious problem. Far too many student pilots never become private pilots. What dashes the hopes and aspirations of more than 70 percent of student pilots while fewer than 30 percent go on to earn a pilot certificate? This question drove months of research and a year of conversations across the training industry.

We think we’ve learned the answers. We traveled and listened to successful student pilots, to unsuccessful student pilots, to flight instructors, and to flight schools. Now it is imperative that we share what we know about creating a successful training experience.

We’ve made our research available online ( www.aopa.org/ftinitiative) and given students the My Flight Training website ( www.myft.org), where they can access information tailored to their training experience and celebrate milestones along the way. We’ve launched the AOPA Excellence in Flight Training Awards to recognize schools and instructors that do it right. We’ve created a series of three field guides to help students, instructors, and schools collaborate to create the optimum flight training experience. For future pilots we’ve developed a special free AOPA membership, AOPA AV8Rs, to help teens launch their flying dreams.

Of course, learning to fly is just one step. And, that brings us to a fact that has overarching implications for the entire aviation community. It is simple, obvious, and all too often overlooked: Pilots and aspiring pilots want to be part of a community of people who share a passion for flying. We saw this in the research first. Then, we really started to connect the dots. Where do people seem to be really using their aircraft? Where are students embraced and encouraged to continue learning? Where can you get affordable access to aircraft?

We realized that the “community” so many seemed to be longing for exists within the most successful flying clubs. We also realized that flying clubs across the country long to grow and share information. This realization sent us back to do more research and form an advisory group with leaders from 11 successful flying clubs. Working with them, we are developing an approach that we believe will help bolster and support a network of clubs, giving more pilots access to the community they crave.

The Center to Advance the Pilot Community is being created to house all of our activities related to growing the pilot population and keeping today’s pilots in the air. We want to help lapsed pilots return to the skies and help current pilots fly more. We plan to do more research to unlock new insights. We will commit to continuous learning as we broaden our reach and share what we know. I am committing our full energy to the launch and development of the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Aviation advocate Adam Smith will lead the center as its senior vice president (see “Briefing: Adam Smith Joins AOPA,” page 41).

In the weeks and months ahead, we will take our message across the country. Over the decades, the Air Safety Institute has proven that we can build a stronger aviation base by sharing important information far and wide. I am determined to see our center do the same. But we cannot do it alone. We need others to join the cause. And you can do so, by donating to the AOPA Foundation ( www.aopafoundation.org) and supporting its efforts to raise funds for the center.

The challenges we face have developed over many years. But, we have seen the face of success in flight training and in strong pilot communities. It will take time, but this mission is, as it must be, at the heart of our effort to ensure that we will continue to enjoy the freedom to fly. I hope you will be among the first to offer a measure of support. Learn more about how you can help on our website in the coming months as we take this exciting cause across the country!

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