January 1, 2013
Craig Fuller, AOPA President and CEO
AOPA’s Vision statement AOPA is the beacon for those who cherish the freedom to fly. It demonstrates what is possible when a determined organization listens to its members, collaborates with its colleagues, finds solutions with its partners in government, and focuses its resources—all to secure the future of general aviation. AOPA’s success is proof that the public good can be served while individual freedoms are preserved.
With the national elections behind us, a new year ahead of us, and the economy just maybe starting to show some signs of growth, the time is right for those passionate about flying to help draw general aviation out of its 30-year decline—no easy task and one that will require collaboration throughout the GA community.
2013 is a pivotal year to make that happen. There’s a lot going on that will affect your flying—in the short term, and in the long term. We blast you with a lot of information, but if you read nothing else from us this year, please take a few minutes and read about our initiatives and why we believe they are important. If you agree, tell your friends. If you disagree, tell us why. We’ll listen and nudge the yoke a little left or right as we traverse the turbulent but promising future.
AOPA’s mission statement says that “we preserve the freedom to fly.” I stand by that statement. In fact, it’s more important than ever as general aviation struggles with economic, regulatory, and demographic challenges. But in my mind, these are not just challenges—they are opportunities. With your support, we can reverse the trend from GA decline to GA growth.
As AOPA prepares for its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2014, we know that the organization and all of general aviation must evolve in order to preserve for our children and grandchildren the sort of flying experiences we enjoy. If we don’t act, we can see our future across the Atlantic in Europe. Stifled by heavy fees and over-regulation, pilots there recognize how fortunate we are in this country and encourage us to be vigilant.
I spend a lot of time with AOPA members and pilots of all types. Whether I am flying my Husky in the backcountry, discussing the issues at town-hall-style events, or taking part in one of the many big conventions and airshows throughout the year, I meet pilots who fly just about every type of aircraft for every imaginable reason. Without exception, they tell me they want AOPA to play a leadership role in moving GA forward—and the survey responses, emails, and phone calls we get confirm that the feeling is widespread.
For 2013, AOPA has developed priorities that help us advance our freedom to fly: Protecting the freedom to fly through our unflagging commitment to advocacy; sharing the freedom to fly by providing information and extending knowledge through our print and electronic media outlets; and building on the freedom to fly by inspiring and engaging the next generation of pilots, while helping today’s pilots find cost-effective ways to spend more time flying.
One of the things AOPA does very well is advocate for our members and all of general aviation—in fact, if you’re familiar with my background, you know that advocacy is a central theme of my professional life. Along with the ability to fly my Husky, advocating for general aviation is what gets me up in the morning—and I don’t think I’m bragging when I say AOPA is really good at it. Our legislative affairs staff in Washington, D.C. is among the strongest and most respected of any aviation organization. And we routinely partner with other associations to maximize general aviation’s presence in Washington. Our focus there is unwavering.
That’s why we were ready when we saw that user fees would be a threat in the 2010 budget. We acted quickly to bolster our expert staff with support from outside counsel; looked for new ways to educate members of Congress; and used the power of the web, video, and celebrities to influence opinions about the value of general aviation. We asked Harrison Ford, a passionate aviator and respected actor, to be the national spokesman for our GA Serves America campaign. His message made an impression on both lawmakers and the public.
Recognizing the importance of GA to our national transportation system and economy, forward-thinking members of Congress formed GA caucuses in both the House and Senate—groups that have grown to be among the largest on Capitol Hill. With the help of our friends in Congress and the awareness generated by Harrison Ford and others, we saw user fees stripped from the budget. Similarly, in 2011 powerful lawmakers in both chambers, many of them GA caucus members, sent letters to the White House with a reminder that any budget including aviation user fees or “segment fees” would not be accepted. Again, we were victorious. No doubt, the idea of user fees will return in one form or another, and we are ever vigilant on the issue. But the point is, we laid a strong strategic foundation for support, and it has worked.
Federal issues such as user fees have the greatest visibility, but we can’t overlook the importance of what happens outside the beltway when it comes to keeping flying accessible. New regional managers located around the country and a team of state advocates in our Maryland headquarters make strategic plans every day regarding state and local issues. As a result of our diligence, no new aviation taxes have been implemented in any state in the past two years, and in some cases, existing taxes have been rolled back. These efforts will save owners and pilots some $100 million a year in state taxes and fees.
Much of our success must be measured this way—by noting what didn’t happen. Our dedicated staff frequently quashes potentially onerous regulations and burdensome fees before they ever make it to the Federal Register or into state tax codes—and well before most pilots even learn of the threat.
While the majority of pilots may never hear about the threats brewing behind the scenes in state houses, pilots are acutely aware of the challenges facing their own airports. That’s why we rely on you, our fellow pilots, to keep us informed so we can help protect individual airports. Advocating for airports has been at the core of AOPA’s existence for nearly 75 years, and now with our 2,300 Airport Support Network volunteers at local airports, we’re more effective than ever at nipping local problems in the bud.
In 2012, we helped keep many airports open, from remote strips to thriving reliever fields. At Hay Springs, a grass strip in Nebraska, an ASN volunteer based at an airport 30 miles away worked with AOPA and local pilots to make the case that the airport, although small, provides real benefits to the community. Faced with so much support for the airport, the local city council backed away from plans to close the field.
Meanwhile at the much larger Venice, Florida, airport, Venice city council members launched a series of actions designed to decrease or restrict airport operations. AOPA worked closely with local pilots, the Venice Aviation Society Inc., the Venice Aviation Business Association, and area ASN volunteers to win approval for the airport’s master plan and associated improvements at the field. The collaborative effort led to the election of new city council members and new investment in the airport.
In addition to the traditional advocacy that forms a core focus for AOPA, other types of issues are causing us to take a close look at what it really means to preserve the freedom to fly. The same members who tell me they worry about the potential impact of user fees are urging us to take direct aim at the biggest threats to general aviation—threats such as the declining pilot population— that transcend the traditional boundaries of legislation, taxation, and infrastructure.
We’re committed to addressing these complex issues, but even with nearly 400,000 members; aviation’s largest media operation; and the most influential aviation advocates in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country, AOPA can’t change the future of GA on our own.
Even when we’re solo in the cockpit, a team has made it possible. We depend on the weather briefers who provide detailed forecasts, the air traffic controllers who help guide us on our way, and the many other folks from mechanics to fuelers who help us complete each journey safely. Similarly, AOPA needs the support of its members, the counsel and resources of industry partners, and the wisdom of forward-looking legislators and FAA leaders to advance general aviation and stem the decline.
The key to reversing the 30-year decline in pilot numbers is a multifaceted approach that will bring in new pilots, help today’s pilots stay active longer, and return lapsed pilots to the skies.
In 2010 we conducted what has become a landmark research project that highlighted the primary reasons students drop out of training, sometimes at the rate of 80 percent. Those findings have guided us over the past two years as we developed best practices to help flight schools and instructors create success for their students. We’ve shared what we’ve learned in a range of formats, including a new set of Flight Training Field Guides designed to help students, instructors, and schools collaborate to create the best possible training experience.
We further bolstered the program this year with the introduction of the Flight Training Excellence Awards, which recognize flight schools and instructors who are doing it right. Some 2,400 nominations poured in for these awards in our first year. It’s too soon to tell how effective these techniques will be in stemming the dropout rate, but we believe we’re on the right path and will continue to expand our efforts on this front. continued
Keeping existing pilots engaged is another challenge. We believe better access to affordable aircraft and the supportive community available through flying clubs will go a long way toward helping pilots fly more. To that end, last fall we kicked off an initiative to provide flying clubs with the resources they need to be more successful, similar to what we did with flight schools and CFIs. In November, 630 people registered for our first webinar on establishing flying clubs, and our database of more than 650 flying clubs is growing. Our goal is 1,000 flying clubs within five years. Perhaps it’s time you got involved in—or started—a club at your airport. We can provide the resources to help.
These initiatives to increase the pilot population are housed in the new Center to Advance the Pilot Community at AOPA. This new entity is just getting organized, but we believe it can have a significant impact on the future of general aviation by creating a place where complex issues can receive the sustained, expert attention they deserve.
We also want to encourage young people to pursue their interest in aviation, so this past summer we launched the AV8Rs program, which provides a free AOPA membership to teens ages 13 to 18. The membership includes a free subscription to the digital edition of Flight Training magazine, access to social networking sites just for these members, and other resources and events.
Similarly, we are now providing free one-year memberships to active military members with an interest in aviation. Our surveys show service members—many of whom are exposed to aviation in the military even if they aren’t pilots—have a strong interest in learning to fly, and we’re happy to help.
Flying clubs and special memberships for teens and military personnel are just some of the activities we are backing to help make aviation more accessible, affordable, and fun. The pilots here at AOPA have a long history of innovation around flight planning. Our first online flight planner launched in 1999, along with online access to our airports database. In partnership with Jeppesen, our first electronic flight planner with a graphical interface came online in 2003, designed to help pilots avoid the many temporary flight restrictions that were popping up after the 2001 terrorist attacks. An upgrade in 2006 created a purely web-based flight planner for easier access. In 2008 we rebuilt our AOPA Airports online pages and, working with WingX and ForeFlight, launched mobile versions for a variety of smartphones. Last spring, working with a new partner, Seattle Avionics, we debuted the FlyQ Pocket mobile airports directory, weather center, and flight planner for iPhone—followed in the summer with an Android version. We took the next step in mobile flight planning in the fall with the introduction of FlyQ EFB for iPad, which expands on the FlyQ capabilities by adding moving maps, geo-referenced approach charts, and synthetic vision for use in the cockpit. FlyQ Pocket remains free to members while FlyQ EFB is available at a member discount.
Always looking for ways to create new value for pilots and leverage the best from industry partners, our passionate aviators will continue to seek new products and services that increase the value of aviation.
Creating an app is one thing. Creating a new airplane is quite another. Aircraft manufacturers continue to struggle under the burden of outdated and cumbersome certification rules that stifle innovation and safety advances, which leads us back to advocacy’s role in advancing the freedom to fly. AOPA is in the middle of a group of industry associations and the FAA in attempting to simplify aircraft certification as a means of lowering cost and spurring innovation.
I am pleased with how receptive the FAA has been to the idea of the FAR Part 23 rewrite, which is led by the agency and the industry through an aviation rulemaking committee, of which AOPA is a part. In fact, this initiative is moving at breakneck speed by regulatory standards. We expect to have a set of recommendations by spring that will simplify the process of certifying new light airplanes and will also offer more effective ways of adding safety-enhancing equipment to our existing aircraft. Over the next few years those regulations will allow manufacturers to more cost-effectively develop new models and infuse new safety technology into existing airplanes. This effort should help drive down the cost of new airplanes and modifications to legacy airplanes. This is just the shot in the arm we need for our aging fleet. Look for more on this project throughout the year.
In tandem with that is the industry’s transition to an unleaded fuel. It would be easy to bury our heads in the tarmac and pretend that 100LL is a viable fuel indefinitely. It is not—and it is not only for the environmental reason you may assume. In fact, it is also an economic problem. Yes, the small amount of lead in our fuel has caught the attention of environmental groups and the government, but that’s not a new issue. The real reason to make the transition is that with the decline in flying, 100LL has become a boutique fuel that relies on one source in the world for the lead additive. That lead prohibits the easy transport of avgas, further driving up the cost and decreasing availability. The solution is a new unleaded fuel, but until last summer the process for even considering the merits of any candidate fuels didn’t exist. In part because of AOPA’s participation on another aviation rulemaking committee, the framework of the process has now been defined and we can get on with the business of evaluating candidate fuels and judging their ability to meet the needs of general aviation for decades to come. This is a long and complex process, but we have secured assurances that 100LL will be available until a workable replacement is in place.
As I said in the beginning, 2013 is a pivotal year. One reason is that we may finally hear a response from the FAA on the petition we crafted with EAA to give pilots who fly recreationally the option of getting a third class medical or, instead, using their valid driver’s license and participating in a recurrent online education program that will teach them how to self-assess their fitness to fly. Pilots in this category spend millions annually on medical certificates that bring little to no benefit to society. Nearly a decade’s worth of data from sport pilots who self-certify their medical fitness shows that medical incapacitation is not a significant causal factor in aircraft accidents. If we are successful in this initiative, we can further study the results to understand if expansion is warranted, further lowering cost and removing barriers for pilots in the future.
Growing the pilot population, simplifying regulations, lowering costs, expanding aviation. As you can see, the AOPA agenda in 2013 is full. But success promises an exciting future for our passion of flight. Yes, there are many more issues to tackle—NextGen implementation, for instance. But we are hard at work on that front, too.
We’re chipping away at the problems and, with your support, we will be effective. How can you help? You can help first and foremost by renewing your AOPA membership and encouraging others to join. Your membership is the basis for everything we do, but membership dues cover only about one third of what it costs to pursue the many initiatives aimed at preserving our freedom to fly. You can also show your support by donating to the AOPA Foundation and buying AOPA products that you believe are a good value for the way you fly and live. Through the AOPA Foundation and its Air Safety Institute, we give away thousands of dollars in scholarships, create live and online safety courses for the benefit of all, and help fund many of the initiatives I’ve talked about here. I hope you’ll also help by giving us your feedback. If you disagree with our tactics or direction, tell us. If you like what we’re doing, encourage others to take a second look at AOPA.
I’m optimistic about what we can achieve in 2013 and beyond. While we may not always agree, at the end of the day we’re all passionate about aviation. If we keep the advancement of GA as our North Star, I am confident we can find ways to work together to strengthen general aviation.
AOPA is an organization that is going places—working every day for the benefit of all of us who fly. But we can only do it with your help, and so I want to say, as always, thank you for your support.
Stay tuned for more in 2013.
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Safety and Education,
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