President's Position: Behind the curtain

October 1, 2013

mark bakerA change in leadership is no small thing for any organization, especially one that has had only a handful of presidents in nearly 75 years. So in this, my very first column for AOPA Pilot, let me say how proud and excited I am to be AOPA’s fifth president.

You may already know I’m a passionate pilot who has flown many airplanes and has a soft spot for the Super Cub. But you can read more about my own aviation and professional journeys elsewhere in this issue (see “A Passion for Aviation,” page 58). This is my chance to speak directly to you, my fellow members, and I’d like to talk about what AOPA means to me and where I see us going.

I should start by saying that I have been an AOPA member since 1987, and I’ve always viewed membership as a great value. The advocacy is unmatched. I’ve taken advantage of the expertise of the Pilot Information Center and other AOPA services when purchasing aircraft. And, like some of you, I have storage bins full of past issues of AOPA Pilot that I just can’t bear to part with.

Now, in my first days as president of AOPA, I’ve had the chance to do something most members rarely get to do—pull back the curtain and see what happens behind the scenes. I quickly realized there is much more to this organization than I ever imagined. To borrow a phrase from my years in the world of business, AOPA has created a strong value proposition for its members. I want to make it even stronger. Before I accepted this role, I asked myself, Do I believe I can make a difference for aviation? The answer was yes or I wouldn’t be here today. Now that I’m in the job, I’m asking a slightly different question: How can we make a difference for GA?

I hold a powerful belief that AOPA draws its strength from its members. I know I can learn a great deal from you. So over the coming weeks and months, I will be trying to talk to as many members as possible and actively seeking your honest feedback. I want to gather all the information and member input I can and use that to help chart AOPA’s course into the future.

If I break it down into its simplest components, my job as AOPA president is to understand member objectives, align resources to meet those objectives, and hold myself and my team accountable for achieving them. Of course, reality is rarely that straightforward. Working in a complex political and regulatory environment is messy. But the fundamental principles remain the same, and I will return to them again and again to measure our success and improve our performance.

It’s no accident that AOPA has been around for 75 years, and we need to respect the original vision of the founders. Protecting our freedom to fly is just as important—and at least as tough—as it was in 1939. Continuing the journey our founders began is at the heart of my own vision for AOPA’s future.

To keep that vision alive through the next 75 years and beyond, we need to create and improve access to aviation and airports. Remember the days when kids could ride their bikes to the airport and watch the airplanes take off and land? How many young people were first inspired to fly in just that way? I know I was. Today’s security environment may make that impossible at some fields, but there are ways we can and should welcome more people onto our airports and into our community.

And let’s not forget one important truth that sometimes gets lost in the hard work of protecting our freedom to fly: Flying is fun!

Whether we fly for business, personal transportation, or any other reason, we also fly because we love it. We fly because it improves our lives in some way, whether that means reaching new markets, having more time with our kids, experiencing new destinations, or all of the above. Over the years I have flown hard for business, putting plenty of hours and countless miles on a variety of great aircraft. But I’ve also flown because any day that involves flying is a good day.

Enthusiasm is contagious, and pilots are nothing if not enthusiastic about what we do. The general aviation community is filled with energetic, creative, engaged people. Let’s take that energy and put it to work to create a future where everyone can not only dream of flying, they can do it.

Email mark@aopa.org