September 1, 2013
By Craig L. Fuller
The economic turmoil that started half a decade ago has not been kind to general aviation. Like almost all segments of society, pilots have seen their jobs disappear, their savings erode, home equity evaporate, and their incomes stagnate at the same time that fuel prices in particular have soared. The resulting reduction in flying has impacted aviation companies and associations alike. As with other organizations, AOPA has not been immune from the economic doldrums. While the organization’s 2012 revenue was down some 15 percent from 2008, forcing a reduction in expenses, AOPA’s effectiveness in its core missions of advocacy and pilot information remain focused, intact, and world-class.
Members consistently insist that advocacy be job one for AOPA, and from that we have not wavered. Efforts around advocacy, representation, and outreach consume 31 percent of total revenue, a slight increase from 2011 that partly is a result of major new initiatives to stabilize and grow the pilot population. Stemming the 30-year decline in the pilot population has become a significant goal for AOPA. Starting with our now landmark flight training initiative study in 2010, the organization has focused through its new Center to Advance the Pilot Community on finding new resources for improving the student pilot completion rate; helping existing pilots fly more, and more cost effectively, through flying clubs; and identifying ways to bring lapsed pilots back into the community.
Our Government Affairs team works on Capitol Hill, at the FAA and other agencies, and at the state and local levels to fend off onerous legislation and regulation that can stifle aviation and our freedom to fly. With great support in Congress through the GA caucuses, we’ve defeated attempts at user fees. At the state level, work by our regional and state affairs teams has saved pilots hundreds of millions of dollars through tax reductions and by defeating proposed tax increases. For five years running, AOPA has battled every state aviation fuel tax increase proposal and won, saving pilots millions of dollars.
With the support of local pilot groups, more than 2,500 AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers, and seven regional managers, our crack team of state affairs specialists worked some 374 issues in all 50 states last year. Most significantly, in Florida a state sales tax exemption on aviation maintenance will save pilots $16 million to $20 million a year. Meanwhile, in Michigan—after years of attempts by lawmakers to raise new fees for airport improvement—AOPA initiated and got a bill passed that dedicates a portion of the existing aviation fuel tax to aviation infrastructure, and stopped the call for new fees.
Every day, technical specialists work on important regulatory issues, including carving a path to a new unleaded aviation fuel, working with the FAA and industry to decrease onerous aircraft certification costs, bring sanity to pilot medical certification requirements, and to keep Department of Homeland Security agents from running roughshod over pilot liberties and privacy.
On a more personal level, aviation and membership specialists in two call centers last year responded to some 275,000 member inquiries, running the gamut from membership renewals and medical situations to interpretations of the most technical regulations. Even as we reduced expenses elsewhere, we have increased the investment in the Pilot Information Center and extended its hours to 8 p.m. Eastern to better serve members nationwide.
Part of what allows our legislative and regulatory staffs to be so effective is the ability to educate members on major issues and then engage them politically in support of our causes. To that end, we use numerous communication channels to reach members wherever they are—in print, at a desktop computer, on a mobile device, or on their web-enabled television. Our award-winning media products lead all others in aviation in their quality and effectiveness. AOPA Pilot is by far the largest aviation publication in the world. Flight Training is the only publication dedicated to the support of student pilots and CFIs, and ranks fourth in size among aviation magazines. Both offer interactive digital editions that include embedded video and other rich media. AOPA Online is updated multiple times a day with the latest aviation news and AOPA positions. AOPA ePilot succinctly delivers the week’s news in an email newsletter format. Aviation eBrief every business day consolidates aviation news from around the Web.
All of these channels form a foundation for sharing our growing library of video content. Every Thursday, AOPA Live This Week uses video to tell great stories and relate industry news while educating members about issues in Washington, D.C., and across the land. Started in May 2012 and available on desktops, mobile devices, and on television through Roku and other Internet set-top devices, the weekly show has grown to be the largest such effort in aviation (see “On a Screen Near You,” page 75).
Our robust media offerings consume a significant portion of our expense budget, but much of that is offset through advertiser support. While our share of the advertising market is as strong as ever, total advertising revenue is down dramatically since 2008 as aviation companies have been forced to cut expenses. Nonetheless, knowing the importance of such information to members, we have found ways to support and grow our media efforts even in times of reduced budgets.
Another area where we’ve reduced expenses is in membership marketing. Because of the declining pilot population, we have focused our marketing efforts on the pilots and prospective pilots most likely to join and renew with the organization. As a result of the narrowed marketing efforts and changing population, the membership number has naturally declined during the past five years from a high of about 414,000 to about 385,000. Instead of using expensive marketing dollars to chase long-lapsed pilots unlikely to join and renew, we have instead focused those efforts on building a stronger base for the future. To that end, we now offer active-duty military a free one-year membership. Our AV8Rs youth program provides a free membership to youth ages 13 to 18. The AV8Rs receive the digital edition of Flight Training magazine monthly, email newsletters featuring aviation accomplishments by young people, a chance at aviation scholarships for camps and education, and a host of other benefits.
You can help these efforts most importantly by renewing your own membership, especially through our cost-effective automatic annual renewal program, which charges your credit card for your annual dues in the month of expiration—saving you from lugging a lot of renewal notices in from the mailbox and saving expenses for AOPA. You also can help underwrite the cost of military and youth memberships by making additional donations to the AOPA Foundation on your renewal form.
In an effort to continue to fund such efforts, AOPA as it has done for decades is continually evaluating new services that provide a good value for members. Last year we added to our FlyQ family of free flight-planning products with the FlyQ EFB electronic flight bag. More recently, we launched a new members-only aviation financing program supported by multiple financial institutions that will give buyers more options than our previous program, which was linked to only one bank. We hope you’ll consider these and our other products as they relate to your flying.
In the end, your support is our greatest strength. Thank you for your membership as we work together to protect the freedom to fly for generations to come.
For a more detailed look at AOPA’s finances, see the Governance page, linked from the footer of every page of AOPA Online.
President and CEO
Much of what we do at the AOPA Foundation happens incrementally—thousands of small wins that, taken together, generate big results. Every time a pilot completes an online course from the Air Safety Institute, it’s a small win for safety. Every time a student earns a pilot certificate, it’s a small victory for building the GA community. And every time pilots band together to protect their home field, it’s a small win for airports everywhere.
These victories are important, and they can only happen with donations to the AOPA Foundation. Dues alone can’t support the bold programs supported by the foundation—programs that tackle the challenges we must face if we are to preserve the freedom to fly.
Now, as we look back on the past year, we can see how these wins add up and take a moment to recognize what our donors have helped us achieve together. In 2012, the AOPA Foundation supported AOPA’s efforts to grow the pilot population by launching the new Center to Advance the Pilot Community. We helped preserve community airports; educate the public about the value of GA; and, of course, provided a wide range of safety programs through the Air Safety Institute.
Tens of thousands of pilots are taking courses, attending seminars, and watching videos, but does it help? Over the decades of our existence, the accident rate per flight hour for general aviation has dropped by 90 percent. It represents real pilots and real lives. The AOPA Foundation played a part in that and it’s worth celebrating.
In 2012, the Air Safety Institute had a record-breaking year of outreach into the general aviation community. Online courses, videos, quizzes, seminars, Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, and other products were viewed by pilots more than
1.8 million times.
Collaborating with the Air Care Alliance, FAA, DOD, NATCA, NTSB, and many other organizations, the Air Safety Institute produced online courses on topics including volunteer pilots, UAS, ADS-B, and aging pilots. Videos included interviews with air traffic controllers, explanations on thorough passenger briefings, and an accident case study involving datalinked weather information to the cockpit. A special video documentary communicated one pilot’s tragedy and the lessons that all pilots can learn from it. Some 35,000 pilots attended in-person seminars. Two seminars, Wanted: Alive and Flying for a Lifetime, were presented 200 times throughout the year.
The AOPA Foundation provided funding for programs that preserve community airports, such as our regional manager program and a presentation on the importance of Queen City Airport in Pennsylvania. Pilot population growth was supported by funding scholarships, and sponsoring the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards. We’ve worked hard to let the public know about the benefits of general aviation by funding the new AOPA Live studio, which produces an entertaining weekly program that’s appealing to all audiences (see “On a Screen Near You,” page 75). There were numerous media interviews telling
the story about the good work being done by pilots nationwide.
Results such as these are possible solely because of the generosity and commitment of our donors. Dues alone cannot help us tackle the difficult challenges facing general aviation now. Only your tax-deductible donations to the AOPA Foundation make this possible.
We hope you take pride, as I do, in the victories you’ve helped us achieve thus far, and look forward to finding new ways to strengthen general aviation’s future.
President, AOPA Foundation
Air Safety Institute,
Safety and Education,
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