President's Position: Working together

The importance of partners

December 23, 2013

mark bakerAmerica may be the land of the rugged individualist, but there are times when it’s best not to go it alone. That goes for organizations as well as people.

As AOPA’s president and CEO, it’s my job to look out for the interests of our members—you always come first. That can mean we need to blaze our own trail, with or without the support of others. But when AOPA member interests coincide with the interests of others in the aviation community—as they often do—we need to work together.

Fortunately we are unified much more often than we are at odds. And that’s not really surprising. Pilots, aircraft owners, GA business operators, and manufacturers have similar needs when it comes to right-sizing regulation, access to airports and airspace, and keeping costs under control. What you fly almost always matters less than the fact that you do fly.

You don’t need me to tell you that general aviation is facing a lot of tough challenges. And that means finding the best solutions can be equally difficult. When we put our minds and our skills together, we end up with better results.

Some of our efforts are truly huge undertakings—such as our work to grow the pilot population. No one person, or organization, can take on the pilot population challenge and win. Lots of factors have led to the decline, so it would be naïve to think there’s one magic bullet that will turn it around. It’s equally naïve to imagine that one organization has the resources to tackle every aspect of this issue. So rather than throw our hands in the air or try to reinvent the wheel, it makes sense for each organization to work in areas where we can make a real difference—and to support the efforts of others.

In just my first few months on the job, I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterparts at other general aviation organizations, sharing ideas and looking for places where collaboration makes sense. I took part in the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual convention, speaking as part of a panel with other GA leaders. I also spent some time meeting with the board of directors for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and participating in the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) roundtable. I’ve also spent time with the leaders of the Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF), and Women in Aviation International (WAI), among others.

In a few weeks’ time, key members of my leadership team and I will make the trip to Oshkosh to meet with Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chairman Jack Pelton and his top leaders. We’ll be looking for ways we can do even more together to support our members.

There’s a lot of variety in the projects AOPA and other organizations collaborate on—everything from supporting scholarship programs to major regulatory and legislative initiatives. Perhaps the highest profile collaboration right now is our work with EAA to get the FAA to expand the driver’s license medical standard. This has been a hard slog, but both organizations are in it for the long haul because we believe it will benefit our members in ways that make a real difference.

But that’s not the only place AOPA is partnering with others. We’re also working with other GA associations to finalize a cost-cutting proposal for the FAA. Under sequestration, the FAA will need to cut some $600 million from its budget, and we all agree that we need to take matters into our own hands if we’re going to survive those cuts unscathed. By working together to propose measures we can agree on—cuts that won’t hurt general aviation—we not only make the FAA’s job easier, we give the agency little choice but to take our recommendations seriously.

By staying in contact and collaborating where it makes sense, we can make the GA community more influential when it counts. There’s nothing quite like being able to present a unified front to Congress and regulators.

I think collaboration needs to be a cornerstone of protecting our freedom to fly, so you’ll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks and months. And it’s a topic that we’ll discuss at AOPA’s regional events in 2014—we may even have a few of my fellow GA leaders on hand for you to talk to.

Speaking of regional events, we’re finalizing
the dates and locations now. Members have offered great recommendations about where to hold these exciting new gatherings, and the airports we’ve approached have all said they want to take part. So look for an announcement of the dates and locations soon. Then make plans to come out and join us. Hope to see you there!

Email mark@aopa.org