The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association surpassed 400,000 members — a new record for the world's largest civil aviation organization — on Tuesday, July 29, 2003. That figure also places AOPA among the top 100 associations of any kind in the nation.
"The significance of 400,000 members is what it really means to general aviation pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It means that pilots have an extraordinarily powerful advocate before the regulators and the legislators. They can't ignore 400,000 committed, passionate aviators and voters. And AOPA is the pilot's voice."
Today more than 61 percent of all of the nation's pilots — and three-quarters of the general aviation pilots — are AOPA members.
The association has enjoyed remarkable growth in the past quarter century, even during periods when the total pilot population was declining. In 1977, AOPA had 200,000 members, about 26 percent of the total pilot population. By 1989, membership grew to 300,000, about 43 percent of all pilots.
Even in the uncertainty following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, AOPA membership has grown by more than 25,000.
"I think that demonstrates two things," said Boyer. "General aviation pilots remain optimistic about the future of aviation in this country — a January survey of AOPA members showed 67 percent were optimistic about GA's future — and pilots believe that AOPA can help ensure that future."
The secret of AOPA's strength on issues is its large membership of individuals — pilots who care about national and community affairs. And AOPA members are voters — more than 93 percent voted in the last presidential election, compared to 51 percent of the general population.
"Politicians and bureaucrats do pay attention to numbers, validating the adage that there is strength in numbers," said Boyer. "When we go to Congress, FAA, TSA, or any of the regulators, 400,000 has a special ring. Speaking with one voice for so many members — particularly members who vote and contribute to political campaigns — gains AOPA access and special credence. No other aviation organization can match that."
Such a large member base also gives AOPA extra buying power when working with AOPA's Member Products. Knowing that they have such a large potential pool of customers in a single place means vendors are willing to provide the best service and value for AOPA members.
"When AOPA's founders launched the association 64 years ago, they probably could not have foreseen such a large organization," said Boyer. "What they did foresee was a vocal advocate for general aviation, keeping GA fun, safe, and affordable. With 400,000 members backing us up, that's definitely what we've become."
"OK," you may be saying to yourself, "AOPA has more than 400,000 members. What does that mean to me?"
"It means that even the hard-to-reach people in Washington and in the state capitals will listen to your concerns," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs.
"Truth be told, in terms of numbers, there's not much difference between 395,000 and 400,000," said Cebula. "But in terms of impact, there's a huge difference.
"Not long ago, I needed to reach someone at Homeland Security. I told that person's assistant, 'I'm calling on behalf of 400,000 pilots to discuss what your policies are doing to their ability to fly.' I got a callback right away.
"'Four hundred thousand' means that the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration, and other government agencies cannot ignore the concerns of general aviation pilots when put forth by AOPA. It means members of Congress will listen to what thousands of their constituents think. It means AOPA cannot be ignored when airlines want to block GA out of airports or airspace.
"'Four hundred thousand' means that ours is a voice that will be heard."
AOPA's yearlong effort to have Michigan's pilot background check law overturned paid off over the summer. Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-Mich.) signed a bill repealing the background check and replacing it with common-sense security rules for flight schools.
The new law is the result of collaboration between AOPA and Michigan State Rep. Stephen Ehardt (R-83rd Dist.).
"AOPA was pleased to work with Rep. Ehardt to make this happen," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "He crafted a bill that addresses the state's legitimate security concerns without preempting federal authority or placing undue burden on pilots and student pilots."
Last year, the Michigan legislature passed a law requiring any student pilot or pilot seeking a new rating or certificate in the state to submit to being fingerprinted and obtain a criminal background check. AOPA had vigorously opposed the law.
The new law repeals the criminal background check requirement and instead requires flight schools to identify a student pilot or renter, control aircraft keys, and display signs requesting pilots to report suspicious activities.
AOPA called on FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to address the problem of late notice for presidential movement temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), and address it quickly.
In a letter to Blakey, AOPA President Phil Boyer expressed the frustration of general aviation pilots, saying, "Less than 12 hours advance notice has become the norm, and the problem is growing increasingly worse with each passing week." Boyer said AOPA understands the nightmare of coordinating with all the various security organizations, but then stressed, "The FAA has a responsibility as the regulator of aviation to press for a more timely release of this TFR information, and then to execute its rapid release once all the agencies have agreed."
Boyer called the late notification especially troubling because AOPA has been able to determine the president's travel plans days in advance through publicly available information.
Boyer noted that heightened security and stricter enforcement of flight restrictions since the September 11 terrorist attacks have forced AOPA to change the way it does business: staff on call 24 hours a day, every day; AOPA ePilot alerts to every subscriber within 250 miles of any presidential TFR; and an easy-find scrolling banner on AOPA Online's home page listing both existing and anticipated notams, with links to the notams as soon as they're published. But he said he sees no such commitment from the FAA.
"AOPA has an expectation that the FAA should work just as hard as industry to provide adequate advance notice by publishing important TFR notams with more than 12 hours lead time."
The FAA has put out its road map for the future of aerial navigation, and the bottom line for general aviation pilots — today's avionics equipment will continue to serve GA pilots well into the future, thanks to AOPA advocacy.
The Roadmap for Performance-Based Navigation ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/newsitems/2003/03-3-046x.pdf) is an air carrier-driven plan to tighten navigation tolerances and increase airspace capacity. It creates a system in which an aircraft must meet specific avionics capabilities (required navigation performance, or RNP) to use airways and arrival and departure procedures in busy terminal airspace. AOPA battled to make sure that VFR aircraft would be exempted from RNP requirements, IFR aircraft could participate using today's IFR-certified GPS receivers, and RNP would provide benefits for GA pilots.
"AOPA members have already made a huge investment in IFR-certified GPS technology and that must be protected," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Because this concept for the future is being driven to serve the airlines, it is vital that we continue to press for general aviation access without additional equipment."
AOPA also obtained commitments from the FAA to quickly establish transition routes through Class B airspace and reduced minimum altitudes on existing airways where current terrestrial navaids push them excessively high. Additionally, the FAA finally said yes to AOPA efforts to change the way minimums are established for both precision and nonprecision GPS approaches. That will mean more approaches with lower minimums.
AOPA Expo 2003 is only a matter of weeks away, offering the chance to learn from some of the best at the more than 80 seminars, and to mingle with fellow aviation enthusiasts. But more important, it's a chance to see...the planes! the toys! the goodies!!
Some 60 aircraft will be on static display at Philadelphia International Airport, just a short free shuttle bus ride from the convention center. Visitors will see everything from two-seat taildraggers to cabin-class business aircraft. There will be pistons and turbines and even diesel-powered aircraft.
Back at the exhibition hall, all the usual vendors you'd expect will be there, along with some you wouldn't. One vendor sells just about every kind of aviation battery under the sun. Another sells aviation jewelry.
AOPA Member Products and Services will be well represented. Avionics manufacturers will be there with the latest developments for your panel.
Said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "Whether you're shopping for avionics or even a plane, or you come for the seminars, or just come to spend time with fellow GA pilots, AOPA Expo 2003 is the general aviation event to attend."
Registration for this year's Expo is easy on the AOPA Expo 2003 Web site ( www.aopa.org/expo/) or by calling 888/GO2-EXPO (462-3976).
John P. Luce, AOPA's eastern regional representative for nearly a decade, died unexpectedly this summer.
"John was the best kind of friend anyone in general aviation could ask for," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "He was a gentleman and an avid pilot who was willing to go in and fight the battles that needed fighting. And he never forgot who he ultimately was working for...the AOPA members living and flying in his region."
Luce's region included Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. In terms of pilot population, the eastern region is the largest in the country.
He was an electrical engineer by training, and worked for NASA, including serving as spacecraft director.
"He was a pilot's pilot," said Boyer. "He loved to fly his Cessna 170, and often used it to travel on behalf of AOPA."
Luce is survived by his wife and adult son.
AOPA is urging the State of New Jersey to wait to make its "two-lock" rule permanent. The two-lock rule requires New Jersey airports to ensure that any aircraft parked for 24 hours or more be secured by at least two locking devices. New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey imposed the two-lock rule in late March with no advance notice. Now, to make the rule permanent, it has to be readopted as part of the state's administrative code.
In written comments, AOPA said, "We strongly recommend that the State of New Jersey delay adoption of these requirements."
"Writing the rule into the state's administrative code would make it a condition of an airport's license to operate," said Andy Cebula, AOPA's senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "Failure to enforce the rule could cause an airport to have its license revoked or not renewed, effectively closing the airport. And if the state forces the closure of an airport with federal grant obligations, that could set up a legal showdown between the state and the FAA."
Tom Guyer Sr. was thrilled when he was picked as one of the monthly winners in AOPA's Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes ( www.aopa.org/sweeps/). He told everyone at his home airport about his prize trip to Red Rock Biplanes in Sedona, Arizona, to fly a Waco biplane. Unfortunately, he died before he could take his flight. But AOPA made special arrangements for his son and fellow AOPA member, Tom Jr., to take his father's dream flight.
"It was a fantastic trip and Eric [Brunner] was great to fly with," said Guyer. "My dad loved to fly. He started back in the '50s when he was a teenager. He retired from Delta Air Lines several years ago, and told me that he was a very fortunate man. He was able to do something that he loved to do and even got paid for it!
"It was because of him that I got my private pilot's license in 1997 and my instrument rating several years ago. This flight is something that I will always treasure."
The grand prize in the AOPA Centennial of Flight Sweepstakes is a painstakingly restored 1940 Waco UPF-7 biplane. For complete rules and eligibility requirements, visit the Web site ( www.aopa.org/sweeps/rules.html).
The AOPA Title and Escrow Service has a new name and a new focus. The service is now known as AOPA Aircraft Title Services Inc., and offers two services to protect prospective and new owners, and speed the aircraft purchase process along.
The first is the Professional Title Search package. For $99, members receive a professional title search report, put together by experts who are intimately familiar with the ins and outs of FAA regulation compliance. The report includes information on current and former owners of the aircraft, outstanding liens and encumbrances, and any defects of title that appear in the FAA Registry. There's also a complete FAA-recorded damage history report, including any copies of 337 Forms on file with the FAA, as well as a complete FAA aircraft record, documenting the aircraft's U.S. registration and ownership history.
Once the purchase is complete, the second service, the Express Document Submission Service, offers a fast, easy way to notify the FAA of the sale. For $79, an AOPA document specialist will review all of the forms to make sure that the new owner has filled out everything necessary, and done so correctly before they're submitted to the FAA.
"AOPA was formed to take the hassle out of owning and flying GA aircraft," said Karen Gebhart, AOPA's senior vice president of Products and Services. "The Aircraft Title Services packages, which can be used together or separately, certainly make buying an aircraft easier."
To learn more about AOPA Aircraft Title Services, visit www.aopa.org/info/certified/tne/.
A new AOPA Air Safety Foundation study dispels some commonly held — but wrong — beliefs many GA pilots have about stalls and spins. The results of the first such in-depth study, developed using data from the ASF GA Safety Database, are available free online ( www.aopa.org/asf/ntsb/stall_spin.html).
Stall- and spin-related accidents are among the most deadly types of GA accidents, with a fatality rate of about 28 percent, and accounting for about 10 percent of all GA accidents.
"A common misconception is that student pilots are most likely to suffer fatal stall/spin-type accidents," said ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. "ASF's research shows that's completely untrue. Pilots with commercial pilot certificates are far more likely to be involved in such accidents, and private pilots aren't far behind."
Spin training for private pilots — advocated by many old-time flight instructors — appears to be of little benefit in reducing the incidence of stall/spin accidents, although it may be educational in showing pilots what aircraft can and cannot do. Stall/spin accidents, many in training, have declined dramatically since the elimination in 1949 of mandatory spin training for private pilots.
The ASF database that forms the basis of this study is available online ( www.aopa.org/asf/ntsb/search_ntsb.cfm) so that pilots may review for themselves hundreds of accident reports.
More than a dozen classic and contemporary aircraft, caught in flight by AOPA Pilot magazine photographers, are featured in the just-released 2003-2004 AOPA Air Safety Foundation calendar. The new calendar features 14 aircraft, one for each of the last two months of 2003 and all 12 months of 2004.
Among the aircraft featured are a classic yellow Piper J-3 Cub, the sleek Mooney Ovation2 and Lancair Columbia 300, and a spectacularly restored de Havilland Beaver.
The calendar is an annual fund-raising effort for ASF, which uses proceeds for new safety research and education for general aviation pilots. Recent safety products include online programs such as the new interactive airspace refresher Know Before You Go ( www.aopa.org/asf/online_courses/know_before/) and the pirep education program SkySpotter ( www.aopa.org/asf/online_courses/skyspotter/).
The calendar is available to any pilot who donates $10 or more to ASF, but quantities are limited. The gift may be mailed to the Air Safety Foundation, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701, or contributed via the ASF Web site ( www.aopa.org/asf/).
In addition to serving as the ASN volunteer for Teterboro Airport since 1999, Stephen F. Riethof wears a lot of hats: FAA aviation safety counselor, FAA Eastern Region Flight Instructor of the Year, NAFI Master CFI, volunteer at the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame, principal member of the Paramus Flying Club, and retired USAF lieutenant colonel.
You would think that fighting to keep general aviation present and accounted for at Teterboro would be challenge enough, but over the years Riethof has worked hard with AOPA and our regional representative, the late John Luce (see " AOPA Eastern Regional Representative John Luce Dies," page 22), on a variety of issues affecting not only Teterboro Airport specifically, but also all New Jersey airports in general.
In May, during the State Aviation Conference, he, Luce, and New Jersey Director of Aeronautics Tom Thatcher started talking about ways the state and the ASN volunteers in New Jersey could work more closely to preserve and promote the state's airports. What developed was a kick-off meeting between the aeronautics division and the ASN volunteers with the single agenda item: the state's airport preservation program and what could be done to improve it. That meeting took place on July 12 at the Flying W Airport with Thatcher playing host. Thus far, the feedback has been much more positive than expected.
"This was a most interesting and informative meeting," said Riethof. "Tom brought us up to date on the airport-saving efforts of the Division of Aeronautics. The state has allocated real money for development rights and outright airport purchases. He and his staff also addressed specific airport issues brought up by the ASN volunteers."
Other ASN volunteers agreed, saying similar meetings ought to be held at least annually.
Public-use airports in the United States are closing at the rate of about one every two weeks. The AOPA Airport Support Network designates one volunteer per airport to watch for threats and encourage favorable public perception of general aviation. For more information on how you can help support your airport, visit AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/asn/).
Missouri. Ozark: Jonathan Rimington, the ASN volunteer for Air Park South Airport, recently met with the homeowners committee of a nearby subdivision to address their concerns over the upcoming expansion of the airport. Rimington was able to address their concerns and says they've developed an open channel of communication.
Pennsylvania. Meadville: After more than two years of work, the City of Meadville and Crawford County have won tentative FAA approval for the county to take over ownership of Port Meadville Airport. According to ASN volunteer Jim Murray, the transfer will make more assets available to the airport, and allow for more business development in the region.
Texas. Jacksonville/Rusk: City and county officials, and representatives of an engineering firm, met recently at Cherokee County Airport to discuss upcoming airport improvements worth $1.9 million. ASN volunteer Bud Ridgley says some of the participants agreed that the airport had been taken for granted, and that they would need to be "much more attuned" in the future.
Washington. Ellensburg: By the end of this summer, airport commissioners at Bowers Field are expected to approve an airport master plan. ASN volunteer John Dugan is urging local pilots to offer their comments before the committee provides its input on the finalized master plan.
By Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager
When Stephen Riethof and John Luce talked with me in May about setting up a meeting between the ASN volunteer corps and the New Jersey State Division of Aeronautics, my first thought was, "Only in New Jersey!" After I talked with Tom Thatcher, director of the aeronautics division, I realized they were serious.
Thatcher is not only a commercial pilot, but also is a certified flight instructor and member of AOPA. He is also a professional planner, which makes him well suited for mapping the future of New Jersey's airports.
AOPA has sometimes been at odds recently with the State of New Jersey, what with the attorney general's recent two-lock rule (see " AOPA Tells New Jersey, 'Wait a Minute,'" page 22) and the legislature's efforts to implement background checks on all pilots living in New Jersey. But this outreach by Thatcher may be a pretty strong indicator that things within the Division of Aeronautics are changing for the better.
Thatcher knows that some of his actions are bound to make pilots upset, but he's also determined to take steps that pilots can be pleased with. First on his list is preserving the state's airports. New Jersey has made real efforts to save airports and recently got involved in preserving Central Jersey Regional and Solberg-Hunterdon airports. Hosting this meeting is a great first step in the process.
Twenty of the 26 ASN volunteers in New Jersey participated. Thatcher made an impact on our ASN volunteers, but more important, Thatcher said the ASN volunteers made an impact on him and the other aeronautics division personnel. It's a great step toward building a positive environment in which airports are preserved and GA can thrive and grow. ASN will play a key role in this effort.
As the relationship develops a little more, we'll provide ASN volunteers in all 50 states with information and suggestions on how to get this same effort started there. If your airport doesn't have an ASN volunteer, nominate someone or become one yourself. It's easy, fun, and your efforts will help protect you and the other GA pilots at your airport. Just go to www.aopa.org/asn/ to learn more. Do it today! Your airport needs you!