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AOPA's new Project Pilot to help increase pilot populationAOPA's new Project Pilot to help increase pilot population

Program designed to reverse decline of student pilots

Erik Lindbergh named Project Pilot spokesman

Pilot Erik Lindbergh has teamed with AOPA as the national spokesperson for AOPA Project Pilot. The grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Erik will use his time and his family legacy to help rebuild general aviation for the future.

"My grandfather inspired millions," said Erik. "Together, we can do the same for aviation's second century." AOPA is calling on all of its 408,000 members - nearly two-thirds of all U.S. pilots - to help build a solid future for general aviation by identifying prospective pilots, helping them get started learning to fly, and mentoring them throughout their training.

Erik himself started to fly thanks to the encouragement of a mentor. "I represent the third generation of Lindberghs in the cockpit," said the 41-year-old pilot and certificated flight instructor, "but it was a friend, not a family member, who got me into aviation."

Erik's experience is a common one. More people are inspired to become pilots because they know someone - a friend or a family member - who flies than by any other factor.

"AOPA knows more than 408,000 extraordinary people - our members - who can serve as the inspiration for the next generation of pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA Project Pilot urges our members to do just that, and it gives them the simple yet powerful tools they need to succeed."

Charles Lindbergh's famed 1927 flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris, France, inspired thousands worldwide and help prove to a skeptical public the safety and reliability of air transportation.

In 2002, to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of that flight, Erik also flew solo, following essentially the same route, making the trip in 17 hours, or just over half as long as it took his grandfather.

Three of Lindbergh's grandparents were pilots, as is his father. Currently, Erik heads the Lindbergh Foundation, an ecological advocacy group, and is active with the X Prize Foundation, which sponsored the contest that led to SpaceShipOne becoming the first civilian manned spaceflight.

Erik also has taken a cue from that friend who inspired him to learn to fly, and has mentored other student pilots, including one who ultimately went on to fly for an airline.

"As AOPA has noted, most of today's airline pilots now come up through general aviation, not from the military," said Erik. "It's absolutely vital that we expand the pilot population, and AOPA Project Pilot is a big step in the right direction."

Student pilots who have a Mentor to help them through flight training are three times more likely to earn their pilot certificates. That simple fact is the reason that AOPA is beefing up its AOPA Project Pilot program.

"AOPA Project Pilot will help America's pilot population grow by giving student pilots the support they need to complete their training," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Since 1980, while the total U.S. population has grown by 25 percent, the pilot population has declined by the same percentage. And, worse, student starts are down by more than twice that rate.

"The United States has, from December 17, 1903, been the world leader in aviation. To keep that distinction, we've got to turn the pilot numbers around, and AOPA Project Pilot is a big step in the right direction."

How it works

The program draws on the strength of AOPA's more than 408,000 members, calling on each of them to identify a strong candidate for flight training, help them get started, and support them as they work toward their certificates.

To accomplish that, AOPA Project Pilot provides powerful tools, which help Mentors keep in touch with their students and track progress while providing support, tips, and encouragement.

"We've taken the successful aspects of the existing Project Pilot program and added the best of today's technologies, including DVD and the latest Web innovations," said Jeff Myers, AOPA's executive vice president of communications. "The results dramatically enhance the program's effectiveness."

For students, the Web site provides them with information and resources to help reinforce what their flight instructors are teaching them, and it allows them to chart their progress and share their successes with their Mentors.

After nominating a potential student pilot, Project Pilot Mentors receive a kit that includes a personal "thank you" letter from Boyer, a message from Project Pilot spokesman Erik Lindbergh, and information and brochures to share with prospective pilots. Additionally, the Mentor receives two more entries in the annual AOPA Sweepstakes airplane giveaway for each student they enroll.

AOPA then e-mails an invitation to join the program to the prospective pilots. When they accept, they receive a kit that includes a personal welcome letter from Boyer, a copy of the newly created Invitation to Fly magazine, a DVD that outlines what they'll learn during flight training and even includes a section to help explain it all to family and friends, and a free six-month subscription to AOPA Flight Training magazine.

Program unveiled at AOPA Fly-In

"Other than actually being airborne, there's nothing a pilot enjoys more than talking about flying," said Boyer. "That's really what AOPA Project Pilot is all about - sharing your passion for flying - and why we decided to announce the expanded program at the ultimate hangar-flying session."

The AOPA Fly-In is the largest one-day event of its kind, drawing as many as 900 aircraft in good flying weather and about 5,000 guests who come to see the exhibits, attend the seminars, and share the camaraderie of fellow pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

Unique partnership produces unbeatable support

AOPA's ability to support Mentors and pilot prospects rests on the efforts of a talented team of partners.

The concept for the Web site that is the key to it all was developed by The Diette Group of Mansfield, Mass., and Immersion Active of Frederick, Md. Immersion Active has recently produced many of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's remarkable online courses.

Many of the videos on the AOPA Project Pilot DVD were produced by Dayton, Ohio's Communicore, Inc., directed by Communicore's Jon Kallas, and written by AOPA's Jeff Myers. They were shot on location at and with the generous assistance of Epic Aviation in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and the Northwest School of Aviation in Everett, Wash.

Printed support materials were designed by AOPA's own Creative Solutions Group and written by Myers and by Rich Nagle of AeroComms Inc., a Boxford, Mass., company specializing in aerospace communications and public relations. Sue Walitsky, AOPA's director of public relations, is the program manager.

AOPA's IT team of Brian Tenberg, Vance Whitehouse, Bob Morningstar, Betsy O'Masta, and Mike McGrath labored for months in developing the Web programming and back-end support necessary to make the new Project Pilot Web site operate.

"We had an amazing team working on this enormous project," said Myers. "It was an awesome collection of talent that came together to produce world-class results in record time. I'm very grateful for their remarkable efforts."

June 2, 2006

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