BY PHIL BOYER, AOPA PRESIDENT
Fly safe, fly more.
Help mentor someone new to get a pilot certificate.
Stand by to smash user fees.
Those are among my New Year's resolutions, and I hope you'll add them to your list as well. They're all important to the future of general aviation. And they're something all of us can do - even the user fee battle as it unfolds. And they're not hard. Really.
The start of a new year is traditionally the time for looking both forward and backward. Looking back on 2006, it was, on balance, a good year for AOPA.
We helped save a couple of GA airports - Oceanside, California, and Blue Ash, Ohio.
We worked with Congress to defeat the President's budget proposal, which would have decimated funding for GA airports.
We lost a good friend - Norm Mineta - as secretary of Transportation, but the new secretary - Mary Peters - has some experience with general aviation and a yet to be proven appreciation of our concerns.
We weathered another round of news media scrutiny and hysteria following the Cory Lidle accident in New York City and proved that your association's media outreach efforts - like our satellite TV studio - can help shape the debate in our favor.
We held a hugely successful Expo in Palm Springs, California, setting new records for attendance and number of exhibitors. More importantly, the mood was much more upbeat than it has been in past years.
And in 2006 the AOPA Air Safety Foundation reached more pilots than ever before in its 56-year history through live seminars, publications, and the unique Online Safety Center The result was a continuing reduction in number of both total and fatal accidents.
Your association hit a new membership record - more than 409,000! But there is a dark cloud behind that silver lining.
While our numbers continue to go up, the total number of pilots is declining. While there were once more than 800,000 active pilots in the United States, today our numbers have dropped below 600,000.
If user fees ever take hold, I have no doubt that the pilot population will drop even lower. And general aviation will become here what it is in much of the rest of the world - something enjoyed only by some businesses and the wealthy few.
So we must reverse the trend. For our own survival, we must grow the pilot population once again.
But as AOPA's good friend Hal Shevers of Sporty's says, "You can't have a senior class without a freshman class." We must increase the number of student pilots.
That's my number-one concern for 2007, and that's why your association revitalized and re-launched Project Pilot this year.
The more pilots we have, the greater strength we'll have to beat back the airlines' selfish desire to pay less and control more of the air traffic system, with the result being a system funded by user fees. The greater the pilot numbers, the stronger our voice for keeping Congress - the voice of the people - in control of the FAA.
But maybe you noticed my first resolution was to fly more - and I hope it is yours as well. The new world of avionics and airframes, whether you rent or own, create new challenges and opportunities for those of use with a passion for flight.
The more we fly, the more we want to share our joy of the third dimension with others - friends, neighbors, and relatives The more we share, the more these passengers may want to take to the left seat and join our ranks.
Leave it to AOPA to fight the regulatory and legislative battles of the New Year, and we'll call on you as needed to voice your opinion to Congress. But bringing new pilots into the fold can happen starting this month, if you are willing to mentor a student pilot candidate.
Happy New Year!
January 1, 2007