Go ahead, FAA, the media, the local anti-airport activists — our war chest is full of important resources, prepared for any threat to our right to fly. General aviation will not topple while the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is around.
Just like any good pilot, AOPA has thoroughly preflighted for what looks to be GA's toughest battle to date — the threat of radical increases in fuel taxes, and the introduction of user fees for the airlines, a threat that will surely come to our level sooner or later. Our preflight has been ongoing, and we laid much of the groundwork in 2005 and 2006 for our protection against this latest threat. What does that include?
It's been a busy year. Let me explain.
We've said it before — there's strength in numbers. Three times this year I assembled the entire hardworking AOPA staff around our stairs for a "special announcement" from "the boss." In January 2006, I announced that we had 407,326 members. In March, I announced 408,480 members. And in October, I announced that membership had grown to nearly 411,000 and that our automatic annual renewal had hit an all-time high of nearly 40 percent of our membership, or 163,399 members.
What do the numbers mean? They mean strength in the area where we are going to need it most — on Capitol Hill and at the federal agencies. For example, when we asked members to help us in the battle to ensure that the Washington, D.C. ADIZ not be made permanent, they came out in droves to address the concern to the FAA. In less than 20 days, more than 15,000 members wrote to the FAA, and that number grew to 22,000. And this was not just a regional response, since the largest number of letters came from California. Leveraging those comments, the association continued to push for changes to reduce the impact of the airspace security requirements and prevent the FAA from implementing a final rule making the existing restrictions permanent.
Such numbers help us to be effective in ensuring that the flight service station system remains alive and viable. With AOPA support the FAA outsourced the service, a move that will save some $2.2 billion over the next decade and infuse much-needed new technology into the system. This unusual move by your association set a tone that AOPA members were willing to "give" to save the FAA money, but are not willing to turn upside down the way aviation is funded in this country by moving to user fees.
With such membership clout, we can advocate to the FAA and Congress for new technology that guarantees a place for GA in the future air navigation system. Through AOPA's support of the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast system and the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), GA will reap many benefits for many years to come.
And finally, our clout comes into play in the battle over FAA proposed funding schemes — a theme you'll see often throughout this report — where our numbers will mean the most. The drum I keep beating goes like this: Why change a 35-year-old funding system that produces the safest and most efficient air traffic system in the world? But that is just what the FAA funding debate is all about. By September 2007, Congress must pass legislation that governs the way our nation funds the FAA and its operation of the air traffic control system and our airports. For nearly half a century we have relied on a combination of taxes on aviation users and revenue from the nation's taxpayers to support this system, similar to the way we fund the highway system. Both the FAA and the airlines would like to change the time-tested, efficient funding formulas and place a greater financial burden on nonairline operations.
Recently Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) stepped into the Senate Commerce Committee — of which he is not a member — to plead the case for GA. Saying that an increase in general aviation taxes is "completely unacceptable," Inhofe also said, "I know what is behind it, this attitude that there are so few pilots you can get away with it." Our nearly 411,000-member-strong association, working together with our government affairs staff, creates a powerful force — remember it represents more than three-quarters of the pilot population in this country. Working together, we can be a very loud voice.
Crucial to the survival of general aviation are pilots. Yes, you. And the future pilot you just had a conversation with by your office water cooler. If our numbers are to continue to grow, the ranks of new pilots must do likewise. Late in 2005 we contracted an outside firm to update a study that the industry had undertaken 10 years ago in preparing for the industry sponsored Be A Pilot program. Our new research had these objectives: Determine the size of the population interested in learning to fly; understand the characteristics of people who express an interest in learning to fly; and identify ways that would help interested people become pilots. We talked to almost 6,000 adults between the ages of 25 to 60 who were not current pilots or students. We titled our survey "Needle in a Haystack."
The results of the survey showed that there are more than 3 million Americans who answered that they would be "very interested" or "somewhat interested" in learning to fly. The most likely individuals are married with children and fall between the ages of 40 and 49. They are college educated and almost one-third are self-employed. Three million Americans who would be interested in learning to fly! How do we get them into our ranks?
The answer is AOPA Project Pilot, an idea started more than 10 years ago that needed a boost in engine power. We've throttled up our efforts with all-new multimedia resource materials, including a powerful Web site that is rich with information and tips to take any student pilot or Mentor from first flight to first passenger. The core program, though, remains the same: AOPA members reach out to individuals they know who share a love of flying and encourage them to get started. The turbo for this program has been, and always will be, the power of word of mouth and the ability of every pilot to ooze with enthusiasm for any excuse, er, opportunity, to return to the skies.
Our relaunch started at the annual AOPA Fly-In and Open House in June when our new, national spokesman Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and I literally raised the flag for AOPA Project Pilot at our headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. Members have responded in force. In just half a year's time, 2,400 members have stepped forward to support more than 3,900 future pilots. And more than 200 prospective pilots joined us at our Project Pilot "Invitation to Fly" sessions that were held simultaneously with my Pilot Town Meetings in half a dozen cities across the country.
As our Project Pilot spokesman, Lindbergh brings his family name and sense of adventure to our members every month in AOPA Pilot. He's an accomplished pilot who learned firsthand the value of having a mentor during flight training. In addition to meeting Lindbergh at the fly-in, members saw him at AOPA Expo 2006, at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2006, and in the Project Pilot video that was available on the AOPA home page following our relaunch.
Members are utilizing our new robust Project Pilot Web site as a foundation for a fun and rewarding relationship with a future pilot. Nearly 68,000 members visited the site last year. On average, visitors spend more than six minutes browsing our pages, which are filled with all you need to know about introducing someone you know to GA, including text, photos, video clips, and an online Progress Section that allows both Mentor and student to monitor key milestones together.
We're hopeful that you will reach out to just one person you know who has the desire, time, and resources to start flying. We want you to help push him or her over the deciding line to get started. As a Mentor you're not a flight instructor; we're not asking you to teach. We're asking you to share your knowledge and experience — and your love of flying — with someone and get him or her into flight training. Your participation will benefit all of us who fly.
To see how healthy and robust the general aviation community is simply took a trip to Palm Springs, California, in November for AOPA Expo 2006. Palm Springs was once again a favorite for members and exhibitors alike. Nearly 13,000 attendees enjoyed the largest aircraft display ever at Expo. Those aircraft — from a jaunty Waco weaving down the road to a massive Twin Commander, wing tips nearly kissing the trees — paraded down the streets of Palm Springs in what must be the most eye-popping GA event ever. It's a strategic-planning and volunteer-staff-member feat both coming and going. The aircraft parked around the convention center for the three-day Expo and taxied back out to the airport, that Twin Commander just entering the ramp at dusk.
Seminars at Expo were packed; AOPA, AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and industry experts led training on technology, safety, and aircraft ownership. And during general sessions, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey fielded challenging questions about the user-fee debate from the audience. Industry and government experts spoke adamantly on their opposition to the FAA plan.
AOPA Expo returns to the East Coast this year, October 4 through 6, in Hartford, Connecticut. Mark your calendars.
Our staffs on Capitol Hill and in our Frederick-based government affairs department are always busy, and 2006 was no exception. From the brewing FAA funding debate to our opposition to making the D.C. ADIZ permanent, we burned rubber on the Capital Beltway and shoe leather on the steps of the Capitol. AOPA continued its push for changes in the requirements that control GA access to the huge area of airspace around the national capital region. Leveraging the more than 22,000 member comments on the proposal, we are pushing for changes that would reduce the impact of the airspace security requirements and prevent the FAA from implementing a final rule that would make the existing restrictions permanent.
The association has been working extensively throughout the year analyzing the data and developing a comprehensive set of facts to refute the growing push for user fees. We reached out to our many members and aviation industry groups through meetings and government research organizations — such as the Government Accountability Office and congressional research services — with the facts. Most important, AOPA's government affairs staff launched a congressional lobbying strategy and participated in supporting GA-friendly candidates in the 2006 election.
The AOPA Political Action Committee gave its support to 143 candidates in the 2006 election. The criterion for AOPA's support was simply based on what they could do — or had done — for general aviation. More than 90 percent of the AOPA-backed candidates were elected.
Some of our most important battlegrounds are in the state legislatures. We are called on every day to "promote, protect, and defend" GA. In addition to our traditional advocacy for airports, we reviewed more than 2,500 pieces of aviation-related legislation and monitored nearly 500 bills, weighing in on about 75 in which we had a strong interest. These bills covered a wide range of topics, including aviation funding and taxes, airport operations, environmental issues, land-use and zoning issues, and security issues. We attempt to share these issues each week through our electronic communications channels, but many members may not realize the depth and breadth of AOPA's advocacy efforts.
AOPA's electronic channels are becoming increasingly important in the rapid-fire, instant-response world in which we now live. Case in point: the fatal crash of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle's GA aircraft in Manhattan last fall. We were able to go on TV immediately with an effective response, thanks to AOPA's satellite uplink TV studio, and AOPA Online continued to play a crucial role in getting the facts out about the safety of small aircraft. My online editorial "Enough Is Enough" was copied, pasted in, and forwarded, reaching thousands of pilots as well as members of the media.
But it's more than just outreach; you need to find what you're looking for. In 2006, AOPA started a massive effort to redesign AOPA Online to make it easier to use and navigate. It was designed with input from members. Look for your new Web site later in 2007.
Along the way, we've improved existing offerings, completely revamping the AOPA Pilot Online page, offering award-winning new features, and enhancing our coverage of AOPA Expo to put you there in the middle of the action, just to name a few.
If getting there is half the fun, then you know how important our AOPA ePilot ® and AOPA ePilot ® Flight Training Edition e-mail newsletters are as vehicles to more than 50,000 pages of information. Both have grown by leaps and bounds, with record circulations of 251,804 and 85,580, respectively. ePilot, behind AOPA Pilot, is now the second-largest aviation publication in the world.
Yes, the largest aviation publication in the world is AOPA Pilot. It's also award winning, named the best association magazine in 2006 (for the category of magazines with circulation less than 500,000) by the magazine industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards; they're called "Eddies" — as in editorial — and they're awarded by FOLIO: magazine. AOPA Pilot was selected on the basis of its fulfillment of its mission statement — to "address the special information requirements of all pilots in both an entertaining and informative manner." From editor in chief to associate editor, the majority of Pilot's staff members are seasoned, multi-thousand-hour pilots. This experience and a passion for general aviation keep Pilot's pages filled with cutting-edge editorial — including the August 2006 technology special report, which won recognition for its online component from the Magazine Publishers of America.
Pilot's sister publication, AOPA Flight Training, is award winning and trendsetting too. Its design has won four national awards in the past three years. AOPA Flight Training magazine is truly in a class by itself — it is the only magazine written especially for student pilots. Readership surveys consistently rate AOPA Flight Training's performance at the top of the scale.
AOPA is much more than GA's strongest political and regulatory advocate and a world-class magazine. We're a bargain at $39 a year when you add up all the services that accompany your membership. As our membership has grown, AOPA's nondues revenue has almost doubled. This includes the advertising in our publications, member products, services, and other aviation-related products, which contributes more than two-thirds of AOPA's net income. This income has helped keep AOPA membership dues at $39 annually since 1990, and allows AOPA to be prepared to weigh in heavily on the FAA funding debate issue, as well as to invest in key initiatives to keep flying safer, more affordable, and more fun. With the conversion of the MBNA America Bank relationship into the new Bank of America Corp. relationship, we also replaced our FBO rebate credit card with the more universal AOPA WorldPoints Rewards card, to better meet the needs of the majority of our members. With many members using credit cards that accumulate points, which can be redeemed for airline tickets, gift cards, or cash, our new AOPA WorldPoints Rewards card allows members to do the same with their AOPA card while supporting the association. And to add value for aviation purchases, their points double for every purchase at a participating FBO, flight school, or avionics shop, as well as select aviation merchants.
Regulations continue to plague our members when they fly, and we saw another year of increased participation in the AOPA Legal Services Plan. The more than 85,000 members who carry coverage can be sure they will be represented during FAA enforcement actions for even the smallest concerns.
The AOPA Insurance Agency is the world's largest light aircraft insurance agency. In collaboration with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation and AIG Aviation, we were able to announce a new insurance benefit through AOPA. By taking one Air Safety Foundation seminar or online course every six months, the insured member will have his or her deductible waived in the event of an accident claim and the next year's rates will not increase as a result of the accident. This is key at a time when the cost of insurance affects every pilot.
Consistently you have told us that your greatest concern is the loss of GA airports and continued access to those airports. We see clearly that preserving airports should be our number-one priority. In 2006, we used a variety of methods to protect airports, from supporting pro-airport candidates in Oceanside, California, to leveraging FAA opposition to initiatives to close Bakersfield Municipal to fighting for piston-engine-aircraft access at jet-dominated Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Part of the success was based on the dedication of 1,700 AOPA members who help protect and preserve their airports as AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers. We reached a historic high in the number of AOPA members serving in this grass-roots program, and these members worked closely with our staff on hundreds of issues, including local attempts to close airports, noncompatible residential developments, and pilot concerns about reasonable service at their airports.
I see the mission of AOPA — unchanged since our founding in 1939 — as a sturdy three-legged stool, one that supports our members through advocacy, information, and education. As I stated at the beginning of this report, we're ready. The work we do every day at headquarters, on Capitol Hill, at our nation's airports, and in the sky has filled our war chest — our arsenal — to face the challenges ahead. Preflight done, clear prop!
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association