Phil Boyer created ABC’s “Wide World of Flying” in the late 1980s.
Holding pilot town meetings (PTMs) around the country is one aspect of working for you that I missed throughout 2007. For the past 17 years I have averaged about three to four days a month, the better part of a week, inviting members and non-members to a local hotel meeting room where we hold these events. This was not the case last year, when the FAA financing issue was so fluid and time-consuming that I tried to stay close to the nation’s capital to be prepared for meetings with Congress, hearings, and any other hastily called needs. With the user fee situation now in a “holding pattern,” and not likely to require spur-of-the-moment attention, in early January I start an ambitious schedule of AOPA meetings for 2008. Being no fool, with winter weather in the Northeast, my first meetings will be in Florida.
Actually, great thought and effort go into scheduling these trips. And, in the case of the “Sunshine State” I had accepted being the banquet speaker on a Friday evening for the Aviation Law and Insurance Symposium in Orlando, sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. It has always been my goal to never go any distance for only a single event, and therefore with this philosophy PTMs were scheduled the two evenings prior in Fort Lauderdale and Tampa/St. Petersburg. Preceding most of my PTMs are small, informal dinners for the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers in the area. It’s a way to say thank you to the dozen or so who can turn out for their work in this valuable association program. Plus, not one to sit in a hotel room until meeting time, I will fill in the remaining hours of the days with four lunch or breakfast get-togethers with local Florida-based AOPA Air Safety Foundation donors, a morning visit to a local flight school at Lauderdale Executive airport, an interview with the Tampa Tribune on GA, and an update from the publisher of the Aero News Network. The trip back to headquarters Saturday morning will put me right over one of my favorite general aviation airports, so I accepted an invitation to speak on a somewhat less formal basis with the St. Augustine Airport Pilots Association, and look at its new control tower.
I give you the detail of this small four-day schedule only to demonstrate how valuable the PTMs are for member and general aviation outreach, and the reason I missed doing these last year. Your AOPA staff at headquarters has a love/hate relationship with my almost one week a month absence from the office. The good news is the boss is out of the office for a period of time, but the bad news is when I get back and my department heads get a first-hand account of what the local pilots have told me AOPA is doing right—and what we’re doing wrong. Nothing beats the up-front and personal member and industry contact in my book. It’s my chance to better explain some of the complex issues we face as pilots and owners, and put them in plain language, augmented by audio and video, for better understanding. Most important, the pre- and post-meeting contact with many of you helps me to translate back into our organization the local and national concerns of general aviation enthusiasts. Reviving something we haven’t done for several years, I will be using new interactive devices where pilots in the audience will get a chance to give instant feedback to various questions surrounding general aviation issues. The results are instantly displayed for all to see, and the file of answers is distributed to AOPA managers to help them better understand your needs.
It is impossible to schedule AOPA pilot town meetings in every community. Our criteria calls for having as large an audience as possible, to best utilize the AOPA resources required for these get-togethers, and attendance has averaged around 300 people each evening. However, like the St. Augustine Airport Pilots Association visit we’ll often add in a smaller group or city when the travel and time permits. And, although I had been trying to get to the major cities once every two years, meetings have been scheduled on a more infrequent basis in small and medium size communities. For instance, Boise, Idaho, has consistently had a huge turnout of pilots versus the size of the population. I try to visit at least three cities in Alaska every other year and 2008 is that year, where in the best of times a small town like Juneau might have 30 attendees. But, being able to convey the pilot needs in our forty-ninth state—where it is obvious the one size of the regulations and aviation concerns in the lower 48 “doesn’t fit all”—has been invaluable.
Most gratifying is that most of our meetings this year will have separate AOPA Project Pilot breakaway sessions for friends of pilot/members attending who might be interested in learning to fly.
Member and non-member pilots are informed by mail of PTMs in their locale about 30 days prior to the scheduled date. A 30- to 45-day look-ahead schedule is on the lower left corner at the bottom of the AOPA Online home page. And, the full schedule can be found online. I hope to see both regular and new attendees in this new year, and look forward to being, as Willie Nelson would sing, “On the road again.”