Even as AOPA prepares to celebrate its seventieth anniversary, the association is focusing on the future with efforts to attract new pilots and defend general aviation from threats that include user fees, taxes, and onerous security regulations, AOPA President Craig Fuller told a large crowd at Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., on April 23.
Under a sparkling blue sky, with the drone of aircraft taking off and landing at nearby Lakeland Linder Regional Airport punctuating his remarks, Fuller told the audience that while many of those threats are not new, the approach to them must be—so AOPA has launched its General Aviation Serves America campaign to help educate policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about the value of general aviation.
“GA serves every American every day, whether they fly or not. You know it, and I know it. Now we need to make sure that the people who make decisions about our flying know it,” Fuller told the crowd. “If we don’t define who we are, someone else will.”
He noted general aviation’s $150 billion annual contribution to the U.S. economy and the 1.2 million jobs created by GA. He also noted its role in serving small businesses, law enforcement, emergency medical services, agriculture, and more.
Those contributions are highlighted in a series of print, television, and online advertisements, some of which feature actor and AOPA member Harrison Ford, who volunteered his time and talents to support the General Aviation Serves America campaign. In the first week that the Ford advertisement appeared in the “ National Journal,” widely read by policymakers and others on Capitol Hill, the publication told AOPA that the Ford ad had received more interest than any other.
Other ads feature the true stories of real pilots who use GA to serve the economy and their fellow Americans, including a doctor who can only reach some of his patients by air. The ads will run in the Washington, D.C., area and in key states, including Florida. The campaign, which is intended to overcome GA’s negative image as “jets for the rich,” will last several years and require millions of dollars, Fuller said. In addition to advertisements, the GA Serves America campaign also includes a grassroots outreach effort and Web site with resources to help individuals and businesses explain the value of general aviation.
“If the best defense is a good offense, I think we have a very strong offense,” Fuller said to a burst of applause.
AOPA President Craig Fuller and Karoline Amodeo, the lucky winner of AOPA's 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes.
Fuller also talked about the need to attract new pilots into GA, and the role of AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes in that effort. The Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22, which has been traveling the country to bring the excitement of GA flying to potential pilots, was on hand at AOPA’s Big Yellow Tent exhibit.
Also present was Karoline Amodeo, the lucky winner of AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes. Amodeo, who flew her new airplane to Sun ’n Fun, was invited on stage to talk about being awarded the sweepstakes plane by Fuller, an experience he described as “one of the best” of his aviation career.