Seventy-one years ago our founders recognized the need for an organization to prevent encroachment on our freedom to fly. They knew that excessive regulation could prove costly. And they wanted to communicate with one another to foster the growth of GA. A sound foundation and one that remains as important today as it was in 1939. So, how are we doing when it comes to those fundamental goals?
We worked hard in 2009 against aviation user fees; we learned early this year that the administration had stripped the proposal out of its budget. It is gone for now, but we remain vigilant in case this misguided idea reemerges. And we rolled up our sleeves and set to work on a more positive agenda for GA. One element of that agenda is our ongoing work to define the plan for the next generation air traffic control system. The current ground-based technology is neither adequate nor affordable, and a transition to a satellite-based system is under way. Ensuring that costs are minimal and benefits real remains our charge.
Also on our agenda is shaping the future of avgas. Two federal agencies are engaged in research and consideration of avgas alternatives to fuel our piston fleet’s engines without a lead additive. We have challenged the EPA on whether it has established the foundation needed to drive GA to a lead-free alternative. And we have urged the FAA to take a greater leadership role in ensuring our piston fleet can continue to operate unimpeded as alternatives are evaluated. Throughout the year, we have gotten as close as we can to the innovators who are looking for alternative fuels, and there have been promising new developments in what has already been a 20-year search.
Issues that affect groups within our membership have been pursued tenaciously and successfully. Through-the-fence operations were threatened by a proposed FAA rule. Under pressure from the GA community, the agency has backed off from the disruptive approach first suggested. Members are worried about airspace, especially when TFRs are slapped in place. That issue has been the focus of an AOPA team that regularly works with those inside the FAA. We have made some improvements to access; however, I share the concern of many that security issues sometimes trump common sense when it comes to restricting airspace. Our advocacy team has devoted tremendous resources to staving off threats of new state taxes and fees on GA—and it has worked. Despite record-setting state budget shortfalls, we have managed to hold off every tax and fee challenge, and there has not been one cent in state aviation tax increases this year. And our team has been unrelenting in the quest to keep airports open in the face of threats both political and economic. We’ve had big wins, and across the country we’ve seen airport users band together, working with AOPA and local officials to keep their threatened fields open and accessible.
One threat that has us greatly concerned is the reduction in the number of active pilots. Our AOPA Foundation has stepped up to the challenge with comprehensive research unveiled at the AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach. Working with leaders in the flight training arena, we are determined to change the paradigm and build back our pilot population. You will hear more about this early in 2011.
We have worked hard to be innovative in how we reach our members. For so many, reading AOPA Pilot magazine cover to cover has been a longstanding practice…one I hope continues. But there are new tools that help us reach members with varied interests. This year we launched an extension of ePilot for those who want to follow the avgas issue, and we have some other versions in mind. Meanwhile, Aviation eBrief now delivers news to more than 200,000 people five days a week.
Thanks to a generous contribution from one of our donors, last year we launched AOPA Live®, our streaming video broadcast on our website. AOPA Live segments have reached a million people in more than 160 countries (see “ Responding to a Demand,” November 2010 AOPA Pilot). Each day we consider how we can better tell our GA story on AOPA Live.
The economic slowdown has reached AOPA. Our membership is strong at about 400,000, but the GA industry as a whole is suffering and revenues from advertising have dropped compared to a few years ago. To help offset this decrease, we have been exploring ways to enhance the value of membership in AOPA through select product offerings. This arena creates opportunities to increase revenue coming to AOPA—revenue that we invest in advocacy, communications, and other member programs. I look forward to seeing participation build in our programs that link members to offerings others in aviation find of interest, including our new Lifestyles Collection. By choosing to participate at any level, you will be helping AOPA support GA. You can learn more about the Lifestyles Collection and all our product offerings online.
No organization can afford to stand still. And AOPA is not resting on its laurels. We are looking at new ways to reach more people interested in GA. We are trying to build a stronger community. As we look ahead to next year, we want to rally the GA community. It’s time! It is going to require new approaches, innovation, and a renewed commitment. I can’t wait!
E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected]. Craig Fuller became the fourth president of AOPA in January 2009.