As January arrives, we launch ourselves into a new year and a new decade. And, I complete my first year in the left seat at AOPA ( see “Pilot to Pilot: Aviation’s New Vision,”). It seems fitting to begin 2010 with a report on what I found in my first year and where I see our general aviation community headed. I doubt anyone needs reminding of just how rapidly the economic growth we enjoyed in the past decade slowed to a crawl in 2009. Described by one economist as the worst economic slowdown in 75 years, this past year challenged many just to survive.
Still, the GA community has proven to be resilient. Familiar with adverse business cycles, leading manufacturers took actions as necessary as they were difficult, downsizing operations. Positioning for the future is perhaps the best description—just how soon that favorable future presents itself remains a bit elusive, but we can be sure it will come in time, with effort. Despite uncertainty, manufacturers of aircraft and avionics are introducing new products. Pilots remain passionate about flying and about the equipment they use as aviators. And, although the numbers are lower than we would want, new people do join our GA community every week, and thousands more express the aspiration of doing so in the future. I sense a strong determination in the GA community. I heard determination from members at our AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa. I heard from elected officials who fly how strongly they value GA in their states and throughout the nation. And, of course, every day I hear from members who are passionate about flying.
Of all the many opportunities I enjoyed during my first year at AOPA, the ones that were most rewarding were those that allowed me to participate in events with our members. Whether in hangar sessions or at airshows, hundreds of you walked up and expressed your solid support for AOPA. That kind of backing encourages all of us at AOPA to keep up the battle on behalf of the entire GA community. Our communication with members is at the core of our existence here at AOPA. We are proud of our print publications, AOPA Pilot and Flight Training, and our fine team of editors and writers. Our e-publishing group continues to bring members the information they want through sophisticated online and e-mail systems. And I have been especially pleased to see that thousands of people have explored AOPA Live and watched content created at AOPA Aviation Summit.
We support our aviation community by communicating to the media and nonaviation groups. The only way to remain strong is to make sure opinion leaders and decision makers understand the value of GA. For this reason we launched the General Aviation Serves America campaign, and with the volunteer help of actors Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman—and many others—we have reached audiences with our message about the contributions made by GA. We have demonstrated we are willing to stand up and be counted. Along the way, we have found many important people willing to join us. Among those who have elected to stand with us in support of GA are key members of Congress. This past year found the House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate forming, for the first time ever, general aviation caucuses. These forums help us share information as issues develop. Then, more than 100 members of the House of Representatives sent a strong and clear signal to the Obama administration that there would be no support for a user-fee proposal expected to be part of the administration’s federal budget proposal later this year. There are many challenges in Washington, but Congress is filled with strong GA supporters. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has shown he both understands GA and wants us at the table when issues that affect us are considered. This is critically important as the whole question of modernizing the air traffic control system—NextGen—is implemented in this decade.
We must also remember that this is an election year. All members of the House of Representatives are up for reelection as are important members of the U.S. Senate, including some who work closely with us to support GA. This year, of all years, I encourage you to engage with candidates for office. Ask them about their view of GA. Ask them if they will block costly user fees or other charges that would cripple GA. Ask them if they would like more information about how GA helps their state and communities—we would be only too pleased to provide such a briefing!
Finally, we remain dedicated to serving you, our members. Our products and services are tailored to meet your needs. By taking advantage of the AOPA credit card programs, our insurance offerings, loan programs, and many other services, you will not only help meet your own needs, you will help support AOPA and our efforts to strengthen GA. We are proud of the offerings from our Member Products and Services team and continue to consider new opportunities. Our newest offering deserves your attention now—the Medical Services Program healthcare initiative. There is something of value in this program for everyone, and it’s just one way we demonstrate our commitment to making sure our members have every possible tool to live healthy and fly healthy. Information about these programs can be found online.
We look forward to representing you in the decade ahead and pledge to do all we can to make sure our best days in aviation remain ahead of us.
Craig Fuller took the office of president in January 2009.