This new year, I have uncovered new optimism about the future of general aviation. Certainly there are signs of im-provement in the economy, and FAA statistics suggest that business use of private aircraft is on the rise. I saw indirect evidence of that myself when I went to Wichita for some recurrent training at FlightSafety International. The place was busy with pilots seeking training before year’s end.
And we were really pleased with the turnout for AOPA’s Aviation Summit in Long Beach, California, in mid-November. Not only did people come to the show and attend the many educational sessions, they also did their fair share of shopping—buying everything from headsets to avionics and even a few airplanes. In case you missed it, you can get caught up on the happenings through the dozens of interviews and feature videos posted on AOPA Live.
AOPA’s new Lifestyles Collection has also attracted attention and I am pleased that so many of you discovered these new opportunities to support AOPA and GA in time for the holiday gift-giving season. Every Lifestyle Collection purchase sends money back to AOPA, at no cost to you or to the association. We use that money to provide the programs and services you rely on—everything from representation and communication to safety and flight-planning tools. (If you haven’t tried it, visit AOPA.org/lifestyles. There you can shop at many of the retailers you already frequent. The only difference is that a portion of your spending comes back to AOPA.)
All of this activity is a good sign. But we need to keep the momentum going, and growing, in 2011.
I find myself reflecting on a responsibility that I take very seriously—something those in politics call the “bully pulpit.” At AOPA, we have a unique opportunity to communicate what’s going on in general aviation, through our magazines, electronic newsletters, websites, AOPA Live, and all the other communication tools we’ve developed over the years.
More than 400,000 members enjoy reading AOPA Pilot every month, with 120,000 of you reading Flight Training. Plus, more than 310,000 read the weekly ePilot newsletters and 200,000 are reading AOPA’s Aviation eBrief five days a week. Remarkably, AOPA Live’s online programming has been seen by almost 1 million people from around the world in the past 12 months.
Now we want to use those communication tools to Rally GA!
It’s a chance for us to tell the good-news stories that are coming out of our community, to help draw in more support for general aviation, and do our part to grow the momentum that’s building. What you will see from us in 2011 is a real effort to Rally GA. We don’t just want to watch for a turnaround, we want to do everything we can to make it happen!
We want to see more people explore flight training. And, we want those people to have a decidedly more successful experience and actually become private pilots. This is why our AOPA Foundation is so focused on building the pilot population and improving flight training through the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative unveiled at AOPA Aviation Summit.
We want to see general aviation, where so much individual investment has already been made in state-of-the-art avionics, fully participate in the FAA’s NextGen air traffic control future.
Let’s get away from some of the glass-is-half-empty thinking about our future. Take avgas, for example. It’s here. It’s available. And, it is not going away. A very broad-based coalition from the aviation community and the petroleum community is working to find a safe, effective, and affordable option to leaded fuel. Research and development work is promising, and there is a clear process for gaining approval of new fuels for high-performance engines. It will take time, but we will get it right and we will transition when there is a solution that works for the entire aviation community.
We need to Rally GA at the grass-roots level to protect and expand our airports. It’s exciting to land at places where new runways are coming on line and use of the airport is growing. But we know this kind of growth doesn’t just happen. Our 2,200-plus Airport Support Network volunteers are continuously working to build support at airports across the country. And they can’t do it alone. EAA chapters are doing really great work, as are local pilot groups, and others who dedicate themselves to supporting airports. Even with so many committed supporters, airports are still under threat, and we need to remain vigilant and tell the great stories that begin at airports nationwide.
There are many other areas where we will shine the spotlight as we Rally GA in 2011. The one I want to conclude with is the one we should probably always start with—safety. Our freedom to fly requires that we never stop learning and never stop improving our skills. Our general aviation fleet is becoming so much more sophisticated in the cockpit, but that means we have a real obligation to make sure the newest avionics are as familiar and well understood as those old gauges.
Join us in 2011 to Rally GA. Share your ideas and your successes at [email protected] so we can let that spotlight fall on more of you, our members! Together we can increase our rate of climb and strengthen the general aviation community.
This month AOPA President Craig Fuller enters his third year leading the association. E-mail AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].