It seems like just a few days ago that I joined my colleague Dave Hirschman to begin a 12-day adventure that any pilot might enjoy. Dave flew the Tougher than a Tornado AOPA Sweepstakes Husky, and I piloted my own Husky (N24HU) from our headquarters in Frederick, down the Gulf Coast of Florida to Key West, then back north to Lakeland to spend a week at Sun 'n Fun, before returning home (see “Happy Traveler,” page 89). The 25 hours of flying were some of the most enjoyable I’ve done in a long time, and we met delightful people as we visited places such as Beaufort, South Carolina, and Cedar Key, Florida. The entire trip was wonderfully documented on Facebook and in AOPA Live videos.
So much happened during the trip that I’ve had much to reflect upon since our return. Perhaps what I’ve spent the most time thinking about, however, is what members shared during our week at Sun ’n Fun. Our AOPA tent saw more traffic and more sheer energy from attendees than anyone on the AOPA staff could remember. With my own Husky parked in front of the tent next to the sweepstakes Husky, I quipped more than a few times that it was fun to really be an exhibitor.
There were so many people who took the time to come by and simply say, “Thanks.” That means a great deal to all of us at AOPA. I wish all AOPA members could see the hard work and dedication of AOPA’s staff. Meeting members’ needs and expectations is something we take very seriously and feedback is always welcome. At Sun ’n Fun, we received a good deal of feedback. Members clearly like the sweepstakes Husky, in part for the way it represents the fun of flying. Recreational flying is certainly on people’s minds these days—person after person told me how excited they would be to win the Husky in October.
While fun may be among the greatest draws of flying, costs are among the greatest concerns. We spoke to a number of people who mentioned that they belong to flying clubs that give them access to more aircraft than they could possibly afford on their own. These discussions really reinforced my thinking that flying clubs could well play an increasing role in making flying more accessible to more people in the future.
I also had the chance to speak with people who are engaged in flight training—both students and instructors. All of them are enthusiastic about the work we have been doing to understand and share our findings about what matters most in creating a successful flight training experience.
Many of the people I met have already gone online to nominate a flight training program for AOPA’s Flight Training Excellence Awards. These awards will be given for the first time at AOPA Aviation Summit in October to recognize schools and instructors that “get it right.”
Making flying accessible and helping students complete their training are increasingly vital to the future of general aviation. If we have a declining constituency, we will face new threats that will be more difficult to combat. In order to do all we can to bring more people into flying—and keep more of our existing pilots in the air—AOPA announced at Sun ’n Fun that we will be creating and staffing a new department to focus on our flight training
and GA community-building activities (see “State of the Association: Come Fly With Us,” page 71).
There were also discussions about what AOPA can do to strengthen the sense of community among pilots. One really great opportunity presented itself when the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) proposed building fire hubs (campfires) to serve as gathering places at airports across the country. To encourage the pursuit of this concept, we sponsored the very first RAF fire hub at Sun ’n Fun, and then enjoyed nightly conversation with fellow aviators around the campfire.
The seeming explosion of technology was also on the minds of many. At AOPA, we have long been offering weather and flight planning online. At Sun ’n Fun we shared something we’ve been working on dubbed AOPA FlyQ—an innovative application that delivers flight planning, weather, and our airport directory to a range of electronic devices (see “Products: FlyQ,” page 101). This was very well received and we will soon be sharing even more with you on this collaboration with Seattle Avionics.
Of course, politics was on the minds of a few with the user-fee question always a topic of concern. For now, with strong opposition from our friends in Congress, it is hard to see how this idea is going very far. Of course, we remain vigilant and want to decisively knock down this notion once again that user fees are an alternative funding stream for the federal government.
These discussions and so many more reminded me that expectations about AOPA run higher than ever. You, our members, want us fully engaged on those things that matter. With a large and broad-based membership, the list of things that matter grows all the time.
Reflecting on what we heard during the week of Sun ’n Fun, I am convinced that we are on the right path here at AOPA. We are working to ensure we remain true to the founding principles of AOPA by working to protect the freedom to fly while building greater participation in and enthusiasm for general aviation to ensure our future.
Email AOPA President Craig Fuller at [email protected].