In many ways, 2014 was the “year of engagement” for AOPA—although that might be a little misleading. Perhaps I should call it the first year of engagement. I don’t think of engagement as a one-time thing or a one-year program. For me, it’s a fundamental way of doing business—getting to know our members, connecting with you, and developing rewarding relationships that impact the way you fly and the way we serve your aviation needs.
The biggest, most public engagement effort of 2014 had to be the inaugural AOPA Fly-Ins. When we decided to experiment with hosting a collection of one-day regional events around the country, instead of an annual national gathering, we knew we were taking a risk. What if we threw a party and nobody came?
I heard from some loyal convention attendees who were disappointed by the decision. For quite a few folks, our annual convention was a not-to-be-missed event where old friends from around the country connected year after year. But for the vast majority of our members, our annual Summits didn’t make sense—they were too far away, too time consuming, or too expensive. And, as much as I value those members who made attending our annual convention a priority, I also realized there were thousands of other members that I never would get the chance to meet unless we tried something different.
So we took the leap, launched something new, and were rewarded by a warm welcome and great turnout everywhere we went. I am grateful to the more than 1,600 members who signed up as volunteers and amazed by how many people approached me to say “thank you” for bringing AOPA to them.
Over the course of seven events nationwide, I got the chance to meet thousands of you—more than 16,000, in fact. When the weather was low, hundreds of cars arrived. On better flying days we had hundreds of aircraft, with 543 airplanes at our final event of the year in St. Simons Island, Georgia. And we served more than 20,000 meals, including thousands of free lunches for our members and their families, in celebration of AOPA’s seventy-fifth anniversary (see “Sea to Shining Sea,” page 79).
I couldn’t be happier with the way the fly-ins let us connect with so many of you in person. And I can’t wait to do it again. Stay tuned because we’ll be announcing our 2015 fly-in destinations soon.
But the fly-ins aren’t the only way we can connect and engage with you throughout the year. AOPA has a big presence at major aviation events such as Sun ’n Fun and EAA AirVenture. And we travel to dozens of smaller events, too. In 2014 I met with members and took part in more than 100 aviation gatherings and meetings of all sizes, from pancake breakfasts to state pilot association meetings to flying club events.
Then there are our seven regional managers, working for you with feet on the ground and airplanes in the air every day in your region (see “Action in the States,” page 98). And let’s not forget the thousands of AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers who keep us informed about issues and activities at their home airports.
There’s also all the work we do to get new people engaged with general aviation and to bring past pilots back into the fold. Programs such as our Rusty Pilots seminars make it easy for lapsed pilots to get back in the air by taking them through the ground portion of the flight review and helping them connect with schools and flight instructors in their area. In our first months, the program has helped bring more than 500 pilots back to active flying status—and started some 2,000 others on that journey.
Engagement takes many forms—not just the opportunities to meet with you, but also the chances to represent you and your interests. To that end, I participated in more than 100 meetings over the course of the year with GA groups, aviation business leaders, members of Congress, senators, and others—including FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. I testified before key congressional committees and gave media interviews on important GA issues.
In 2014 we proved that getting engaged with you, our members, and the broader GA community makes a difference for general aviation. From advocacy success to making personal connections, every AOPA member can be proud of their achievements as part of the world’s largest GA community. We know that it matters, so in 2015 and beyond, you can count on engagement once again being a top priority for me and the entire AOPA team. We’ll be coming to an airport or event near you. Can’t wait to see you there!
AOPA PresidentMark Baker was named president of the association in September 2013.
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