Seventy-five years ago, a small band of aviators joined together to create AOPA. The group’s mission: Protect and secure the future of what we now call general aviation. What our founders sought to create and then protect was a culture of safety and responsibility, an environment of thoughtful and reasonable regulation, and a business model that would sustain a robust aviation industry in states and communities throughout the country.
We have not strayed from that mission, although our work has become far more complex. Effectively addressing the challenges that GA faces today requires an army of missionaries to help AOPA advance the faith.
Consider the business model: The number of active private pilots in the United States peaked in 1980. Decades of growth had been fueled by The Greatest Generation’s return from World War II—and later, their boomer children—all seeking a piece of the American Dream. Federal and local governments expanded the commercial and general aviation infrastructure, through the construction of new airports and creation of the FAA, resulting in an environment for growth that was quite healthy.
These also were the halcyon years for aircraft manufacturers—especially the big three of Piper, Beech, and Cessna—which could at that time afford to build significant sales and training networks through hundreds of affiliated FBOs.
In the boom years, a pilot or student pilot could see the flight path because the path was created and supported by the industry sales model. Manufacturers could afford to build trainers and recruit the stream of students who would graduate with their certificates and move into the chain of aircraft ownership.
Shock waves in the marketplace were coming, however. They signaled the need for a shift from a for-profit model, increasingly difficult for a now-diminished industry to sustain, to a nonprofit model driven by end users and the association that represents them—AOPA. The halcyon days are gone (or at least in recession) and, in short, the future of general aviation is in our hands—yours and mine.
Our industry is not alone. Anyone who has financed a college education is aware that tuition alone won’t cover costs. The same is true for health care delivery, medical research, performing art centers, and museums, to name only a few. The price of membership or admission is far less than the cost of creating first-rate programs for members, guests, and customers.
In today’s model, it is contributions from members and philanthropists that assure AOPA has the resources required to carry on the critical work of preserving, protecting, and advancing general aviation. Please consider this: The next time you enroll in an AOPA Air Safety Institute course or enjoy a video series, remember that the Institute was created through and always has been funded by private donations.
When you see one of AOPA’s soon-to-be-ubiquitous Cessna 152s at an airport near you, know that they are the symbol of AOPA’s leadership in building the pilot population, lowering the cost of flying, and creating a market for like-new remanufactured aircraft within reach of almost all pilots and flying clubs from coast to coast.
And on your next multistop cross-country, remember that AOPA’s staff has been hard at work for decades to protect access and fight user fees and other taxes on pilots and aircraft owners.
None of this would have happened—nor will general aviation be sustained in the future—without the generous financial support of members like you. So if you have not already added “donor” to the type ratings in your logbook, I hope you will join me this year to expand AOPA’s missionary front lines.
If each of us goes just a bit above and beyond, we will accomplish great things together.
I always look forward to hearing from our members and donors, so please feel free to contact me anytime with thoughts, questions, or ideas on ways in which we can, together, preserve, protect, and advance general aviation.
Email [email protected]
James Minow joined the AOPA Foundation in September 2014. He is an active pilot who owns and flies a Beechcraft Sundowner.