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President's Position: Eighty years laterPresident's Position: Eighty years later

The freedom to fly is alive and well

Sometimes we have to stop and look at where we’ve come from in order to understand where we are going. Think about it: five guys sitting around a table at Wings Field outside Philadelphia in 1939 (see “The Foremost Advocate” ). Do you suppose they ever wondered, “Hmm…what’s this going to look like in 80 years?”

I think they would be surprised and proud of what we as a community have done. The freedom to fly they set out to protect that day is alive and well here in the twenty-first century.

I believe that the richness of AOPA’s story needs to be celebrated. It’s really the members who have made the organization what it is today. The staff and leadership over the years have worked hard to create an organization full of useful benefits that people choose to belong to.

Remember, this is not like union dues. People have a choice and we are grateful that so many have chosen to become members—and stay members, often for decades. I’ve met countless members who proudly share with me the date they joined, their member numbers, their pins. That’s what I want to celebrate. That’s a pride we need to share.

I’ve been a member of AOPA since I learned to fly in the 1970s. Like many others, I had a vague awareness of how the organization started. But when I was given the opportunity—the responsibility—to lead this association in 2013, the first thing I did was read up on its history, because I wanted to understand what the founders were trying to do when they formed it as the winds of war were blowing around the world. What was their intent, and were we as an organization upholding those principles that they held in such high regard?

Because of general aviation, we know what it is to have an unrivaled view of the world. The circular rainbows dancing on the edges of clouds, the morning light that bathes every scene in an almost magical glow.I am pleased to see that we are upholding those principles and that AOPA is still true to its mission to protect the freedom to fly. As a result of this organization, general aviation in the United States is the envy of the world.

While we pause here to reflect on our past, we must constantly look to the future as the regulatory and economic challenges faced by pilots in other countries are constantly lapping at our shores. Our tireless vigilance allows general aviation to thrive here like nowhere else. You’ll see that, decade after decade, the organization overcame obstacle after obstacle to keep general aviation alive.

The story of AOPA’s rich history dovetails with the growth of general aviation. AOPA’s birth before World War II ensured our access to the skies during that turbulent time and proved the value of light airplanes and an engaged pilot population. That foundation served general aviation well when, after the war, the industry surged and airplanes became a part of society in a way the Wright brothers could never have imagined.

Because of general aviation, we know what it is to have an unrivaled view of the world. The circular rainbows dancing on the edges of clouds; the morning light that bathes every scene in an almost magical glow; the welcome sight of home from 1,000 feet above—we are lucky to glimpse these views.

Today some 5,000 public airports and another 15,000 landing facilities of one sort or another support our fleet of nearly 200,000 aircraft and some 600,000 pilots. This didn’t all just happen by itself. AOPA, with the support of its growing membership over the decades, nudged, cajoled, and led government and industry to understand the importance of this activity we call general aviation—the recreational and business use of personal aircraft.

This freedom to fly is uniquely American, and it is that intertwined story of government, industry, and association that you will see on the pages of this anniversary issue. It could not happen anywhere else, but it did happen here—and this is how it happened.AOPA

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Mark Baker

Mark Baker

Mark Baker is AOPA’s fifth president. He is a commercial pilot with single- and multiengine land and seaplane ratings and a rotorcraft rating.

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