Since 1950, the general aviation accident rate has decreased by 90 percent. It’s no coincidence that’s the same year the AOPA Air Safety Institute began creating safety programs for the pilot community.
The ASI team’s passion for aviation, creativity, insightful education, research, and analysis is evident in our educational offerings. From award-winning online courses to in-person seminars, flight instructor renewal courses, accident analysis, and much more, the products are created with the goal of helping all pilots fly more safely.
Richard McSpadden, Executive Director
Richard is a commercial pilot, CFII, MEI with an SES rating and a 525S (Citation Jet Single Pilot) type rating. He’s logged over 4,500 hours in 30 years of flying a variety of civilian and military aircraft. Richard has extensive experience in aviation safety including ground, flight, and special event operations. Richard currently owns a 1950 Navion with his father that has been in his family for almost 40 years. He previously owned a 1955 Piper Super Cub which he used to instruct his daughter to her initial solo. Prior to the Super Cub, Richard owned a 1965 Piper Cherokee 140 aircraft that he used to instruct his son to successful completion of his private pilot certificate.
As Executive Director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute, Richard leads a team of CFIs and content creators to develop and distribute free aviation safety material to advance General Aviation Safety. ASI distributes material through a dedicated YouTube channel, iTunes podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, in-person seminars, and a dynamic website. ASI material was accessed a record 5.5 million times in 2018.
Prior to joining the Air Safety Institute, Richard had a successful career in the Information Technology industry leading large, geographically dispersed operations providing business-critical information technology services. Prior to joining the private sector, Richard closed his 20-year Air Force career as the Commander and Flight Leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team where he headed the U.S. Air Force’s flagship organization and led over 100 flight demonstrations flying the #1 aircraft.
Paul Deres, Senior Director, manages projects and the day-to-day operations that drive new initiatives to reach, influence, and impact general aviation pilots and key stakeholders to advance general aviation safety. He also oversees the design and development team who works together to create videos, podcasts, seminars, and other safety material.
Paul received a Bachelor of Science in missionary aviation from Piedmont Bible College where he earned most of his pilot certificates and ratings, including his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificates, and an Executive Certificate in Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame.
Paul also holds the Project Management Professional (PMP) and Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certifications from the Project Management Institute. He is an active flight instructor and veteran of the U.S. Army.
John Collins, Manager, Aviation Safety Programs, is the Chief Flight instructor for the Air Safety Institute’s Flight Instructor Refresher Courses (both in-person and online) and is responsible for the in-person seminar program.
John began working at AOPA in July 1998 in the Pilot Information Center as a Research Assistant. Prior to joining the Air Safety Institute, he was the Manager of Airport Policy for AOPA. He holds Commercial Pilot and CFI certificates. In his 20 years of aviation experience, he has flight instructed, flown Search & Rescue missions and charter flights, and worked as a line service specialist. He has logged over 2,100 hours of flight time and more than 1,300 hours of dual instruction given.
John has a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management and Flight Operations from the University of Dubuque. He is a US Army veteran and served as a tank platoon leader in Desert Storm and as a supply company executive officer in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. In his "spare time," John volunteers as a Scoutmaster and enjoys hammock camping, backpacking, and hiking. He is married, has two teenage children, and resides with his family in wild, wonderful West Virginia.
Prior to joining ASI, Rob worked as a research fellow and certified flight instructor. He conducted research on technically advanced aircraft, regulations, and safety.
Rob has a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Flight Science from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in Aviation and Aerospace Management from Purdue University. He holds Commercial Pilot and CFI certificates.
Robin Sharitz, Meeting Planner, has worked with the Air Safety Institute since 1989 and oversees the logistics of ASI’s nationwide safety seminars and in-person Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC), which includes finding locations, booking facilities, and coordinating seminar presenter and FIRC instructor schedules and resources. Robin also works with seminar attendees and FIRC customers to maintain a high degree of satisfaction for both programs. Additionally, she assists ASI’s chief flight instructor on other safety and FIRC-related projects. Robin attended Frederick Community College for business administration.
Machteld Smith, Aviation Technical Writer, writes and develops content for the Air Safety Institute’s safety education programs, including online courses, newsletters, and publications. Before joining ASI, she was a Senior Editor for AOPA Pilot and managing AOPA’s Airport Directory.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, and of Dutch nationality before coming to the U.S, she studied journalism and traveled the world as a KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) stewardess on DC-8s and -9s. Among the first 100 recreational pilots in early 1991, Machteld currently holds a commercial certificate, with single- and multiengine instrument and single-engine seaplane ratings.
Flights trumping her airline career: piloting a C172 in to and out of Leadville, Colorado; flying a Piper Tripacer on floats around Alaska’s Mount McKinley and Denali’s glaciers; and earning her tailwheel signoff in a Citabria.
Tyler Pangborn, Videographer, joined the Air Safety Institute team in August 2015. He is responsible for the creation of ASI’s safety videos.
Prior to joining ASI, Tyler worked as an aerial photographer / remote sensor operator for an aerial survey company at the Frederick airport, and before that, as an assistant video producer with a marketing firm in Hagerstown, MD.
Tyler earned his private pilot certificate in 2017. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with a bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts. He currently resides in Hagerstown, MD with his wife and two daughters.
Claire Urban, User Experience Designer, joined the Air Safety Institute team in January 2016. She is responsible for creating and updating many of ASI’s online courses including the online flight instructor refresher course.
Prior to joining ASI, Claire worked as a contractor developing many of ASI’ current interactive online courses. It was a natural progression to bring her e-learning development and web design skills in-house. As a lifelong resident of Frederick, Claire has worked as a Senior Designer for many years in a local online marketing agency, and as a freelance designer.
Claire is a graduate from Shepherd University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design. She has added student pilot to her list of achievements. Her passions range from going off-highway in her Jeep to photography, jewelry making, and woodworking.
Nicole Applegate, Safety Program Coordinator, assists CFIs with completing the eFIRC process and getting all the required documents for them to renew their certificates. She is also the administrative assistant to Executive Director Richard McSpadden and the ASI team.
Prior to joining ASI, Nicole worked for flight schools at Carroll County Airport and BWI. She also worked at the world’s oldest airport, College Park Airport. Nicole earned an associate degree from the Community College of Baltimore County in Flight Management, and also a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, in Environmental Science and Policy: Land Use.
Nicole holds a private pilot certificate, and in her spare time enjoys making and collecting art, spending time with her husband, and going on walks with her German Shepherd, Maya.
Kurt Sensenbrenner, Video Producer, joined the Air Safety Institute team in October 2017. He is responsible for the creation and delivery of ASI’s safety videos.
Prior to joining ASI, Kurt worked freelance as a cinematographer and camera operator for feature-length fiction and nonfiction movies, commercials, and television shows. Kurt also directed a feature documentary titled, “From Mass to the Mountain” that is currently screening in film festivals.
Kurt has a master of fine arts degree is documentary studies and production from Hofstra University and a bachelor of fine arts in film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As a student pilot, he is looking forward to earning is private pilot certificate in 2018.
Alicia Herron, Aviation Writer, for the Air Safety Institute. She develops content including scripts for ASI’s safety videos, articles, and seminars. Alicia joined the team in September 2018.
Prior to joining ASI, Alicia worked as a flight instructor, air tour pilot, and also towed banners in Citabrias.
Originally from Los Angeles, Alicia received a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Science from Rocky Mountain College. She enjoys reading, hiking, music, baseball, and all types of adventure. Alicia is an active pilot and aspires to learn aerobatics and own her first airplane.