Archive for 2012

Looking Forward to 2013

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Tom Haines, our editor-in-chief and AOPA LIVE anchor, and I sat down and talked about AOPA’s 2012 experiences and also discussed what 2013 may hold for us and for general aviation.  Tom’s good questions allowed for a wide ranging discussion that I hope you find informative!

Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/AOPALive2013

GA loses a friend

Friday, December 7th, 2012

All of us at AOPA and the AOPA Foundation were saddened to learn of the death of J.Lloyd Huck, retired chairman of Merck & Co., Inc. and lifelong supporter of general aviation. He was a thoughtful and dedicated advocate for GA who was deeply concerned about growing the pilot population and addressing the challenges facing the flight training community. He loved flying and wanted to be sure future generations would have the same opportunity to enjoy that unique freedom.

Mr. Huck began his flying career in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he first flew the B-17 before becoming an instructor and pilot on B-29 bombers. Even after his service ended, Mr. Huck never lost his love of aviation. He continued to fly until shortly before his 90th birthday when he donated the proceeds from the sale of his last aircraft, an American Champion Champ, to the AOPA Foundation. He had previously donated another of his personal aircraft, which became the AOPA 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes airplane.

His commitment and generosity made a real difference for pilots. He will be missed.

Demystifying flying clubs

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Flying clubs have been around a long time—almost as long as aviation itself. Until recently, they grew almost exclusively through word of mouth. If you were lucky, you’d meet someone who knew someone who belonged to a flying club—and that was how you might happen on to a community of like-minded pilots to help share the costs and joys of aircraft ownership.

It all seemed a little mysterious. How could you connect with a club? What if there wasn’t one in your area? What if you wanted to start your own?

Last night, we began the process of taking the mystery out of flying clubs and making them accessible to many more pilots who want to get more from their flying.

More than 630 pilots signed up to spend their Wednesday evening taking part in a webinar hosted by the Center to Advance the Pilot Community. Participants learned about how to start their own clubs, heard from the president of a Texas flying club that grew from nothing to more than 200 members in its first three years, and got some legal and tax guidance from a leading aviation attorney. Then they asked questions—literally hundreds of them—during a discussion moderated by Adam Smith, who leads the Center.

There were questions about insurance, financing, maintenance, leasing, structure, and more. But most of all, participants wanted the kind of practical, detailed advice they need to take their own interest in flying clubs to the next level.

The session was first of many to be held by the Center to help pilots start, join, and benefit from flying clubs in communities nationwide. It’s still early days, but the strong participation and active engagement of those who took part is more evidence that pilots are excited by the idea of being part of a community where they can share their passion for aviation—and save money and hassles so they can indulge that passion a little more often.

I want to thank everyone who participated in this first event. Your questions and feedback will help us focus our efforts and give you the information you need, whether you want to join a club, expand an existing enterprise, or start something completely new. I know flying clubs have a lot to offer, and I’m excited to be working on new ways to bring those benefits to a wider audience.

I invite you to learn more about how clubs can fit into your flying by visiting our web page at www.aopa.org/flyingclubs. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be bringing you new tools and information that can help you connect with a club in your area or even start a new one of your own. In the meantime lets keep the discussion going and learn from one another. You can take part by joining the AOPA Flying Clubs group on Facebook. See you there.

Voters Register Support for GA on Election Day!

Monday, November 12th, 2012

There was a very important Election Day victory for the general aviation community, but it did not involve anyone actually listed on a ballot.  Our victory has to do with the views of voters and a dramatic increase of support for GA from 2008 to 2012.  I will share with you below what we just learned from a new survey taken the evening of the election and the day after….

During the four years since the national elections in 2008, we in the general aviation community have been doing everything possible to advance the notion (and the reality) that GA really matters.  It means jobs, economic growth, and the expression of an important freedom, the freedom to fly.

 Here at AOPA we formed General Aviation Serves America when user fees threatened in 2009.  Our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) advanced “No Plane, No Gain” to share stories of how vital aircraft are for all types of commercial activity.  And, together with a broad based group called the Alliance for Aviation Across America, we worked to encourage state legislators and governors to pass resolutions in support of general aviation.

So, here’s the story.  For a number of years, I have worked with one of the best public opinion researchers in the business who runs a post-election survey to learn all about what voters had on their minds on election day.  The survey is national and has a fairly large sample. But what has always interested me about this technique is that the survey consists only of voters who actually voted, so it provides valuable insights into the thinking of our citizens who care enough to vote!

The researcher works with several groups in advance to find questions that are of a unique interest.  So, in 2008 and again in 2012 we asked America’s voters some questions about general aviation.  To be honest, the results are very favorable—so favorable that if the exact same questions had not been asked previously by the same researcher using the same post-election survey technique, I might be a bit skeptical.

What I believe the survey shows very clearly is that America’s voters place a higher value on general aviation in 2012 than they did in 2008.  Yes, that’s right.  We are doing better in the minds of voters.  And, going into the highly charged public policy debates over the next several months, these findings should serve to bolster our case.

 So, here are the results.

  1. In 2008 and again in 2012, we asked voters to tell us whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:  General aviation in the United States is an important part of the nation’s transportation system.

                           In 2008, 62% agreed.  In 2012 93% agreed.

                   And, the agreement was across all demographic groups.

       2.   In both national election years we asked voters to agree or disagree with this statement:  General aviation in the United States  is important to me and my family.

              In 2008, 29% agreed.  In 2012, 76% agreed.

           3.  One other question of interest was asked that was new this year.  We asked voters about their aspiration to fly in a private plane.  Across all voters, 31% of those that had never been in a private plane said they hope to some day.  And, among younger voters between the ages of 18 and 24, just over half said they have the desire to fly in a private plane.

These election day results encourage me to think that tens of millions of America’s voters not only recognize the value of general aviation, but actually want to participate in experiencing the freedom to fly.  I know sometimes we feel like our constituency is small, but because we are passionate and vocal we are building a stronger appreciation for GA and all that the freedom to fly means in America! We need to keep up the fight and we need your continued support–together we really are changing the way America views GA.

Rod Hightower leaves EAA, collaboration will continue

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

All of us at AOPA were saddened to learn today of Rod Hightower’s resignation as president of EAA. During his tenure AOPA and EAA enjoyed an unprecedented level of collaboration that has served members of both organizations well. Our associations have committed to working together to protect general aviation interests, promote GA safety, and grow the GA community in the United States. That commitment has been at the heart of the joint AOPA-EAA petition to allow an exemption to the third class medical, now under review by the FAA.

I am confident the EAA Board, under the chairmanship of Jack Pelton, will find the right individual to lead EAA into the future. In the meantime, all of us at AOPA look forward to continuing to work with EAA’s leadership team to develop innovative ways to address the challenges facing the general aviation community.

Finally, I have enjoyed getting to know Rod and Maura, and I wish them and their entire family the best in this new chapter of their lives.

 

An Open Letter to the ANN Editor-in-Chief

Monday, October 1st, 2012

An Open Letter to ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

Dear Jim,

Well, you told me several weeks ago that we were finding ourselves in agreement far too often so you would have to say something unflattering about me sometime soon.  I suggested that we’d welcome a kinder and gentler Jim Campbell….guess you rejected that concept.

Your morning opinion piece reached me early today, and while my first instinct is always just to let these missives sit, you throw so many people under the bus that I thought a response would be appropriate.

You seem to confuse being contrarian with being constructive.

What we need, is an honest discussion about the challenges and the opportunities existing in our general aviation community where things are continuing to change.

If fact, the one point I totally agree with you about is that we at AOPA are really working to do things differently.  By the way, not because initiatives from the past were wrong.  Indeed, the initiatives of the past built the strong and effective organization we have today.  But, as the saying goes, what got us this far, will not get us where we need to be in the future.

Things have changed, Jim.  Advertisers cannot spend what they used to.  Banks cannot sustain credit card arrangements and associations cannot spend valuable marketing funds in the same way they once did. 

The world has changed in many ways, but what has not changed is our mission.  We work passionately here to protect the freedom to fly!

During the past couple of years…

-          We fought user fees at the federal level successfully;
-          We opposed tax increases on aircraft that states threatened to impose and won 100% of the time;
-          We are working to shape countless regulations;
-          We work to insure GA is considered as airspace is modified;
-          We worked to help pass the Pilot Bill of Rights this year when many thought it could never happen;
-          We support local airport efforts against community opposition through the work for our full time regional team and 3,000 Airport Support Network volunteers across the country;
-          We are testifying from Capitol Hill to city councils about the value of airports
-          In this fight we’ve enlisted some great aviators like Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman and individuals who use their aircraft to build their businesses and aid citizens in need…
-          And, much, much more! 

In all of this work, we team up with other organizations in the GA community.  Because we work together, others want to be part of what we do.  Remarkably, we now have in the US Congress the largest collection of elected officials ever as members of the General Aviation Caucus in the House and the Senate.  We’ve also seen resolutions sponsored in support of general aviation in almost every state. 

Your obsession for many months has been around change.  You look back to a different time and bemoan the fact we are a different organization.

I’m reminded, when we speak and when I read your concerns, of one great contribution that Albert Einstein made when he gave us his definition of insanity.  Insanity, he suggested, “is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

I think he has that right.  And, for associations, when traditional sources of revenue change dramatically, it would be irresponsible to just keep doing the same things over and over again.  We have not done that, nor will we.  Sorry!

So, let’s take a look at a few of the issues in this morning’s rant:

Flight Planning and Weather  –  we are very excited about our offering called FlyQ and the soon-to-be FlyQ Electronic Flight Bag.  You seem obsessed with this concept.  But, we’ve been in this space for many years.  We’ve worked with commercial partners in this space for many years.  We felt that the tens of thousands of members who come to our site to use this service could benefit from something more current.  We did not decide to just go it alone.  We spoke to numerous companies about the possibility of partnering to improve our offering.  We found a very fine general aviation company called Seattle Avionics and, with them, we are developing the next generation of something we’ve offered to members successfully for many years.  Have we been competing in this marketplace for dozens of years? Yes, we have.  Will we continue to compete in the marketplace?  Yes we will.  Isn’t that the idea about having a marketplace?  Shouldn’t we be encouraging innovation and affordable technology solutions to come to market?

Meetings – I don’t know how you receive information, but you received a copy of a letter to me from three companies before it reached my office (interesting professional approach).  I meet with our advertisers and companies in the industry all of the time and will continue to do so.  I did not need a lawyer to caution me about hosting a meeting with a “collective group” of companies who want to discuss how we compete in the marketplace.  A stroll through a law library will inform you that this gets much too close to antitrust issues.  So, no problem with meetings.  But, no collective marketplace negotiations.

Sporty’s – You elected to identify one company that AOPA has enjoyed a long standing relationship with on many fronts.  Our respect for what Sporty’s does for the GA community and the skilled management team is significant and we do speak with one another with some frequency.  In one small area, the AOPA logo collection, we have asked one another for some time what we might do differently.  It was not working well for either party a couple years ago and, from our perspective at least, it works less well now.  It’s the nature of the agreement that to change our approach, we have to terminate the existing approach with a 90 day notice.  That’s what we did.  We will take the time to look for something that might work better for our members as we enter 2013….no one fired anyone as you, or someone who contacted you, seemed to suggest.  Again, why do the same thing, the same way and hope for a better result….that’s not working for them or us.

People Leaving – I could not be more proud of the team we have here at AOPA today!  They work across the country and even internationally on behalf of our members.  It is true that when you have really good people and they have a great deal of visibility in the aviation community, they get recruited away.  So, I am also proud of an AOPA alumni group that is doing great things in the aviation community. They took the experience from here and continue to support the industry in good and important places.  And, as a place to work, I think we do our best to make sure we are inviting and attract new people.  You mentioned two fine individuals who recently joined us, Katie Pribyl and Adam Smith.  We are proud to have them and our members will benefit by their experience shaped at GAMA and EAA respectively.

Strategic Investing – OK, this is an area where we do not have something to announce, but you already see troubling consequences.  Here’s the thing, Jim, AOPA has resources and we are very well aware that there are serious issues confronting our general aviation community.  We could keep all of our reserves invested in funds and benefit by the interest earned.  Or, we could take some portion of these resources and make investments that might help the community and earn a return for AOPA that would help fund the advocacy and other work we do.

You see, Jim, no one comes through my door and says, “…hey, why don’t you just kick back and do less.”  Certainly, that is not the position you espouse.  You and others want us to do more and do it faster.  Well, if our traditional revenue streams do not produce as much, we need to find new ones.  Honestly, I thought this was about as attractive an idea as I could imagine.  Invest where we can make a difference to help our members and, in doing so, create the possibility of new revenue streams.

You cry foul.  But, did you know that AOPA first started developing commercial relationships with companies in the 1940s.  It’s been an important part of our history and it has allowed us to hold down the dues our members pay each year to less than what it cost for you and me to have one dinner together!

Now, you do make choices when you embark on this strategy.  By definition, you select partners.  Like I’ve said, AOPA has been doing that for decades.

What the community has the right to know is how we make choices.  Actually, Jim, it hasn’t really changed in 73 years.  We take action and engage in activities that benefit our members.  We need resources to do that and we find them as best we can.

I do believe that our members benefit from our ability to build and sustain communications platforms in print, electronic and video media that are the most popular, well read and viewed in the world.  I also believe that the best way I can serve the fine companies who market products to our members and the broader general aviation community is to keep these platforms strong and available for advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

We need a stronger marketplace, but we will not get there by shrinking from the challenges or the opportunities that are presented and available to us.

A Final Word

Jim, I have tried meeting with you to understand your point of view and I have ignored you.  Both approaches seem to take me to about the same place. 

I start every day trying to make a positive difference in this space we call general aviation.  If I am guilty of anything, it is in believing that others in our community start their day the same way.  While from time to time you test this belief, I will continue to embrace and hold on to my optimism.  It’s who I am.

What really sustains my belief in the goodness and enduring nature of our general aviation community comes not from sitting at a desk and writing a blog, it comes from being out with people.  It comes from talking directly to policy makers about the contributions the general aviation community makes across the country.  It also comes from doing the hard work of running an organization and working with other strong and good organizations.  It comes from talking with generous donors about what they may want to support.  In comes from learning from some of the great and successful innovators in the GA community where they see opportunities. And, it comes from standing in front of members in town halls and other gatherings and answering their questions while hearing and understanding their concerns.

Jim, I do not ever see you in any of these places.  Maybe that is why we see the world differently.

A pilot, AOPA member and very successful investor said over lunch a few days ago in California, “…I’ve been a member of AOPA since 1985 and I have admired what you do for us; however, I had become concerned about just how you and the other associations could survive.  After hearing about the new ideas, I’m convinced you will be around another 70 years.”

So, Jim, you can stay plugged into the past and be a contrarian.  Or, tune into what we are trying to do to build a stronger future.  Either way, all we can do is keep working in the directions we believe will benefit our members and, in this regard, repeating the same things and expecting a different result, no matter how pleasing to some, is not an option.

Craig Fuller
President and CEO
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

Speaking up for GA in AK

Monday, September 17th, 2012

For those of us who live in the “lower 48,” Alaska can sometimes feel a world away. But it’s a state I love to visit, not least because so many of the residents are involved in general aviation.

Today I had the privilege to be part of an event with Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, as well as Pete Bunce of GAMA, Tom Hendricks of NATA, and Ed Bolen of NBAA. Sen. Begich co-chairs the Senate General Aviation Caucus and routinely speaks out against user fees and in favor of general aviation. He’s worked to ensure that avgas remains available even as the industry seeks safe and affordable alternatives. And he has fought hard against new taxes for GA operators. In short he’s a real friend to GA.

Senator Begich

Sen. Mark Begich speaking to an audience of Alaskan aviators.

The crowd that gathered for the event was enthusiastic about protecting GA, too. And for good reason. Tourism is an important part of Alaska’s economy and hundreds of thousands of tourists each year take advantage of GA to go flightseeing or fishing. Residents, too, depend on GA for transportation, access to medical care, and the delivery of everything from food to mail.

It should come as no surprise that this was a knowledgeable audience that asked pertinent questions and really understood the issues facing general aviation.

It’s been a great trip to Alaska and I look forward to returning to this beautiful state with its GA-friendly atmosphere. If I’m lucky I’ll find a way to bring my Husky north for some real backcountry flying.

The early bird…

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

I love to fly early in the morning, especially in the summer and especially down low. The bumps that come with summer’s heat have not yet formed and the air is smooth and pleasantly cool.

This morning’s sunrise over Spencer, Iowa.

This morning I launched from KFSD in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at 5:30 a.m., traveling ahead of a thunderstorm. I arrived over KSPW in Spencer, Iowa, just about dawn and I was treated to this beautiful view of the sun rising over the fields. The coming days for me will be full, involving a combination of travel and meetings. But before the rush begins, it’s great to have a moment like this one that reminds me just how lucky I am to be a pilot.

Land of the Relentless Fun (46U)

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Our travels in Wyoming took Dave Hirschman in the AOPA Sweepstakes Husky and me in my N24HU to Alpine, Wyoming.  There, the residents of the Alpine Airpark (46U) warmly welcomed us to their community which claims 14 Huskys on the field.  Located to the south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this majestic community sits at the southeast corner of the Palisades Reservoir. 

The Reservoir provided a beautiful backdrop one morning for some photography…and we had a great photographer with us:  George Kounis from Pilot Getaways

 During our visit, Dave and I were treated to some great meals and fantastic flying.  We learned first hand that this is one airpark community that is committed to what they call “relentless fun!”

One evening, we had perfect conditions for a flight right over the top of the Snake River.  We took two groups of four Huskys on about a 20-mile run down the river in a carefully briefed and perfectly coordinated flight.  It was flying as Huskys were meant to fly and we were rewarded with remarkable scenery as the sun was low in the sky behind us.

These folks also just go out for early morning runs to find a cup of coffee at neighboring fields.  Since we were enjoying our own coffee in a guest house just a few yards from the 5,850 foot runway, it was enjoyable to go out and watch our new friends departing.

While our purpose in traveling to this part of Wyoming was for a final round of service at Aviat Aircraft for the AOPA Sweepstakes Husky before the giveaway, this community sitting just north of Aviat’s home in Afton was a real find and a perfect way for Dave and me to conclude what has been a wonderful year of flying the two yellow Huskys together across the country.

With about 200 hours on the Sweepstakes Husky, the aircraft has been carefully broken in for a new lucky owner.  Dave has headed to what we in  Washington, D.C., call  an “undisclosed location” in the West to stage the aircraft for our October AOPA Aviation Summit.  I’ve headed on to fly back to Frederick. 

So, while the sun may be setting on this wonderful trip west, along the way we’ve made some great new friends and discovered a place to which we both agreed we must find a way to return.

We have also witnessed the pure enthusiasm of pilots of all ages for flying a type of aircraft that can take you to back country airports all across the country.  We appreciate the positive response to our 2012 Sweepstakes aircraft and I personally look forward to handing the keys to one of our lucky members in the next few months.

Huskies to Wyoming

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

The Huskies arrived safely in Alpine, Wyoming.

On Monday, Dave Hirschman, flying the Tougher Than a Tornado Sweepstakes Husky, and I headed west en route to Wyoming. The scenery was spectacular. We flew along the Missouri River near Pierre, South Dakota, before stopping in Alpine, Wyoming.

This morning, we took the Sweeps Husky to the Afton, Wyoming, Aviat factory for its annual. Dave and I received a warm welcome as we brought the plane home one last time. The next stop for that beautiful aircraft will be AOPA’s Aviation Summit in Palm Springs, California, where we will give it away to one very lucky winner. I know it will be hard to part with, as every sweepstakes plane is. But this time the blow will be softened by knowing I have a Husky of my own waiting in the hangar.

 As for me and my Husky, we’ll be flying around this area for the next couple of days, enjoying the scenery and the company of other Husky enthusiasts.

A view of the Tougher Than a Tornado Husky as we fly along the Missouri River near Pierre, South Dakota.