Archive for February, 2012

A view from the Northwest

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

This weekend I have the privilege of spending some time in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Skies may be gray, but the prospects for GA are sunny. I’m here to take part in the Northwest Aviation Conference, which brings together pilots from Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and more.

This region is particularly active for pilots, and there are a great many places best reached by small aircraft. The conference is being held in Puyallup, just outside Seattle.

I started my trip by joining the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association for dinner—it the largest such event yet. With so much water around, it’s no wonder that flying floatplanes is a major pastime in these parts.

Arriving in Seattle for the Northwest Aviation Conference.

I’ve also spoken to attendees at the Northwest Aviation Conference—an annual gathering of as many as 10,000 pilots from the region.  And I’m meeting with leaders from most of the largest aviation associations in the region.

Joining me are Greg Pecoraro, our vice president for airports and state advocacy, and David Ulane, northwest mountain regional manager for AOPA, so I have the advantage of having with me experts on the area and specific issues affecting pilots here.

Coming here is a wonderful chance to speak directly to pilots in this part of the country about their concerns, and to collaborate with them on the issues that affect us all, including preserving our access to airspace, protecting our airports (on land and water), simplifying  customs and border issues, and preventing onerous regulations from compromising our freedom to fly.

We enjoy updating pilots on our national efforts, but we also listen closely to what they tell us about their flying. And we take that insight back to Washington where it helps us advocate for the needs of all pilots in all parts of the country.

Perhaps that’s the most important lesson I can take from all of these meetings. Though the specifics may differ according to where we live, the goals of all general aviation pilots are the same—enjoy our unique freedom to fly, and ensure that it remains intact for our children and grandchildren after us.

A stop at Skyport

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

I’ve spent the past few days traveling around Texas—a big state with a substantial concentration of general aviation pilots. My latest stop was Redbird Skyport, a facility that opened just last November at San Marcos Municipal Airport between Austin and San Antonio. I really enjoyed being back at the facility I visited just a few months ago while it was still under construction.

We had a full house as we discussed ways to grow the pilot population during a stop at Redbird Skyport in San Marcos, Texas.

It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about AOPA’s efforts to grow the pilot population and change the paradigm for flight training because that’s the same mission that led Jerry Gregoire and his Redbird team to dream up and build this facility.

At AOPA we want to encourage more flight schools to do what works. Our extensive research has shown us exactly what that is, and we believe that if more schools focus on the keys to success, more students will complete their flight training and we’ll ultimately have more pilots.

We’ve created the AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards to spotlight the schools and instructors that do it right. (You can nominate a training program for the awards by answering a few questions at )We want to share what we’ve learned and encourage more schools to adopt successful practices.

But we also hope to see innovation, and that’s where facilities like Skyport, which its developers call a training lab, comes in. Incorporating the known success factors into your school is a good place to start. But expanding on those factors with creative ways to improve the experience further is even better.

As we say at Flight Training magazine—a good pilot is always learning. And so is a good instructor, a good school, and a good association for that matter.

At Skyport the focus is on creating a new type of training experience, with heavy integration of flight simulators and a professional atmosphere to keep training fun and keep students moving forward. I was really impressed by what a difference it makes to include simulators from the very start. It clearly enhances the student experience and contributes to a very high student retention rate.

Just as we at AOPA are sharing everything we learn about the training experience, the Redbird Skyport team has pledged to share what they learn with the rest of the general aviation industry—and that’s good news for everyone.

A taste of the West

Friday, February 10th, 2012

This morning I left the wintry weather in Frederick for a smooth flight to Fort Worth, Texas, where I’m enjoying a true western experience. While I’m here I’ll be hosting a Pilot Town Hall to bring local AOPA members up to date on all the important issues affecting general aviation.

Around here, steer have the right of way.

I always enjoy these events. They give me the opportunity to share what AOPA is doing when it comes to important issues like FAA reauthorization, upcoming elections, NextGen, protecting GPS, and growing the pilot population. But just as important, my travels around the country give me the opportunity to learn what matters to pilots in different places. Perhaps the most striking thing about these trips is that pilots everywhere worry about the same issues. Will I continue to have access to airports and airspace? How can I make my flying more affordable and enjoyable? What can I do to make sure that general aviation thrives now and into the future?

The other reason I’m here in Texas is to start making plans for AOPA’s Aviation Summit 2013. Typically, Summit moves between the East and West coasts. But members in the middle of the country have made a compelling argument for Summit to be held in their part of the world, and we’ve listened. So, in October of next year, we will be in Fort Worth.

Drover's like Rocky (center) make sure the "wild west" experience doesn't get too wild.

I’m excited to see all that the area has to offer. And already our team is making big plans.

Naturally Summit will focus on key developments in the general aviation community. We’ll feature leaders and decision makers who help guide the future of GA, and we’ll share the latest innovations from headsets to aircraft. And, as always, there will be a few surprises in store.

In these parts, cattle roam the streets and cars get out of the way.

There will also be all kinds of fun opportunities. If you’re not from this region, you may never have seen a rodeo in person. We can change that. This morning I am visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards where cattle literally roam the streets, cowboys ride bucking broncos, and enormous bulls put human strength to the test. It’s an age-old art form, and no one does it better than the experienced folks here in Fort Worth.

Of course, a trip to the rodeo is just one of the unique adventures on offer. They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes AOPA’s Aviation Summit. I’ll be keeping you up to date as we continue to develop our plans for next year’s Summit. For now, though, I’ll take my lead from the local cowboys and “git along.”