An Open Letter to ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell
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.
President and CEO
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)