As I travel around the country, at every stop I make I can’t help but be impressed by the energy, activist spirit, and knowledge of the people I meet.
On Saturday, Jan. 16, I found myself in Mojave, California–the featured speaker at the airport’s Plane Crazy Saturday, an event that takes place every third Saturday of the month to encourage the broader community to come out to the airport, talk to pilots, and enjoy some of the camaraderie and fun that the GA community has in such abundance. Cathy Hansen is AOPA’s Airport Support Network volunteer at Mojave, and she did an incredible job helping to organize and support the event. She’s also a great example of the role an ASN volunteer can play, helping to bring together key parties to talk about regulatory and airport issues that affect everyone. Not to mention her role as a liason to the neighboring communities.
You might hear the word “desert” and think I’m talking about the middle of nowhere, but don’t make that mistake. The Mojave sits just outside such major Southern California population centers as Los Angeles and San Bernardino, so it came as no surprise when some 500 pilots came to participate in the event and ask me some very well-considered questions.
We were also joined by California Assemblywoman Connie Conway and Assemblywoman Jean Fuller (no relation to me). Pilots in the area can count themselves lucky to have representatives in Sacramento who know aviation well and are supportive of GA.
As I generally do when talking to pilot groups, I offered an update on the state of GA, talked about the role of the GA Serves America movement, and discussed how our advocacy efforts are helping to shape our future. Then I took questions from the crowd.
You might be interested to know that a pattern is starting to emerge in these questions. Everywhere I go, someone asks me about the declining population and what AOPA, and individual pilots, can do to resolve this challenge. First, let me say how heartened I am by the fact that so many pilots are taking an interest in this issue. There was a time when talking about the decline in the number of pilots was greeted with a nod and a yawn. But today, pilots everywhere really “get it.” There’s power in numbers and we need new pilots to help us maintain our voice in Washington and in communities nationwide. Pilots are GA.
To the thousands of pilots who want to help, let me say this. Growing the pilot population is absolutely a priority for me personally and for AOPA as your association. We haven’t found a magic bullet for this one, and frankly, I don’t think there’s one solution. But I will tell you that we’ve got the best minds in the industry–not only from AOPA but from other aviation associations–working on it and we intend to come up with a clear course of action. In the meantime, I encourage you to participate in AOPA’s Let’s Go Flying program (http://www.aopa.org/letsgoflying), EAA’s Young Eagles program (http://www.youngeagles.org)\, or any other program that supports the goal of helping others become involved in aviation.
I am headed back to Frederick now, but I will be on the road again soon. You can follow my speaking schedule at www.aopa.org/prez and I will stay in touch about where I am headed next.