About Sean Collins

AOPA Eastern Regional Manager - Protecting your freedom to fly - A Dad and Commercial Pilot, my career began with AOPA in 2007 - Follow Eastern Region news on Twitter: @AOPAEastern

General Aviation: A Shark Tale

Monomoy IslandLike a Submarine beneath the surface poised and ready to strike, the 15 foot, 2000 pound behemoth searches for prey. With cunning and grace, she lurks with all senses deployed—her eyes scanning the surface, her nose dissecting particles of water for a familiar scent. While her sense of smell is thought to rival that of dogs and bears, all senses work in harmony as she reserves her secret weapon—electroreception. This unique biological adaption enables her to hone-in with RADAR precision. Always on the prowl, she soon selects her target. She plots her course so as to remain hidden from view until the last possible second with small adjustments for heading and AOA; setting up behind and below her mark. Using depth to remain hidden, she cruises swiftly and silently determined to deliver a single devastating blow. As she approaches the underbelly of her victim she increases her intercept angle to twenty, thirty now forty degrees. Quick oscillations of her powerful tail produce an accelerating burst of speed. Ascending from darkness into light her seeming shadow emerges from the depths; her mouth ajar. Accelerating from three to nearly twenty knots and without warning she explodes from the water’s surface; momentum elevating her aloft. Her now gaping jaws clampdown—SPLASHHHHH—she reenters the water seemingly vanishing. A murky red hue disperses throughout the scene, her brutal objective nearly complete as she then returns to claim her quarry.

Reminiscent of scenes from the 70’s classic “Jaws”, this brash portrayal of one of nature’s apex predators is an otherwise routine occurrence in certain – special – locations around the globe. One of these presumably newly reclaimed locations is not far from where I reside, in the waters surrounding Chatham (Cape Cod), MA. Quite naturally as a pilot and shark enthusiast, this is where I enjoy a great deal of time leisure flying!

As a first order of conduct and #savethesharks devotee I must insist upon the reality that sharks, while maybe intimidating, are in fact NOT out to eat humans! My riveting portrayal is merely that of a White Shark hunting a common food-prey item from a family of semiaquatic marine mammals known as Pinnipeds (Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses)—thanks Wikipedia, Discovery Channel, Nat GEO, PBS and all of the TV stations I’ve ever watched educational programs relating to the marine science ;) .

Cruising the waters off the southern New England coast in summer months, White Sharks are known to frequent the islands and the Cape, and increasingly so. They are attracted by the throngs of seals making a decisive comeback post regulatory protections that prevent us land-lovers from hunting them; to the angst of many fisherman, so I hear.

Apart from my suggestion for a memorable scenic flight, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about sharks in New England as a part of an aviation blog. So to add to your confusion, I’ll assure you that where the sharks go, the Scientists follow. Now, I’ve made the uneducated assumption that like normal people, marine scientists’ time is a valuable commodity and with that comes the costs of chartering a boat to take them where the sharks are (in addition to all of the scientific stuff they tend to lug around like cameras, computers, tagging equipment, and a Swiss Army Knives). Still not satisfied with my connection!? Okay, well for those of you who have never been fishing before, they call it that for reason; there is no guarantee of catching anything, let alone savvy camera shy sharks (say that five times fast!). Therefore, not unlike those of us from the Corporate world, scientists (and/or their savvy boat Captains) realized general aviation offers a unique vantage from which their ability to quickly locate these sneaky leviathans is enhanced.

One outfit who regularly employs said creativity is the crew of the F/V Ezyduzit, aka Cape Cod Shark Hunters. Well known for their work with Dr. Greg Skomal, Marine Fisheries Biologist (Mass Department of Fisheries) and multiple episodes featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”; Pilot George Breen flying in his firebrick red Super Cub accompanies his comrades with an all-out aerial-visual assault on all things aquatic. Up and down the coast he meanders, looking for signs of life or predation. As the scientists and crew follow the sharks, the sharks follow the seals, so fish spotting aviators often focus their attention on the vast areas of water adjacent to large congregations of seal. Over an impromptu phone interview last summer George admitted that some days prove monotonous, however (and in my own words), a bad day FLYING around searching for sharks is akin to a bad day fishing in Florida—still a great day anywhere else! Now while opportunities like this are hard to aspire to this is just one unique example of how GA enhances marine sciences locally. From aerial fish spotting over Narragansett Bay, to tracking Whale migrations down the Atlantic coast for the Boston Aquarium, GA helps pave the way for a multitude of research projects.

Now turning full circle, it turns out that sharks are to aviation science, what aviation is to STEM based sciences. I recalled reading about some institute studying shark skin as means to improve lift and fuel efficiency. In case you are one of the few who don’t watch Shark Week, shark skin is covered in reverse-teeth like plates, giving it a rough texture when dragging your fingers forward against it. These plates are referred to as Denticles. Naturally I Googled the project to see what I could find and sure enough the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing in Bremen, Germany has developed an innovative coating system for large surface structures, such as airfoils, to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency as part of the Clean Sky initiative. Apparently the basic principles of denticles, refined over millions of years of evolution, are not only eco-friendly (reducing emissions) but provides for de facto cost savings—now that’s cool! So as you can see, my love for sharks and aviation is forever intertwined!!

With New Englanders gearing up for AOPA’s Regional Fly-in at the Plymouth Municipal Airport (PYM) in Plymouth, MA on Saturday, July 12, there is plenty to be excited about. As AOPA also looks to promote the local community, whether you fly-in, drive-in, or arrive via marine vessel, the chance to see one of nature’s rare and beautiful creatures from a uniquely safe vantage is only a hop, skip, and/or jump from the festivities in Plymouth. Just please remember to be courteous and give-way to our friends like George, out their working the shores in an effort and learn more about these important animals.

Tweet to @AOPAEastern to tell me about unique flying jobs near you!

The Red Sox & the Yankees; American East – Aviation – Division

As I sit typing this blog on the day of the Red Sox season opener against the Baltimore Orioles—Eastern Region HQ (me) Vs AOPA HQ (colleagues)—I am reminded that competition is indeed a celebrated characteristic of American culture. By the very nature of our nation’s humble beginnings competition is, like in sports, ever present in business and in life.

New York’s aviation industry is credited with an annual economic impact of $4.5 Billion in state and local revenue and the source of 500,000 direct and indirect jobs (or 4.7% of the state’s workforce).  While these numbers are certainly eye catching, as an athlete and competitor, success is less about what is achieved and more about the relationship between ones achievements relative to one’s potential for an interval of time.

There’s an old adage that reigns particularly so for aviation industries in the Northeast where competition between states is compounded by our relatively small geography. That is, “If you are not taking steps to move forward, you are moving backwards.”  In other words, to simply maintain the status quo one must change and adapt.

I recently participated in a phone interview with an NBC news affiliate out of Buffalo regarding the New York Aviation Jobs Act (AJA – A.3677-B/S.273-B)—which is the industry’s sound bite to create jobs and boost revenues through the targeted elimination of a significant financial barrier to the purchase and operation of aircraft in New York.  A respected journalist in his region, I was unable to determine if he harbors personal angst with the legislation or if he is in fact an exceptionally talented devil’s advocate.  I would prefer the latter and of course offer him the benefit of any doubt.    One of his arguments opposing the AJA was a question of Northeastern state’s efforts to repeal targeted sales & use taxes as “a race to the bottom.”  If by bottom he meant the elimination of the associated tax, then I would issue an emphatic “YES!”  His angle (as I understood it) offers the cushy scenario in which the elimination of these exemptions would place states on an even keel and ultimately generate a guaranteed revenue stream for a state.  Within this conjured world I would again reply with an emphatic “YES”, followed by an even more emphatic BUT that world doesn’t exist..”  As some might view this parallel universe a stroke of genius in which big corporations continue to pay government large sums of money with no loopholes to line their deep pockets with additional dollar-signs, reality knows not all things are created equal.  The list of examples is endless so I’ll spare you my own interpretation and point to the first and most obvious of them; differing tax rates.

For fear it isn’t obvious, I’ll jump back to the blog’s title for a moment as I infused a historic Major League Baseball rivalry as a metaphor for competition among the states.  While my intent is always crystal clear in my mind, I am aware that the rhythmic ramble with which I preach results in an uncanny knack for skewing even the most focused minds.  I thank my Nanna for that talent! ;)

Not long after accepting this position I realized politics boils down to a matter of perception.  In New York, our plight has less to do with the economic importance of General Aviation as much as it does its economic potential.  With the annual economic figures as I previously tossed out, no one really disputes GA’s importance to New York—but—with any tax legislation there is a financial value attributed to revenue generated from a given proposal.  We tend to think of this value in terms of a “price tag”, and the value associated with the AJA is $13.4 Million.  Legislators must then weigh the value of these presumed guaranteed revenues against the economic potential, or opportunity for increased (or decreased) revenues.  In other words, an exemption like this one is really an investment and so becomes a case of getting legislators to “see the forest through the trees.”  AND while we have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support our case, the dynamics from upstate to downstate make for a unique challenge gaining support from the Assembly.

Basis for Change: Since 2002, NY has lost approximately 700 income generating aircraft.  Courtesy of our friends at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), we know the average business aircraft generates $1 Million in annual economic activity and 5 jobs.  So where did they all go? I should first point out for those of us who grew up in parts of New England outside of Massachusetts; the Boston Red Sox is considered New England’s baseball team; hence the fan-handle Red Sox Nation.  With the advance of targeted sales tax exemptions throughout Red Sox Nation, many of New York’s aircraft popped-out to airports just over the border.  Why you ask?  It is the generally accepted notion that corporations (as well as individuals) are in business to make money and so the competition of a free market society presents opportunity in the form of reduced expenses.  GA is by its very nature a mobile industry.  Given the simple reality that owner/operators can save hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) basing their aircraft in neighboring states, they did just that.

The net result:If you build it, he will come” – Field of Dreams

Red Sox Nation realized that by creating a competitive financial atmosphere for aircraft, we would not only maintain those aircraft currently based here but pick up additional aircraft, each of which needs to bed-down (hangar/tie-down), purchase fuel, and requires various other services all of which—and most importantly—employs people.  These people earn salaries, their income is taxed and then whatever remains is spent on homes, groceries, entertainment, and so forth.  Over any interval of time, the potential for revenue generating transactions increases exponentially, which is all made possible (in this scenario) because of the economic engines that are state airport systems.

Comparison of Success:  Without breaking into the weeds, New York’s GA industry generates its $4.5billion & 500,000 jobs from its system of 130 public use airports.  Comparatively, the seat of Red Sox nation (Massachusetts) is credited with $4.3billion and 400,000 jobs from only 40 public use airports.  Now while the direct comparison of these states treads on apples and oranges, I am required to remind you that not all aircraft were created equal.  Instead let us consider another viewpoint.  According to the FAA, New York is currently host to 7,455 (based) aircraft at its airports.  Massachusetts, with one-third as many airports, is host to 3,664 aircraft.  The simple law of averages indicates the Red Sox’s have a batting average almost twice that (based on raw numbers alone) of its longtime rival.  So again, it is fair to conclude there is a correlation between the number of based aircraft and the associated success of a state’s aviation industry.

The Yankees are and continue to be a historically successful team, however, (as some fans like to gripe about an unlimited payroll) two-times as many airports offer considerably more economic potential than the neighboring system.  As such, my Red Sox continue to dominate the American East—Aviation—Division.  As we say in sports, there’s always tomorrow so fear not my Yankee friends and colleagues.  The Aviation Jobs Act is alive and well despite the final budget resolution released today (Monday, March 31st).  As the AJA awaits consideration in the Assembly Ways & Means Committee, your industry representatives (AOPA, NBAA, & NYAMA) are hard at work educating lawmakers and changing perceptions.  The opportunity to turn the tide is  ever only one-swing away and no fans know this better than those tuned into the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS between none other than the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Keep GA’s voice strong and join or renew today: http://www.aopa.org/Membership.aspx

Airport Management Associations

Today’s world seems to require a specialized Association for everything!  Automobile owners have the American Automobile Association, (AAA); Gun owners have the National Rifle Association (NRA), and of course those of us who own or operate aircraft have the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA)—all of which I belong to.  There are many hundreds, possibly thousands, of similar Associations out there spanning most all industries—I wonder what the actual count is up to?

Naturally some associations, like those I mentioned, are more widely known than others.  Here are a few I previously never heard of:  National Limousine Association (NLA), National Parking Association (NPA), and slightly closer to home—Airport Ground Transportation Association (AGTA).  Knowing there are many other associations out there serving a distinct purpose for their member-base, I often wonder if there are any within GA I am not yet aware of that maybe I ought to be.

As I move around the region I talk to many members and businesses and am always trying to gauge their individual level of engagement with General Aviation.  Frequently I meet people who use aircraft for business and pleasure but maybe by the nature of their work or different life focus remain unaware of even local aviation associations—be they local pilot or airport associations.  Comprised of local businesses and residents (money and votes to a politician ;) ) these associations exude great influence over local and state legislation.

One particular type of association that many pilots remain unaware of is their State’s Airport Management Association.  Now it’s true not every state has one but if yours does, you may consider joining even if you don’t work in airport management.  Where I live, we have the Massachusetts Airport Management Association (MAMA).  Initially I joined because it made sense for me as a Regional Manager to be involved in statewide airport matters, but the more I worked with MAMA and others like it, I realized how they benefit me as a pilot—protecting the very system that allows me to enjoy the privilege of flight.  Airport management associations such as those in Mass (MAMA), New York (NYAMA), New Hampshire (GSAMA), and Pennsylvania (ACP), are often the largest state-based aviation lobbying groups.  These groups generally maintain close relationships with the respective division of the State DOT and this direct link serves advocates like you and me as an excellent communication medium with State officials and industry leaders.

Now like any association, there are usually annual member dues—these monies usually serve to cover quarterly member and Board of Director meetings.  Some Associations also hold annual conferences to bring the membership together with other state leaders and related entities for education and networking.  The most recent of which I participated in was MAMA’s Annual Conference held at Gillette Stadium—surely a place worth visiting even if you’re not a Patriots fan!  In addition to these annual Conferences, Massachusetts and New York host annual Capital Days in which the members gather to represent their respective airports and talk with State leaders about the benefits of our industry while highlighting the immense economic impact airports have on a state’s economy—nothing grabs the unsuspecting legislator like rattling off “Did you know” facts such as: Massachusetts’ 40 public use airports support 400,000+ jobs, and generate more than $4 Billion in annual economic activity.  Of course, these are the kinds of fun facts every pilot and aviation advocate should know about their own state!

So with this information in mind, considering joining if your state has one, of course if it doesn’t—Happy New Year—now is a great time to start one!

Seeds of Inspiration

As the saying goes, there’s no place like home! Those who know me well know I am a native Mainer—or “MAINEiac” as we refer to ourselves and our 101st ANG Air Refueling Wing. While I currently reside in southern Massachusetts, Maine will forever be my home. In terms of my aviation upbringing, however, the Bay State afforded me my formal start in aviation as I embarked on the path that led me to today. After high school, I attended Bridgewater State College (now State University) in Mass and began flight training at the New Bedford Regional Airport, (EWB)—a fact that no doubt played into my family’s decision to return to the area when I became Regional Manager.

An important factor leading to my many aviation firsts in the Bay State was my childhood inspiration for learning to fly—back in the Pine Tree State. As I mentioned the 101st MAINEiacs ARW, like many enthusiasts I spent countless hours enjoying the sundry sights and sounds surrounding my local airport—which for me was the Bangor (said with an “OR” not “ER”) International Airport (BGR). At that time my uncle worked at a General Electric manufacturing plant in the industrial park adjacent to the airport. Aware of my passion for aviation, my family would bring me to sit at the picnic tables supplied by GE for plant workers, so I could watch the many aircraft—some unusual—making use of the 2-mile long runway to transit customs, top-off tanks, or practice touch-and-go’s. A few of my favorites were: The Concorde, Antonov AN-225, Panavia Tornado, Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Boeing E-3 Sentry, and a bevy of other military and civilian aircraft.

Why tell you this? Last weekend the Atlantic Aviators—the local chapter of Women In Aviation—held the Grand Opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for their Aviation-themed Playground that now stands along the fence at the New Bedford Regional Airport. Situated between an active FBO and popular airport restaurant—prime airport property—this site could very well have been used for a revenue generating venture. A realist, the reality is this property has set vacant for longer than I’ve been in aviation. With that fact in mind, and no alternative plan in the works, why not use this unique community asset to plant seeds of inspiration and improve the airport’s image among residents?

Like most of you reading this blog, I was fortunate to have grown up in a time when rules were less strict, airport security less imposing, and maintaining interest in all things loud, fast, and seemingly dangerous was not only encouraged but used as motivational tool. I also happen to be from a non-aviation family. Today it seems increasingly difficult for kids from non-aviation families to find or push for those aviation opportunities available to them. The ceremony was particularly special for me as not only did I learn to fly from this airport, but my daughter can now come and enjoy many of the same sights and sounds I did growing up back home. Now she and other children have the opportunity to come out to the airport and be inspired by aviation just as I was—just as you were.

Eventually, my daughter will grow-up to have her own interests and aspirations of which I will support however varied and different they are from my own—except for boyfriends! Luckily, any exposure she has to aircraft and aviation at this young age will only strengthen the industry for tomorrow as she is less likely to fear aviation and more likely to support it, if only on ballot measures. There are likely countless other examples of similar inspirational efforts across the nation, alas so few ever gain the needed lift. So please, as we continue to celebrate this community achievement, seek out opportunities to assist those efforts nearest you—and then tell your Regional Manager about them so we can help tell the story.

Dare to dream—and dare others too! Read more about the Atlantic Aviators effort HERE

Small cuts account for big gains

Two months after Maine’s legislature cements a sales tax exemption on aircraft, parts, and services, the quaint New England state is already seeing expansive growth from its modest aviation industry.  From the production of jobs and boost in revenues to increased spending on airport infrastructure, Maine’s aviation industry finds success at all levels.    

For aviation advocates like me, I often reflect on how fortunate I am to represent an industry that clearly speaks for itself as these targeted and proven tax exemptions are the envy of state aviation industries everywhere.  I am delighted to report that Maine now joins five other New England states that offer similar industry exemptions, leveling a playing field that has historically seen a—slow climb through rising terrain—for the region’s largest and most northern state.

As Regional Managers, my colleagues and I focus on engaging any alternatively focused entities who prefer to turn a deaf ear to a growing industry’s chimes.  We seek those who seek to paint yellow X’s on our legislative runways and who are quick to harangue these industry exemptions as corporate tax breaks that serve only to boost a bottom line and return nothing for public benefit.  To use the words of a character from a popular television series, “While I accept your premise (tax breaks improve revenues), I reject your conclusion (serve no public benefit).”  I simply need to point to the families in Maine of the more than 100 new jobs created since 2011, offering both good-wages and benefits. 

As demand increases, so does the cost of doing business: new workers, capital investments, and material consumption—each producing exponential values of direct and indirect economic benefit.  Capital investments in airport infrastructure generate demand for consulting and construction crews, while the accelerated use of materials generates revenue for wholesalers and other service providers.  In this example one action, facility investment, carries the potential to spur a series of additional (taxable) actions—a picture perfect illustration of how airports can serve communities as economic engines. 

For an industry that clearly speaks for itself, the real challenge is getting policymakers to listen—this is where you and I come in.  As a citizen in a democracy and resident of your state, you have a voice.  The truth is your elected-officials would much rather hear from you, Joe Constituent Smith, than me—alphabet group.  The difference is your membership in our organization lends me your voice.  With this in mind, special thanks is owed to the nearly 400,000 members across our nation—so THANK YOU to each of you for lending your voice as your Regional Managers carry your message into the 2014 legislative sessions.  Keep our voice strong and JOIN  or  RENEW online today! Use priority Code: M13XXFSCE

The Power of Youth

For pilots and aviation enthusiasts like me it is hard to imagine anyone not fascinated by aviation. The idea of zipping along above flight level one-eight-zero; feeling the squeez of heart-pounding, high-G maneuvers; or flying at tree-top level in a Robinson R-22 are a few of the adrenaline-charged images that come to mind—but these people do exist and like us, maintain strong personal opinions. Simply put, we can’t please everyone but for the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of those whose opinions are not yet cemented, nothing supports our aviation communities’ as much as local airshows and public fly-ins!

Although I was unable to attend Air Venture this year, I was privileged to be able to represent AOPA at the Wings Over Wiscasset Airshow in Maine on Tuesday, August 6—a day that oddly enough, marked my sixth-year anniversary of working for my beloved Pilot Association. The major draw for the day’s event was the magnificent aircraft herald-in by the Texas Flying Legends Museum like the awe-inspiring P-51D Mustang, FG-1 Corsair, the P-40K Warhawk, and US Congressman Sam Graves’ TBM Avenger. These aircraft are no doubt representative of a time in our history when American know-how reign supreme, propelling the nation to Superpower status.

A standard week day for most, community attendance was slow through the early hours but by 4 pm, the local event boasted an excess of 4000 people. Both young and senior alike crowded the flight-line to snap pictures with these aviation legends. Many also enjoyed the surprise visit paid by US Senator Angus King. With only smiles to be had, seasoned pilots light-up at the opportunity to share “war stories”—even if theirs takes place during private pilot training far from any battlefield.

As a father I can tell you, enticing our nation’s youth produces a multiplier effect worthy of repeating. While my one-year old may still be too young to ignite a self-propelled interest in aviation; children are no doubt conduits to their parents.  As anyone with children knows, we spend our free time following our kid’s curiosities—always trying to highlight the educational component to whatever task they’re engaged.  While not every child is destined to be the next Amelia Earhart or Chuck Yeager, their natural interest in all things new, fast, and (seemingly) dangerous, makes the connection to general aviation an easy bridge for parents to cross.

With this in mind, grab your family, friends, neighborhood kids (parental permission required) and Veterans; and head to a community aviation event near you—besides you never know who you might run into while planting the seeds of general aviation: http://pilothub.blogspot.com/2007/12/famous-people-with-pilots-licenses.html

Back to New England

Hi all,

From your new Eastern Regional Manager — My family and I have relocated back home to New England to be better positioned to serve AOPA members in the Northeast.  Thank you for your patience and support as I continue to work to get up to speed on legislative issues and become active in the region’s aviation community.

I had plans to go flying today but the gusty winds postponed my insurance checkout flight until Saturday, so hopefully the Aviation Gods will allow for more-enjoyable flying weather!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for future posts.

Tailwinds & Blue Skies!

Sean