AOPA Aviation Summit kicks off today

Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, is an expert on Light Sport Aircraft.

On the aviation calendar, AOPA’s Aviation Summit represents the year’s last national event. Formerly known as Expo or Convention, unlike well-anchored airshows such as Sun ‘n Fun or AirVenture Oshkosh, AOPA’s annual gathering moves around the country, albeit repeating at a few destinations that have proven to be a good fit. This year, AOPA members collect in Long Beach, California, starting today.

AOPA’s event attracts hundreds of exhibitors, produces many educational sessions, and offers the chance to meet and speak to familiar names appearing in AOPA publications. Since the arrival of new president Craig Fuller, AOPA was renamed Summit. True to its new title, various high level meetings occur. At the 2010 edition I will attend two of these meetings, one hosted by AOPA and another by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

AOPA’s daylong roundtable of 100 carefully selected attendees will focus on reversing a declining pilot population. The obvious approach we all know is to get more people to try flying. Doing so has proven enormously challenging. As an industry, we’ve done poorly at enlisting new entrants, though admittedly, aviation is up against an incredible array of things people can do with their time and money.

Another solution is to captivate a higher share of those who start flying lessons. AOPA says the dropout rate is 70-80% of all student starts. Plugging that gigantic leak may be more achievable than trying to entice participants of groups far larger than aviators (powersports enthusiasts, outdoorsmen, RV users, and the like…representing tens of millions of participants, all of which are seen as possible targets for aviation marketing efforts).

I look forward to participating in both Summit meetings, even if it means a day and a half of not looking at airplanes and flight gear. I’m pleased the alphabet groups are leading a charge to do something about the decrease in pilot population. For the sake of everyone in aviation, I hope these gatherings can do some innovative work. I believe we’re capable of solving this problem and we know the singular satisfaction of flying an aircraft is marketable. Perhaps, to modify the common expression, great minds will truly think alike in some productive ways.

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