In praise of the alphabets

Two of the main alphabet organizations focused on general aviation include the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). They both offer something of real value to each of us who works or recreates in the realm of general aviation.

Let’s face it, it’s a tough market out there these days no matter what you’re selling. From plain bagels to pricey baubles, prices are up, customers are down, and the red ink keeps rising for far too many of our business-owning brothers and sisters. Flight schools are no stranger to the difficulties of the business world. Throw in the additional risk of mechanical malfunctions, cancelled lessons due to bad weather, insurance woes, and an almost constant throbbing of conversation about the end of a reliable fuel supply, and your heart just has to go out to anyone who owns or runs a flight school these days.

So it was a no-brainer when an AOPA friend stumbled upon me at AirVenture, hunched over my laptop attempting to do serious work without being too distracted by the sights and sounds that were flowing through the open window in front of me.

“You should come to this reception, tonight,” he said. “It’s for flight school owners and operators — that’s right up your alley.”

That’s not an exact quote, in all honesty. It’s been several days since our conversation took place, so I’m paraphrasing. But the important point is that he sought me out, I didn’t have to go find him. And we met up at AirVenture, an EAA event that brings together business owners from far and wide who can share their insights and experiences in a meaningful way, hopefully to the benefit of all concerned.

The reception was for Flight School Business, which AOPA bills as “The Premier Resource for Flight Training Professionals.” After hearing their presentation, I’m inclined to agree with them, frankly. Because the flight school owners and operators I met there were united in one very powerful message. “We’re in trouble,” they said. Again, I’m paraphrasing. But the message from the audience was unanimous. With costs rising, student starts falling, and sport pilot confusing the heck out of almost everyone I spoke with, these folks openly admit to needing some guidance and support from an outside source.

AOPA and its Flight School Business website gives every indication of being a reliable source for a good deal of that support. From information on how to deal with alien flight training, to a blog that focuses on finding business prospects, and even a simulator training page, AOPA is showing signs of making a serious effort to be the kindly uncle in the business so many of us need to lean on for advice now and then. Because not only do we all need a friend on occasion, we could use a smart friend who actually knows what he’s talking about, too.

Jennifer Storm is the capable and competent Director of Flight Training Initiatives on this project, who works along with Ian Twombly, the deputy editor of Flight Training Magazine, to bring life and real value to Flight School Business. Together they made a compelling case at the reception held during AirVenture. Perhaps their most important point was that they are dedicated to listening to the flight school community as much as they are willing to speak out in order to help it thrive.

There’s more to come on this developing resource, I have no doubt. And I’ll follow up with them at the AOPA Summit in Hartford, Conn., in September. But for the moment I find some relief in the knowledge that the big time alphabets really are putting themselves out there for the benefit of the little guy — if only the little guy would avail himself (or herself) of the resources they’re making available to us. And that part is up to us to fulfill. Because while the reception was well attended, there were still empty chairs in the room, and the website hasn’t crashed yet due to excessive traffic.

If this business is indeed a two-way street, and I think it is, I’m seeing definite signs that the alphabets have plowed the road and are doing their best to make it passable for the rest of us. We just have to get out on the blacktop and get started on our journey to success.

At least we’ve got a friend to ride along with us. That’s a good start.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He also is an owner and contributor to You can reach him at


  1. DMacRae says

    We pay a lot of membership fees to AOPA, but I guess I am not as convinced as you seem to be that there is as much of a value-add that AOPA brings to the average aviator. The fact is that GA is in deep trouble.

    The aviation industry has become politicized as never before, and AOPA does little to prevent that in my view. Why would it? Craig Fuller hails from the Bush Sr administration. So here we have Jay Carney saying on Aug 1 ” …Or are we going to ask that others, including oil and gas companies, corporate jet manufacturers or the wealthiest Americans share in the sacrifice?” Where is the outrage? Didn’t even see a reference to it in the AOPA eBrief.

    As a long time member of AOPA I have from time to time tried to make my views on various subjects known to members of the AOPA staff. I know that there are a lot of us members, but the point is that AOPA seemingly does not really want to hear from us. There is no easy way to respond directly in the manner of a “letter to the editor” on the vast number of emails that get pushed our way, and even if you respond to the catch-all mail-box, all you get is an automated reply.

    The point is that AOPA has a very paternalistic attitude towards its members. “Don’t call us, we have it covered.” Only they don’t. Where have they been for the last 20 years on the subject of unleaded fuel? Why was it that their efforts on the over-bearing security proposals such as the eAPIS and LASP so weak? How was it that AOPA (and the EAA) were completely blind-sided by the FCC twice in the last year (on the issues of banning 121.5MHz ELT’s and more recently the potential for GPS interference by Light-Squared 4G signals)?

    AOPA is in my opinion, reactionary, not pro-active. Their disproportionate focus on user fees has left more serious issues to be only weakly addressed, and only after the fact.

    As today’s remaining GA population drifts towards bifurcation into the very wealthy, and the rest of us who are seeking refuge in the LSA camp or looking at getting out of aviation altogether, so too has AOPA’s focus on the big-iron crowd grown at the expense of grass-roots GA. Look at the cover of the AOPA Pilot magazine to see how. It is going the way that “Flying” magazine went years ago.

    I don’t know how many others are voting with their feet, but after 20 years I’m not renewing my membership this year.

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