AOPA unveils Center to Advance the Pilot Community

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has launched the new Center to Advance the Pilot Community designed to arrest a decline in the pilot population that has been occurring for several decades.

“The decline in the pilot population didn’t happen overnight and reversing the downward trend requires a long-term commitment,” said AOPA CEO Craig Fuller. “The Center’s first few initiatives are just the beginning of what will become a much more robust and wide-reaching program that builds a community in which more people earn pilot certificates, pilots are more active, and the flying lifetime of pilots is extended.”

The first major initiative of the Center to Advance the Pilot Community will be to support the development of a network of flying clubs. Extensive research has shown that flying clubs are a valuable part of the aviation landscape and that the most effective ones help keep aviation affordable and accessible, according to Senior Vice President Adam Smith, who will lead the Center. They also create a supportive community that keeps pilots active and engaged, he noted.

AOPA will work to promote flying clubs nationwide and provide the tools and resources they need to build on their own success and that of their members. As part of that effort, the Center will develop a flying club network to strengthen the bonds among pilots and clubs nationwide with a goal to link 1,000 clubs in the next five years. The organization also plans to manage a database of the nation’s existing flying clubs to help pilots find a club that is close to their home base.

At AOPA Aviation Summit on Friday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. PDT, AOPA will reveal its research on flying clubs and make available new resources.

The Center will also continue the work that AOPA began a couple of years ago with the Flight Training Student Retention Initiative. AOPA’s  research found that as many as 80% of student pilots drop out of training without earning a certificate. Reducing the number of dropouts by as little as 10% could see thousands of new pilots entering the general aviation community each year.

The Center will now oversee projects including the Flight Training Excellence Awards, created to recognize flight schools and certificated flight instructors that provide top-notch training experiences. Through these awards, AOPA has identified the best CFIs and flight schools in the country.

In the first year, AOPA received more than 2,400 nominations from students and customers. The winners of the first AOPA Flight Training Excellence Awards will be announced in Palm Springs at a gathering on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

The Center will also be making available three Flight Training Field Guides designed to optimize the flight training experience for flight schools, instructors, and students. Cessna Aircraft Co. will distribute copies to each of its Cessna Pilot Centers across the world in an effort to encourage the customer experience concepts these books instill.

AOPA officials say they are realistic about the scale of the challenges ahead, but believe there is every reason to be optimistic about the future of aviation.

“Aviation has lost none of its ability to provide incredible, life-enhancing experiences. It’s safer than ever before, and there are millions of people out there with the time and money to fly,” said Smith. “Aviation seems to have an uncanny way of attracting some of the finest people in the world, and in this work ahead of us, they are probably our most important asset of all.”

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