Merger mania: EAA and AOPA?

With the announced resignation of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association‘s Craig Fuller and the departure last year of the Experimental Aircraft Association‘s new president, some are asking whether AOPA and EAA should merge. I think not.

Neither EAA nor AOPA members should support a merger concept based only on recent performance by either organization, both still in transition. Tom Poberezny and Phil Boyer were hard acts to follow.

Tom Poberezny

Tom Poberezny

At EAA, I had no expectation that moving from a long-time “family business” would be other than similar troubled successions in the real business world. Any new leadership path is a break from custom and tradition. The odds of getting it perfect the first time were tall.

With Boyer, his appointment broke tradition — by design. The typical Washington association exec was an ex-Congressional or FAA officeholder. A businessman, Boyer modernized AOPA for the 21st Century. But he always stayed close to AOPA’s heritage. Why was he so good? The AOPA Trustees knew and pursued him even when he wasn’t pursuing them.

Boyer’s remarkable resume included 1) former president of a national membership organization with advocacy experience on The Hill, 2) leadership of a respected regional pilot association, 3) entrepreneurship in an aviation business (ABC’s Wide Word of Flying videos), 4) deep executive and “people management” experience, 5) unusual strengths in new technology / technology development, and 6) a strong background in public opinion, audience research and sophisticated marketing.

Phil Boyer

Phil Boyer

That last is important: he listened to members and they were his top priority. But while he revered and deferred to AOPA traditions and culture, he also knew that non-dues income had to become a larger slice of the pie.

Boyer was also a great flyer and reveled in doing it as a private pilot. When hired, he owned a cabin class piston twin and had flown across the Atlantic and in European airspace, our nightmare vision of the future. Best of all, he still got a kick out of flying ANYTHING, even a 172. It was apparent: He was genuinely one of us, only smarter and more talented. But just like that long-gone $16,000 Cessna of the 1970s, what Boyer offered may be today’s wishful thinking, a new standard not now exactly repeatable.

Why? Despite sparking better times with liability reform and so much more, Boyer’s tenure was boosted as well by the resurgent 1990s. The economy rebounded and GA blossomed again. That’s gone for now. I hope the AOPA trustees can pull off another miracle, but times have changed. It’s a new world regardless of how talented the next new hire.

On the bright side: At either AOPA or EAA, I doubt member and media concerns will go unheeded. That critique represents a roadmap for the future. But neither public nor pundit has to filter their wish list through the brutal sieve of today’s operating economics, Washington budget politics or other realities. Association managements must do so, but – Catch 22 — that doesn’t get them off the hook.

To ignore honest, concerned feedback would mean chalking up these leadership issues to today’s malaise and settling for “the best we can do.” No one wants that.

But an EAA/AOPA merger? For now, I say this: Don’t take predictably difficult, even era-ending transitions as justification for “simple solutions.” That’s too easy.

All should realize that each organization does what it does better than anyone else. At the same time, each has been demonstrably weaker in what the other does best. Let’s not dilute their individual strengths. We need them. Thus, we need both of them.


© 2013 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved


  1. says

    you’re right gandpa, this 83 yr guy, has seen the whole, what I believe fr me was a dream, of learning to fly , come crashing down. If only Paul Pobernezy, would write a book and tell eaa mbrs, about his struggles with the faa and the industry itself, just to get the faa to allow a builder to build and fly. (airworthyness is #1with me) Aopa mbrs no no nothing about the history and founders of aopa. Yes fuller was and is just a political oprative. Never have they challenged the faa on the 3rd class med, in fact, you probably don’t know is but in the middle 70’s an article appeared in the aopa mag ref the 3rd class med, written by a very knowledgeable, and respect av writer, pointing at aopa and the ama. By the way , were do think faa aeromed people go after retirment, you guessed it, aopa

  2. Grandpa says

    Tom, and Paul before him, were great leaders. I was not standing close enough to judge the Hightower person
    Phil Boyer and a number of other leaders of AOPA in my decades of membership were all more than up to the task. Great men in those ranks.
    Fuller? It was clear from the time of his selection that he fell far short of what we deserve. He has been in the left seat far too long and his departure is a blessing.

  3. says

    Bryan, you are right about the politics, aopas fuller told on hisself every issue. The end for me with aopa was this quote, (I have a desk in washingston next to the faa.). Airworthyness is #1 with me, the 3rd class med dosen’t contribute to that at all

  4. says

    eaa is the only org that closely represents the pvt pilot and acft builder. It would be a real shame and no doubt the end of a lot of what is left, and what most americans don’t know or care of whether eaa builder/pilots were ever around.
    It is my belief T. Poberenzy has been miss led.

  5. Paul Youman says

    Mergeing these two organizations is not in the interests of GA. Having as many voices as possible to state the concerns that will effect all of GA including Bizav. I’m against any merger, now or in the future.

  6. Merle Cochran says

    Having been a member of both organizations for about 37 years, I believe that a merger would not benefit either organization. This is one situation where I believe that seperatly we will be stronger with two voices rather than only one. While some members of our EAA are disappointed with what they see as excess involvement in the “spam can” part of aviation, the truth is that only EAA will be the strongest voice of the homebuilder – experimenter first, as well as all pilots and the aircraft fleet. AOPA will always be the prime mover of the “Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association” members, as well as all pilots and our fleet of aircraft. My interests are best served by being a member of both organizations. At this time in our history, both organizations are fighting the bureaucracy for our pilots rights, and costs of flying, as well as working closely with innovators on fuel and engines for the future of all pilots and aircraft. Merger should not be a resolution to what some folks consider a problem.

  7. says

    Pvt pilots are disappearing, one 3rd class med at a time. I guess the geniuses want to get rid of the real builders of and designers of acft for people that really just want to fly.
    Its really a bad idea to merge eaa/aopa, when aopa, along with the ama, have lobbied with the faa to make sure the 3rd class med stays. I am disappoined to hear you lobby fr Boyer, /aopa.
    I am sure that most of eaa mbrs are disappointed to hear of. I hope is not your idea T Poberenzy

  8. Dennis Reiley says

    Saying the EAA and AOPA are different does not automatically make a merger a bad idea. I suspect Drew is drawing improper conclusions from some mergers that never really merged as it was really a buyout with one becoming superior to the other. They just used merger rules for tax purposes. A true merger is when two organizations combine to reduce costs with neither having ascendancy over the other and thus act as full partners.

    The real question is can the personnel from each organization work with the other, especially if one or more of the personnel has to relocate. Relocation can cause the loss of a valuable associate when there is a conflict with a spouse. That is the critical factor. Newsletters, magazines, etc. can still continue as before while benefiting from the savings of combining two organizations into one.

    So it really boils down to whether two organizations can combine effectively. A question that can only be resolved internally.

  9. Earl Schroeder says

    Another 35 year member of both, merging would not be in my or our best interest. Some of us want division not merges… ie experimental/homebuilt seem to be squeezed out.

  10. Bryan says

    The next presidents/CEOs/grand poo-bas of both organizations, (EAA and AOPA), should not be political operatives. Close association with political parties will harm the aviation focus of the association’s agenda, and promote the views of not more than half of the organization’s membership. These organization’s need to be focused specifically on maintaining our freedom to fly, and not on getting representatives of any specific political party elected, or in furthering a political party’s philosopy.

    Likewise, no particular business objectives should be pursued. For instance; if a new aviation fuel is not likely to be profitable for “Big Oil” that should not be a deal breaker for our aviation focused organizations.

    This is a critical time. Allowing these alternate agendas to take precedence should not be allowed.

  11. Rick Rademacher says

    I would hope that both organizations would look at their strengths and weaknesses and then analyze whether a merger would benefit the membership. Now is the time for both organizations to make needed changes. If one of the changes results in a merger, I would not be displeased. I have been a member of both for over 30 years.

  12. Doyle Frost says

    As stated previously, both organizations have their positive aspects, and both sides are in favor of General Aviation. AOPA favors ALL GA, while EAA is primarily focused on the experimental category, and both sides are needed. The two voices, seperately, have more influence over the aviation industry, than just one voice. Certain times, both voices have been raised, having a greater influence than just one voice. We need to keep this seperation in place, if for nothing other than two voices are louder than one, when it comes to getting a strong point across to people with no real concern for the true issues in play.

  13. Ray Ebner says

    As a member of both organizations I agree with Drew wholeheartedly. These organizations both do what they do best as separate organizations. Furthermore, when it comes to dealing with the clowns at Disneyland on the Potomac, having two organizations is better than one. Let us keep moving GA forward, but let us do it with strong leadership in both of these top quality associations.

  14. gregg reynolds says

    The merger proposal is an exceptionally bad idea. As a more than 35-year member of both AOPA and EAA, I’ve found each to have a different culture and resulting benefit to members. My business career included the trials and tribulations of mergers. Nearly always: one company lost its identity/focus/veteran personnel – became subservient to the other company and damage resulted to both entities. (One possible exception was that some board members/top execs reaped big stock positions). This idea, if implemented, would damage both organizations and weaken GA.

  15. says

    Broke tradition, “Boyer, a businessman”…… perhaps that MAY be the answer to ALL of GA ‘a woe’s? Can the “Phil Boyer’s” be cloned? Check the resume one more time folks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *