AOPA gets back to basics

With the new year came a big new announcement from our friends in Frederick, Maryland. Six new fly-in events will grace the calendar starting in 2014, spreading from the east coast to the west coast, with important bases of operation in the middle of the country, too.

Yes, this is big news. It signifies and entirely new and different approach for the largest and arguably most important of the aviation-centric alphabet organizations.

AOPA’s outreach efforts are going grass-roots. They’re coming to a town that puts the big dogs in close proximity to the major population centers of the United States.

That’s a two-way street, too. Not only will they be making an effort to get closer to you, they’re giving the rest of us a chance to get closer to them, too.

This is the dawn of a new day in general aviation. Or at least it could be. All that’s required for this new outreach program to be a huge success is you.

AOPA is on board. The aviation press will be there. The host facilities are excited to have a major influx of new visitors coming their way.

There’s no doubt in my mind that AOPA members and potential members will turn these into well-populated, important events on the aviation events calendar. The only question remaining is a simple one: Will you get on board and help the bandwagon roll along or will you be a detractor?

flyinsmapThe answer to that question matters more than you might think. Yes, your reaction to this news and your choice to participate or not will affect the future of general aviation. Believe it.

Human nature is to gripe. We do it all the time. We don’t like the Democrats, we don’t like the Republicans, we bitch about the Yankees, or the Browns, or the Bruins. And the weather. We almost always complain about the weather. Yet we bellyache about meteorological issues with the full knowledge that nobody on earth can do anything to make a difference in the temperature or the precipitation that is ruining our plans for the day.

That’s the sad reality. We complain even when we know our complaining won’t do any good. We criticize even in the face of ample evidence that our grousing is making things worse rather than better. We object, and oppose, and attack, and nag – but we rarely do anything to make things better.

Let’s consider a more productive course of action, shall we?

Mark Baker is the new honcho at AOPA, not the old honcho. He and his crew can’t fix the past. They can only affect the future. So he is working with his team to start fresh, open the door to opportunity, and welcome as many comers as wish to pass through that portal.

Here, outside the confines of the AOPA offices in Maryland, we have two choices. Only two — there is no third alternative. We can help hold the door open through participation, or we can put our shoulder into it and do all we can to narrow the opening that new converts come through. We do that by bitching. By bringing up the same stale arguments that make the rounds year after year. We hurt the cause of GA by constantly pointing out what’s wrong with the marketplace, but we rarely do anything to improve the marketplace. More often than not we are our own worst enemy.

Let’s at least give the new kids at AOPA credit for making an attempt. They’re obviously putting in some long hours, getting truly creative, and doing what they can to get back to the grass-roots where general aviation began.

Will it work? Nobody knows for sure. That’s the honest truth. But it’s not hard to foresee the outcome if those of us out here in the world continue to act as we have in the past. The efforts of this hard-working, noble organization will be harder and more expensive to bring to fruition, and less satisfying for those who choose to pitch in and help pursue the goal, if we persist in our traditional cannibalistic crusade against anything we didn’t personally think up and approve.

Let’s stop doing that. Really. Let’s just stop. If anything can be singled out as the most malignant force in aviation, it is certainly the pervasive negativity of a vocal minority who seem fated to tear down the castle in an attempt to prove once and for all that imperfections exist in its design and construction. Of course, should that minority prevail, we will have left but a pile of rocks and a few smug detractors standing on top of the heap saying, “See, I told you it wasn’t perfect.”

Imperfection is a fact of life. We are all flawed, our aircraft all have weaknesses, our airports and seaplane bases could all use some sprucing up, but that’s not an excuse that justifies burning them to the ground in a vain effort to satisfy our own egos.

Congratulations and thank you to the new, revitalized, grass-roots AOPA, I say. And congratulations to San Marcos, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Spokane, Washington; Chino, California; and Brunswick, Georgia. There’s a new day upon us. Good for anyone with the sense to seize this new day, wrestle it to the ground, and make the most of it.

AOPA regional events? I like the idea. Yep. I like it a lot. I’m going to do my best to help make these new events successful. I hope you will, too.


  1. says

    It is true that airports are disappearing, but that is not the fault of the AOPA. I used to be a member of a club called the Yankee ultralight flyers. We absorbed a club that was located in plum island. There was a big push to make the land available to developers. The ultra lighters save the airport by saying it was a historic air port. That was not the fault of the AOPA. Yes there have been several airports closed, & many
    are the reasons for it. Also There was a flying school that was in Rochester. The school was forced out
    by Pease AirForce development. The airport was very vibrant, And now looks like a sad shell f it former Self.

    • John wesley says

      All too true, but had overall interest in aviation not been allowed to occur, interest in the aviation facilities that you mentioned and many more would have prevented their demise. I for one lay the downfall and demise of GA squarely at the feet of AOPA. I wonder what will happen when the level of membership is no longer able to support the organization in the style to which they are accustomed.

    • John wesley says

      I do not know where you live, but I will take a chance, mark a 50 mile circle on a local sectional, then go visit each of the airports still existing in that 50 miles, then tell me what a great job AOPA is doing.

  2. Michael Saunders says

    It’s interesting that Jamie Beckett raves about how great AOPA is and its new leadership and its new efforts. And it appears that he’s saying all this as a reporter for General Aviation News. But at the end of the article it says he’s the AOPA ambassador for Florida. Really!?!? Of course he’s going to say all that. Does anyone know if that’s a paid position? How many other aviation reporters does AOPA have on its payroll? Seems disingenuous to me.

  3. James M. Roth says

    If the AOPA is seriously interested in input from their members, and wants to get back to “grass roots,” then the formation of local chapters should be allowed by AOPA management at headquarters in MD. Last time I checked, 2 years ago, it wasn’t allowed.

    EAA has local chapters. Why not AOPA? I find the following especially ironic.
    August 29, 2013
    By Benét J. Wilson

    The AOPA Headquarters Chapter has become the 72nd of the IMC Club, created to promote instrument flying, proficiency, and safety. The AOPA Chapter is organized by the IMC Club International, Inc. and is sponsored by AOPA.
 AOPA met with the leadership of IMC Club earlier in the year and questioned why there was no chapter, said Adam Smith, senior vice president of the AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community and the AOPA/IMC chapter leader. “I was impressed by the progress they have made in a short period of time, and especially by their focus on community. Wherever we find strong communities in aviation, we also tend to find pilots that are more active and engaged,” he said. “And with IMC Clubs, there are important safety and proficiency element too. So overall, it feels like something that AOPA should support.”

  4. Maynard McKillen says

    The “purpose” of AOPA is to assure the financial security of AOPA. The “organization” has now become more important than its members.

    Among its new “purposes”: Enrich a handful of executives by “compensating” them with obscene salaries that bear no relation to any kind of productivity, unless it be the extent to which they inflate personal net worth.

    The organization has been hijacked. Fuller’s tenure epitomized the problem. The by-laws are a joke.

    Want a better future for the organization? Then its failings must be clearly recognized, its misguided, narrowly-focused role as a champion of the corporate-jet boutique industry must end, its behavior and demeanor, much akin to a spoiled, selfish, rich adolescent, must be recognized and corrected.

    AOPA has to grow up.

    The AOPA President’s salary and benefits package should be halved. Fund more outreach to inner city youth. Give them the gift of a dream, a goal, and a plan to achieve it. That, my friends, is a long-term investment calculated to grow the ranks of pilots and aviation advocates. I dare you.

    Take more, much, much more, input from members. I proposed the establishment of an ombudsman. In an organization of this size, a dozen ombudsmen may be needed. Don’t wait for comments and complaints. Go and get them. And don’t sift through them to find the ones that support a pre-designated, politically correct “problem”.

    Past behavior must be weighed as evidence of likely future action. Only fools would discount it. Adults match their actions to their words and promises. The AOPA bureaucracy must now exert itself through words and matching actions to restore its credibility and accountability.

    The ball is in their court…

  5. says


    At least you are trying to make a difference. However, every time I read one of your articles, the tone bothers me. This article bothered me more than most because you are almost attacking the persons who you are trying to influence. Persons like me.

    I have been a member of AOPA since 1968. I remember when we knew the regional AOPA personnel personally as well as the state FAA personnel as friends and colleagues. We were a communicating social group who all loved aviation. We just performed different functions and helped each other and aviation.

    The personal relationship between all three parties has dissolved over the years as
    personal contact has become less and less. I call AOPA regularly when I notice problems with their operations and also when kudos are in order. It does not make a difference so far as I can tell. Whatever the subject, it is never in the power of the person with whom I am talking to solve the problem and their superiors have not given me feedback, either positive or negative, on the subject matter. The telephone persons are cordial and polite but I have no way to know if a message has even gotten through to the responsible personnel. They, the telephone operators, acknowledge the problems but the problems do not get solved.

    The regional fly-ins are too little too late for many of the organization’s problems. As is the habit these days, it is like turning customer service over to the customer when we should appreciate the customer enough to serve them ourselves.

    Jamie, you have to understand me before you have the right to criticize me and then the comments have to be positive. Once you have irritated me, I am harder to communicate with, as are most of your readers.

    I believe it is necessary for each pilot to mentor other persons who might have an interest in or a need for flying for business or pleasure. We must duplicate ourselves, without a financial motive other than wanting the airfields to remain viable and the populace to benefit from it’s use enough that they wish to see it remain in use whether they are pilots or not. Simple things might help, like seeing the GA news in every high school and college library along with other aviation publications. They do little to spread the word when they are only seen at the local airport.

  6. says

    As European AOPA member (Netherlands) and repeat visitor to OSH KOSH air convention, all I want is to promote GA worldwide.
    This article, with all respect to its author mr Beckett comes across as overly enthousiastic, using inflated language in combination with a lack of transparancy.
    When I start reading, after a while I increasingly start to wonder what this so called grass root activity really means : what are the considerations behind this initiative, what makes them different from any other aviation event, past or present.

    By the time I get to the end of a log grey text, without captions a paragraph heading I am still left with a big question mark why any of these events merits a visit for any special reason.

    With so much to be read on the web we need concise, factual information. Sorry , with all respects for the good intentions.

  7. Helge Skreppen says

    SBarnettw—-If you “honestly want to know” –here it is!
    1) For those of us who have been around for decades understand/agree that the hazard General Aviation is facing is that not enough new aviators are starting and present ones disappear.
    2)For those of us who have been around for decades understand/agree that this is entirely a cost issue as aviation is a fantastic sport if you can afford it.
    3) For those of us who have been around for decades have not seen one single meaningful AOPA activity/program addressing points 1 and 2. On the contrary, many
    activities or “passivity” have contributed to “increased costs” benefitting a comfortable life style and retirement benefits for certain individuals. And there are indications that this will continue.
    4)For those of us who have been around for decades understand that points 1,2 and 3 are what “frustrate” the GE Aviators —not all of us equally proficient in “American English” and able to express our “anguish”.
    (good luck with your first night flight–I had mine in 1971)

  8. RV 12 pilot says

    Wow! I’m just amazed at the back and forth vitriol between folks that like and enjoy flying. I remember oh so well soloing in N4080, a lovely J3. I proudly put the AOPA sticker on the back window of my ’49 Chevy. There were no biz jets or military jets or commercial jets. When I transitioned to the first 150 at the field I felt like I was in a high performance plane. Guess what? Those days are gone-forever. But our love of flying is still here. Can’t afford one of the new whiz bang single engine wonders, go buy one of the thousand of used planes. Can’t pass a third class medical? Go light sport. Want to build something? Lots of affordable kits out there, some very imexpensive. What we cannot do is turn the clock back to the “good old days”. The new folks we want to attract never knew those days. There are 2 orginations that can represent us- AOPA and EAA. If it really bothers you that anyone today uses modern management techniques, profit as a worthwhile motive, or even a biz jet to promote the organization all over the country, I am so sorry for you. You might want to ground yourself and stay drunk!
    I love my factory built RV!

  9. SBarnettW says

    To all the AOPA detractors out there…can I ask a simple question?

    I hear a lot of this kind of talk: “AOPA doesn’t get it”, “AOPA is all about profits”, “get rid of the AOPA jet” but it all gets very tiring. I honestly don’t understand what everyone is upset about with AOPA and EAA. So my question is…what is your solution? It’s easy to grouch around and state that you’re not giving your oh-so-important support, stick your nose in the air, and pompously decree their downfall but it’s far harder to actually come up with solutions. It’s like politics: campaigning is one thing, governing is another. So what do you propose? What would your AOPA look like? What do you not like about the current situation?

    And I mean it; I honestly want to know.

    • says

      You “get it” or should I say; GOT IT!
      “Who stole Megan’s shovel – did you take Timmy’s pail”? A just lot of toddlers just having a good time in the sandbox?
      Could someone, Jamie, and you to Len, help me out hear – just WHAT’s AOPA
      purpose (responsibility/obligation) to it’s pilot members and the promotion of GA ?
      Isn’t this analogous to “government” – just another non-profit collecting $$ funds from well meaning and in good faith membership holders while “pretending” to do SOMETHING?
      Isn’t GAMA (for-profit business) the one who’s really slipping hear? Without the creation of revenue producing pilots by aggressive pro-active and BUSINESS oriented flight schools, which in turn who’ll become FUTURE pilot/aviation consumers, they’ll be NO need for ANY alphabet group and underutilized GA airports, or is that a bit to visionary for anyone to comprehend?

    • John Wesley says

      At a meeting in 1968, it was brought up by myself and a few others that we were heading into a problem in GA unless we started addressing future methods for attracting people to the fold, AOPA assured us that there was no problem. Aviation was healthy and would remain so well into the future. In 1970 and again in 1972 we raised the same question, Aopa said then that Cessna was going to build 10,000 airplanes that year and every year into the foreseeable future, that well trained educated people had a handle on the situation and not to worry.
      For the next forty years and through 4 changes in AOPA administration I and many others have continued to warn AOPA of impending disaster, while they continued to promote programs that only served to cement their relationships with manufacturers, suppliers and large training institutions, adding to their bottom line and padding their balance sheet. The three former directors at least payed us lip service, the new one doesn’t even give that courtesy, totally blowing off anyone who does not agree with his policies.
      For forty years I have preached GA, pleaded the cause of GA, drug people to GA, and watched the infrastructure needed to support GA erode and crumble in place.
      Townhall meetings at hotbeds of GA activity will do nothing to stop the eroding of the infrastructure.
      The people we need to get interested in GA are not usually in a position to attend a full time school, they need a facility near their homes families and businesses. Unless you are in a large metropolitan area, this is next to impossible and is getting worse by the day.
      AOPA, GAMA and the others blew it 40 years ago, when we had a strong base and widespread acceptance and interest, Now as GA is dying a very slow, very painful and very public death, they want everyone to think they are the Savior, BS.
      Do I sound bitter, I am, Do I sound disgusted, I am, and that is what AOPA personnel have called me over the years. I have watched an industry that I have followed, loved and lived since I was a young child, literally disappear around me, while the organizations that I supported and were supposed to support it did nothing and refused to listen to those on the firing line. I just wonder what will happen when they do not have enough members to support them in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

      Just a little note, 4 years ago last November I put together a database of current pilots in our 2 county area, using the FAA databases, at that time there were 1465, this past November I did the same thing, the count was down to 845.

      • says

        John; Agree that AOPA is USELESS – GAMA is the one, who, as I stated earlier has more $$$ potential financial losses at stake.
        That said, the REAL “bottom can on the self”, is when Cessna pulled away from the light piston line, the embryo for GA, to focus on the more profitable Citation jet series. This in turn left a gap for the unqualified GA business entrepreneur flight school owner/operator to enter and “attempt” a (self check-out) and a “free for all resulted” – hence the HIGH drop out rate?
        Frankly, If the executives of the major manufactures who have a vested interest in GA’s future can see what’s REALLY happening here, they will be responsible for their own demise and unfortunately, the death of GA as we know it!

        • SBarnett says

          Rod, since Cessna is a business, they do what makes the most money for their shareholders. Ultimately that’s what they exist to do. They *reacted to a shift in the market, the didn’t create it. The board (or whoever makes these decisions) decided that either more light piston planes were not needed, or they could make more money with jets. Either way, it shows what the market wanted.

          Nonpilots don’t buy airplanes, and businesses don’t buy piston singles (mostly). So if there are no new pilots coming in, and those that are already in and are growing richer (or are corporations) are buying jets, why continue to produce a product that few people want?

          • says

            Sbarnett; “Supply and Demand” at it’s best!
            And thanks for your wise assessment; “calling it (REALITY) like it is”!
            The sad TRUTH is exactly what you’ve stated – BUSINESS and ROI is Cessna’s or any investment minded enterprise’s main objective to it’s stockholders.
            That said, as A BUSINESS and low risk, GA’s light plane segment, at this moment in time , is strictly QUALITATIVE rather than QUANITATIVE; less “low end” (benefit doesn’t equal or exceed cost, OR “high end” – benefit equals or exceeds cost – witness WHO’s buying $400+ Cirrus – but then WHO is buying a 40-45+ year old C-172 – if they’re even being sold?
            The “retail” GA industry will be soon regulated (limited) to those “demographics” (markets) and smaller FBO’s/flight schools best be located (higher density cities/airports) where the ability to buy the product is if they expect to survive! Simply, If the community doesn’t have a Lexus, BMW dealership or Starbucks coffee shop – keep your money under the mattress!
            You also might find our “pro business/profit in aviation” views at interesting!

      • Paul J. says

        Do not give up on the AOPA. They have helped Me more than once. If you call them they will always get back to you. Also I believe they fight for us flyers. If
        you do not support them our voice will grow softer in Washington, who dose not have our best interest any way. Washington wans us as a tax revenue system and that is all. They through road blocks in rules & regulation that make no sense. The big airlines would like to do away with Ga if they could, and that is what the AOPA
        is doing. Keeping them at bay.

  10. John Wesley says

    AOPA cannot go back to basics, they are totally unaware of what constitutes basics. What you are and will be seeing is smoke and mirrors, hiding the same old, same old. They will pass out the rose colored glasses, Jamie already has his, mix up the Kool-Aid and pray that nobody notices the number of rundown, inactive, under used airports, that used to be hubs of activity. They will not expend the effort, time and funds to take the measures needed, because it will effect their bottom line. None of the alphabet groups is genuinely interested in GA enough to step down from their ivory towers, get out of their Citations and TBMs and get their hands really dirty. It is going to be very hard to save GA, when the facilities needed to accomplish this, no longer exist.

  11. Richard Bettencourt says

    CNO in California and nowhere to be seen in central or Northern California. You people need a reality check! You hit the nail on the HEAD Kent!

    • PB says

      Chino is the largest general aviation airport in California, and the management supports fly-in events like this.
      I can’t think of a large sized airport in Central or Northern California that has no scheduled air carrier operations to complicate access and security, has attractions that appeal to fly-in pilots (like the two air museums at Chino) and is located in the middle of a major metropolitan area and is accessible by fly in aircraft and freeway participants.
      I’m confused why you’d be unhappy with this?

  12. SBarnettW says

    Thank you for this Jamie! Totally agree. I just might make one of these my first overnight XC flight since getting my PPL.

  13. says

    I agree with Jaime. This is a new AOPA we’re working with, and I think they “get it.” I’ll be at 2 of these events (Indy and Brunswick), and will likely have a better time than I would at a huge show. And I’ll meet Mr. Baker and mention Mogas, which should keep the curmudgonly Kent Misegades happy! ; )

  14. Kent Misegades says

    Must these events all be at locations with a runway suitable to land the AOPA’s Citation? That’s the problem – when the alphabet leaders show up in a member-funded Citation, TBM, Caravan, or expensive warbirds, members all wonder why they paid $60 or more for annual dues for little more than a slick magazine full of advertisements. Will they come instead in a ratty old spam can, a Homebuilt they constructed themselves, a vintage two-seat ragwing taildragger, or maybe towing a project on a trailer? Will they sleep under the wing of their little plane and tolerate inclement weather, hungry bugs and overpriced food? Paul Poberezny and Jack Cox of the EAA would have done this, and gleefully. Until our so-called leaders do the same, shut up and listen to us for change, they’ll just be seen as the smoothie, obese lobbyist most have become. Since you are better connected – tell the, they could impress us all by vigorously supporting mogas as a means to lower the cost of flying. Get it onto the Frederick airport and only appear at events where it is available and cheap.

  15. Snorre says

    Jamie-I agree “imperfection is a fact of life”. However, “imperfection” ought to be “reserved” for those who “go for perfection” and fail. When “imperfection” becomes a goal by itself because “perfection” is too risky and does indeed carry the possibility of failure and most of all does not guarantee a steady personnel, economic reward—then we are in “an unrecoverable spin”. And this appears to continue being the policy of AOPA. When Mr. Baker–according to the press—made the statement “gas prices are what they are”—I understood that AOPA was heading for continues and planned “imperfection”—-going for perfection being “too risky” and most of all jeopardizing “personnel economic rewards”.

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