Next week, Fort Worth, Texas, will fill up with pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, writers, reporters, business owners, spouses, friends, and all the assorted characters who travel along with the big aviation enthusiast road show. The draw is the AOPA Summit, an annual gathering of the faithful, the hopeful, and the not-entirely-satisfied who all have aspirations for a more vibrant general aviation environment.
Unlike all previous Summits, this one is different. It is the last of its kind. As a result I suspect those of us who have attended a Summit in the past will find the experience bittersweet.
That’s a choice we make. My own plan is somewhat different. Rather than bemoan the passing of a massive annual gathering of aviation folks that ping-pongs from east coast to west coast and back again, with the occasional stop in the middle of the country, I’ll be viewing this Summit as the opening salvo of a new and potentially more productive venture.
AOPA is embarking on a new path. Good for them, I say. Good for all of us. And while I know what the letters of the institution’s name mean when spelled out, I choose to interpret the “O” to stand for “opportunity.”
This would be a good time to retrieve your rose-colored glasses and firmly affix them to your face. Things are about to get downright optimistic around here.
Mark Baker, the newly installed president of AOPA, has suggested that it’s time for the big behemoth organization to get back to its roots — grass roots — where general aviation lives in its greatest numbers.
The local level matters. From the recreational pilot who feels frustration at only being able to afford an hour or two a month in a rented single, to the owners and operators of JetA burning speed machines, we all started in the same place. We stood on the ramp, considered the airplane we would take our first flight in, swallowed hard and committed ourselves to doing the best we could. With each new lesson we improved. There were fits and starts, sure. Not every maneuver was flawless, but we improved over time.
Every one of us started out as the little guy. Yet we persevered, we pushed ourselves, we overcame obstacles, learned to fly, and we are proud of that achievement.
I wonder if we can extend that scenario as a metaphor to the largest membership organization in aviation. Can we as a collective join together and learn how to work together for the common good of general aviation? Can we accept that not every idea is a great one, but that the clunkers aren’t borne of evil intent? Can we improve our ability to interact, share information, welcome each other onto our home fields, and communicate openly about what we think would have the most positive impact on the community at any given point in time?
I suspect we can. And although I’ve not met Mr. Baker yet, I have a sense he may be thinking those very thoughts, even if he is not using those exact words.
Aviation could use some sprucing up. That much is obvious. Our participants have adopted an overtly negative tone in recent years. That has to change if we’re going to reverse the trend that has led to dwindling pilot starts, fewer hours flown, and the overwhelming perception that aviation is hard to get involved with.
It’s the recognition of that grumpiness that’s got me so optimistic these days. When the president of AOPA acknowledges that our aviation community is showing signs of real dissatisfaction, that there exists a great opportunity for change, for improvement, for involvement on the local and regional level that will filter up to the national scene — well let’s just say I’m 100% on board with the idea of stepping up and being part of the solution.
A conversation is beginning to take shape, one that I believe will have the full faith and backing of the largest and arguably most important collective of general aviation enthusiasts that has ever existed. Next week we’ll gather, we’ll talk, we’ll explore ideas, and in the end we’ll come away with a better idea of where our partners are, how they can help, and where we can best put our best efforts to turn the tide. I believe general aviation is embarking on a new chapter, a brighter, more engaging, more uplifting chapter in our development.
In the end our success will come from the dedication and industriousness of those who are willing to pick up an oar and start rowing in the direction the rest of the crew is headed in.
Next week should be a hoot, when thousands of the best crew candidates gather in Texas to pick up our oars, get pointed in the right direction, and get to work. I can’t wait!