The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association leadership and membership both turned out in impressive numbers despite rainy weather for the year’s first regional fly-in at Michael J. Smith Field in Beaufort, N.C., May 20-21.
AOPA President Mark Baker brought the top members of the management team from the association’s headquarters at Frederick, Md., for the fly-in and nearly 2,000 visitors showed up to meet them. The main tent was nearly full with an estimated 800 plus attendees for the Friday evening Barnstormers party.
About 230 planes flew in, most on Friday, before heavy rain began. The following day there were intermittent showers, but the fly-in programs continued uninterrupted as the crowd returned.
The Saturday program included a wide range of seminars and presentations on technology, safety, weather flying and general aviation issues.
A display of new aircraft on the main ramp at the airport provided a centerpiece for the event. A polished Diamond DA62 twin grabbed a big share of visitor attention, along with a dozen other new aircraft.
But the star attraction may well have been the U.S. military display, headlined by the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey that flew in Friday. The aircraft and its 11-member crew were from Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C. The tilt rotor Osprey is both a turboprop airplane and a heavy-lift helicopter.
At a town hall meeting concluding the fly-in, Baker outlined key issues facing the pilot community and listed initiatives by AOPA. He and Experimental Aircraft Association President Jack Pelton told the audience their organizations will continue their close cooperation in support of general aviation.
“We’re very excited about what AOPA is doing with regional fly-ins,” Pelton said. “The two associations are working hand in hand.”
“We’re stronger together,” Baker added.
The pending third class medical legislation seemed to be the number one issue for pilots and Baker was upbeat, saying he had no doubt Congressional approval was coming this year.
“We started out with a driver’s license (certification) on this, but we ended up with a compromise — one AME visit,” he noted. “If you have a medical issued in the last 10 years, you don’t have to go to the AME. A new pilot has to go one time. Then you have to go see your primary care doctor for a visit every four years. There will be simple record keeping.”
He noted AOPA was frustrated that the medical certification bill “has passed the Senate three times,” but is still stuck in the legislative process.
“It is not about disagreement anymore,” he said. “Now it’s time to get off the dime and move this thing. It will be done.”
Baker pointed to statistics that showed the U.S. pilot population dropped from 827,000 in 1980 to 593,000 in 2014. But he added, “We can fix this.”
He emphasized AOPA’s multi-pronged program to increase the pilot population, including an initiative to support flying clubs and start new clubs.
AOPA’s Rusty Pilot program has reached 4,000 pilots so far, he said, noting 1,500 of those pilots are now actively flying again.
“We want to improve the student pilot completion rate,” Baker continued. “And we’re looking to work in the high schools building curriculum, symposium online resources and providing free consulting to administrators and teachers.”
On a last note, Baker told the crowd that AOPA — and the rest of the GA community — will continue to oppose user fees. “I can tell you there is no funding problem at the FAA,” he added.
The next AOPA regional fly-in will be at Bremerton, Wash., (KPWT), Aug. 19-20, then Battle Creek, Mich., (KBTL), Sept. 16-17, and Prescott, Ariz., (KPRC), Sept. 30-Oct. 1.