Oshkosh Brings Aviation Together
by Mark Baker
AOPA President and CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2019 issue
For one week in mid-summer, Wisconsin’s Wittman Regional Airport boasts the world’s greatest aviation celebration as nearly 10,000 aircraft and a crowd of more than 600,000 gather for endless aeronautical activities. Walking around the flight line and seeing the iconic brown arch signals we’ve arrived at our annual family reunion—minus the clashing personalities, political debates, and opinionated Uncle Earl. To the average bystander, it’s just another airshow, but to pilots and aviation enthusiasts, it’s the homecoming we’ve been waiting for.
Arriving at Oshkosh is a rite of passage. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been coming for the past 50 years, it’s an exhilarating tradition. Aircraft from every decade, thrilling aerobatic airshows, educational workshops and seminars, and one unforgettable campground. It’s the get-together of a lifetime, but it’s the people that lure us back year after year. They’re the family we never knew we had.
I’ve been a regular at AirVenture over the decades—long before I became president of AOPA—and I am constantly amazed at the magnitude of our GA community. Wide-eyed kids gazing up at the aerobatic performers pulling negative Gs takes me back to when I first found the spark.
But flying is often an elusive dream to those who don’t come from an aviation background. Someone planted the aviation seed in me, and as flight instructors, airport managers, performers, or casual weekend fliers, it’s up to us to spark that enthusiasm in someone else. There are so many opportunities and thrills that come with being a part of this tight-knit community, so it’s a bit alarming to read headline after headline of an impending pilot shortage.
Thankfully the numbers are heading in the right direction. The number of original certificates, active aircraft, new aircraft shipments, and AOPA memberships have increased over the past two years. In 2018, the number of student pilot certificates issued was up 18 percent; private certificates were up 17 percent; and commercial certificates up 16 percent.
Many of the positive trends can be attributed to organizations striving to make flying more accessible and affordable. Some 56,000 pilots are now flying under BasicMed, the simpler aviation medical program. AOPA’s You Can Fly program is improving experiences for pilots and encouraging them to stay active. You Can Fly’s Rusty Pilots initiative has seen huge success in getting more than 7,000 lapsed pilots back in the air.
From older pilots to younger pilots, it’s clear You Can Fly is making a difference. You Can Fly’s High School Aviation STEM curriculum will be implemented in more than 160 schools for the 2019-2020 school year; 141 schools will be teaching the ninth-grade courses and 118 schools will be teaching the tenth-grade courses. The curriculum introduces students to careers in aviation and shows them the dream is within reach.
AOPA has never strayed from its mission to make flying safe, fun, and affordable, but we can’t do it alone. It’s up to us as individuals to introduce friends, family, and kids to aviation and show them what is attainable. Would you be where you are today if someone hadn’t introduced you to aviation? It’s time we invite as many as we can to our next family reunion, whether it’s “the World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration”; the AOPA regional fly-in at Tullahoma, Tennessee, in September; or just your neighborhood airport. We can all make a difference.
2019 AOPA Fly-In – September 13 and 14 in Tullahoma, Tennessee, at Tullahoma Regional Airport.