by Mark Baker
AOPA President and CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine – December 2021/January 2022 Online Issue
At some point, we’ve all been told to step outside of our comfort zones — it’s what breeds success, growth, and happiness. That step turned into a leap after a global pandemic disrupted our lives and threw our comfort zones into some unusual attitudes.
COVID-19 has forced us all to embrace the challenges and play the cards we’ve been dealt. At AOPA, that has meant making changes to the way we conduct business and the way we engage with members. It also meant grieving and overcoming loss within our own family. But it doesn’t mean we have lost focus on our mission.
As I reflect on the accomplishments and experiences of the past 12 months, I see a chance to use those lessons to continue forging ahead. We may be heading into year 83 of protecting the freedom to fly, but we still carry a learning mindset – proud but never satisfied. We are always looking for new ways to exceed our members’ expectations and do what’s best for the GA community.
2021 forced us to look at things through a new lens. We took some leaps – we redesigned our tried-and-true AOPA Pilot, expanded our social media presence, and held events like we never had before.
While recovery has been slow for commercial aviation, GA continues to thrive. Pilots are consuming safety videos, participating in seminars, and improving their flying skills in record numbers. And 2021 is on track to be the safest year ever in GA. Now that’s something to celebrate.
We also continued to expand on our founders’ principles in ensuring the long-term health and viability of GA, by continuing to build the pilot community and protecting the interests of all our members. Thanks to generous donations to the AOPA Foundation, our You Can Fly program is stronger than ever.
We’ve created programs to support flying clubs, encourage best practices in flight training, get lapsed pilots back in the air, and help high schoolers learn about careers in aviation. In fact, our High School Aviation STEM curriculum is now in more than 300 schools in 44 states across the country, engaging more than 10,000 students. Because of its success, AOPA’s You Can Fly program received the prestigious STEM.org accreditation.
AOPA also has been hard at work fighting for common-sense legislation, saving our nation’s airports, and making flying less burdensome and cost restrictive. After rallying support from members, and allies in Congress, our team in Washington, D.C., has fought back against the FAA’s misguided interpretation of flight training, that requires operators of certain categories of aircraft to obtain a letter of deviation authority to conduct flight training. Progress is being made to overturn the FAA decision, thanks to an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act. If all goes to plan, flight training can resume as normal and pilots won’t need to undergo any more unnecessary and burdensome paperwork.
We’re also always on the front lines when it comes to threats to our GA airports. Most recently, we secured a huge win for pilots and aviation businesses at Dillingham Airfield in Hawaii after it faced an impending closure threat. AOPA helped build a multi-front grassroots campaign that garnered support among lawmakers and was joined by more than 450 individuals, earning local media coverage of the issue. Thanks to the team effort, Dillingham will remain open for at least the next three years. AOPA will continue to educate officials on the economic benefits of keeping Dillingham, and all GA airports, open for the long term.
Additionally, we continue to encourage and push for online transparency of FBO prices and fees. More than 300 aviation organizations have joined us in support of the Know Before You Go program, an industry voluntary program that encourages fee and pricing transparency for pilots. We’ve made considerable progress, and applaud such major FBO chains as Atlantic Aviation and others, which have made their pricing transparent. Unfortunately, the lion’s share of larger FBOs still do not post all their prices and fees online. We obviously have more work to do, and we will continue our efforts, especially with the remaining larger FBOs. Not only is this the right thing to do for FBOs, but pricing transparency will help pilots with their preflight planning, promote competition, and provide good customer service. One way or the other, we will get there.
Going into 2022, we still have many issues to tackle, such as the continued search for a fleetwide, drop-in unleaded fuel solution. But it’s hard not to appreciate the wins that were made this past year – professionally and personally. Life is unpredictable, so we should take time to celebrate the positives. For me, that means appreciating every time I get to be in an airplane. So, I’ll leave you with this: Cherish the freedom to fly and play the cards you’re dealt. Blue skies and happy holidays!