Aircraft (who) and (what) Association?

One axiom of civilized life might be “keep your annoyances private, don’t burden others with them”. If that’s true, I’m about to break it. My apologies, stop reading now if you wish.

Today, I received an emailed request for a web survey by AOPA’s membership services department. Because I think their mission is important, I participated. A few minutes later, I now feel compelled to go on a rant.


First, let’s understand that this organisation represents general aviation pilots and aircraft owners in a wholly unique way; no other institution anywhere is quite like it. We’re absolutely dependent on it to be a collective voice for our interests in D.C. and in State and local governments across the land. As a cross section of the U.S. population, there are not all that many of us that are active certified pilots (a bit under 600,000 in 2009 according to FAA estimates), yet around 65% of us are AOPA members. That should say something definitive about how important our association is to us.

For years, I’ve eagerly read most every publication, email missive, or flyer that came to my attention from them. Whenever safety seminars, came to town, I’d go. When the association’s former president came to town, I’d clear my calendar to see him speak. When 9/11 happened, I stayed glued to their website to understand what was happening, and how it was going to affect us. Meanwhile, I never had much in the way of extra cash to support them, but if there was a congressional letter to be written, or a presence needed for a debate, or anything else I could do to help out, I’d certainly be there.

Put it another way, it was our Association, sticking up for our interests in a way that was completely atypical for such a small cross section of the population. I was always proud of their David standing up to the regulatory Goliath, and I don’t think I was wholly alone in this.

That was a couple of years ago, though. Things seem to be changing…

New leadership came to them in 2009. I expected subtle shifts in their everyday business. But things started changing, a little at first, then more rapidly.

First came the tide of junk mail, most of it electronic. Then came the plea to join the “Wine Club”, which seemed not only silly, but sends an entirely inappropriate message. Then a dues increase. Now it’s a branded “clothing collection”. All amidst the constant “we need your support” chanting.

Meanwhile, VIP TFRs remain chronic, especially in December in Hawaii (how would you like a 2-week government-enforced shutdown during your busy season?). The Mickey Mouse Temporary Flight Restriction remains anything but “temporary”. The California Assembly attempts to cost flight schools out of business. General aviation gets a mandate to equip with expensive satellite-based position reporting gear returning no operator value while air carriers get a seemingly credible argument for a taxpayer-based subsidy for the same damned thing. And the list keeps growing, and seems unanswered…

To a clueless member like myself, the sudden revenue push at the same time that critical state-level legislation gets “missed” should be a warning flag. Perhaps the new leadership is just too busy?

Meanwhile, reports start circulating in the online aviation press regarding executive compensation at AOPA. These turn into nasty accusations in both directions. OK, so maybe I’m really not seeing things, and something isn’t quite right?

Then comes today’s survey. It effectively asks me how I feel about 8 or so different “gold level” membership options with yearly costs ranging from $200-$500 or so, coming with varying levels of sometimes useful added services (medical, legal, flight planning, etc.). Yet, so many of these proposals included a line item for a special “insider’s relationship” with the current CEO/President.

Excuse me? If I don’t pay up real big, I’m an “outsider”?

Let’s get something real clear now. I’m just a simple software engineer. I exist on the bottom of the general aviation food chain, and there’s not much extra revenue to throw around for AOPA’s benefit. I instruct only a little, mostly because it’s fun, and I want our brotherhood to grow if possible. The aircraft I own is not a wealthy-CEO jet, it’s only the simplest and humblest of small primary aircraft; keeping it airworthy and safe is a difficult expenditure that worries me constantly.

I understand that the Association has challenges. I know that keeping regulators at bay remains expensive at a time when everyone’s revenues are down. There’s a bunch of really terrific folks at AOPA headquarters, and we need them working with us. I want to help when I can.

But if I need to pay extra to stay an “insider”, perhaps I should put the extra money back into my 36-year old Cessna, and just try to enjoy it until the day comes and they chain the airport ramp off to us “outsiders”. Then I’ll quietly put my dreams away and go find something else to do.

Or maybe we “outsiders” need our own Association?



2 Responses to “Aircraft (who) and (what) Association?”

  1. 1 Mike Engel December 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    The last part of your post might have gotten cut off. It ends at “If I have to make a choice between ___”

  2. 2 steve.c December 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Fixed, thank you. Suspect it was some hidden text left dangling in the edit window…

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