AOPA's Competitive Efforts Will Cause Flight Planning Companies To 'Re-Evaluate' Their Support For The Org's Mission
ANN has learned that AOPA will release an EFB-capable (electronic flight bag) version of their controversial FlyQ flight planning software product for the iPad early Friday morning. The cash-hungry Not-For-Profit AOPA organization has faced mounting criticism for a continued push into activities that directly compete with "For-Profit" companies... many of which have been advertisers, sponsors, donors and supporters of the organization... at least until now.
According to copies of the presser we received from several sources, AOPA's FlyQ, whose initial iterations were once touted as a "free member benefit," will actually cost serious bucks for members who would otherwise have bought ForeFlight, WingX, myWingman, or other products in this crowded but innovative market segment.... and will also be sold (despite previous denials) to NON-members alike. AOPA Member pricing is $69.99 a year for the VFR package or $119.99 a year for the VFR and IFR package. Non-member prices are $99.99 for the VFR package or $174.99 a year for the VFR and IFR package.
AOPA calls the EFB-version of FlyQ, "the latest addition to its family of digital flight planning products."
AOPA has ratcheted up their usual heavy rhetoric in attempting to cast the FlyQ as an 'in-demand' product... even though ANN has rarely heard anything of the kind from members expressing opinions on the subject.
"Our iPhone and Android app, FlyQ Pocket, has been embraced by our members, with more than 60,000 downloads since its launch in April," said Chris Ward, AOPA vice president, eMedia. "AOPA's members asked for an even more powerful app, and now they have FlyQ EFB, which offers users the tools they need to make flight planning smarter and more convenient."
Describing the 'app' as "a complete pre-and in-flight planning tool that provides airport directory information, aviation weather and flight planning," AOPA's Katie Pribyl noted that, "We talked with several companies, considered our alternatives and formed an alliance with Seattle Avionics founded to build and support strong flight planning platforms. AOPA has enjoyed numerous partnerships over the years with industry vendors that have pr oven to be mutually beneficial. And we will continue to explore new opportunities with them in the future - just like we always have."
While ANN has received or noted several complaints about the conduct of Seattle Avionics, several other flight planning operations consider them "opportunistic" and looking to exploit the deal with AOPA to gain a competitive (some say "unfair") advantage, expecting that AOPA's chest-thumping about its work on behalf of GA will cause potential customers to choose FlyQ over other products... several of which reportedly have a "better feature set, far more extensive industry 'time-in-grade' and support, and the benefit of having supported this market for several years prior to AOPA's unexpected competition."
While ANN has engaged in extensive dialogue with a number of companies working in this market space, the most recent comments we received came from Jeppesen, one of the most competitive and substantial players serving the mobile flight planning software operator. Jepp's David Wright, their Director of GA Client Management appeared resigned to having to compete with the organization... but not exactly pleased about it, either. Wright called the AOPA development, "interesting," but also stated that while they we're not vehemently opposed to AOPA's competition, that the EFB product, "does fundamentally change our view of their organization."
Wright also admitted that FlyQ EFB, "does create conflicts... the way we frame our relationship with AOPA will now change... and yes, we do have some of the same questions (asked by other EFB vendors) about (AOPA) playing in a for-profit space, when they're a non-profit association." It was the Jepp view that AOPA's move could backfire on them in a number of ways, and/or "could affect decisions on ad buys and other revenue concerns. We thought they were in DC to fight for our rights and not to compete with us... and while we do support their mission, the proof of how smart this was will come in a year or so when they've had to support this product against the rest of the market. And frankly; we're in the same camp (as some of their commercial competitors) in wondering what's going to happen next..."
It's been an otherwise tough month for AOPA, as they came off a less than stellar performance at the Palm Springs Summit/Expo event with attendance reported to be about 9200 people, as well as the mounting criticism the organization has received over member and donor complaints about its alleged "Off-Mission" activities and the increasing criticism they have received from disillusioned supporters, members, donors and even insiders. Additionally; AOPA confirmed that their relatively new CFO, Douglas L. Kitani, left the organization several days ago, "to pursue other opportunities" -- though AOPA sources indicate that growing criticism of Kitani (especially from current and former donors and high-level AOPA supporters) was responsible for this sudden departure and that, "it might take some of the heat off Craig for a while... maybe."
Other competitive products are expected, from AOPA, in the not-too-distant future... including a FIRC (Flight Instructor Refresher Course) that would appear to go head-to-head against Jeppesen, King Schools and other companies -- many of whom, have been or, currently support AOPA financially as donors, sponsors and/or advertisers -- for now. And beyond that, there is the question about AOPA's much-rumored interest in undertaking investments in various aviation businesses to fill the dwindling coffers of the $100M organization -- and how anyone with a product that 'competes' with anything 'blessed by AOPA will fare in the process.
As always, ANN will continue to ask the tough questions and keep an eye on the conduct and mission of the AOPA... and where it's all heading... which at this point, is really just about anyone's guess.