Tough Questions Need To Be Asked In Tough Times
By Bob Miller, CFII, ATP, Frequent ANN
Like many of you, I received a form letter recently from AOPA's
CEO, Craig Fuller. He was writing in the capacity of chairman of
the AOPA Political Action Committee (PAC).
His letter was masterfully crafted. In it, he appealed to the
very heart of every card-carry AOPA member. Choking back tears, I
read how Chairman Fuller began flying at the tender age of 17 and
how he earned money taking aerial photos. Ahhh, it was a classic
Horatio Alger story at its best!
Drying my eyes, I read further as Chairman Fuller told me how AOPA
PAC dollars single-handedly saved countless airports, how AOPA
prevented users fees from going sky high, and how the freedom to
fly that we enjoy would have been outlawed.
Reading on, Chairman Fuller shared how AOPA's PAC built the
Congressional Aviation Caucus by using our dollars to underwrite
campaigns of AOPA members to the House and the Senate. By now, I
could no longer hold back the tears.
Then came the pitch for my dollars... $25, $50, $75, $100, $250, or
$1,000 or even more. I felt my arm searching vainly for my
checkbook. Not to worry, he gave me a convenient telephone number
to call where an AOPA staffer would no doubt graciously accept my
credit card number. I could barely resist a minute longer.
But wait... I do have a brain. I pondered Chairman Fuller's
emotional pitch a bit longer.
I read, and re-read, Chairman Fuller's words - "...not a single
piece of general aviation legislation, or regulation, will advance
without our input." It was here that I began to understand how AOPA
could, in fact, be selling us down the river.
What Is AOPA's REAL Agenda?
If I believed for a minute that AOPA was about safety rather
than building membership numbers, I might be inclined to write that
check. If I believed that by selling insurance, credit cards, and
California wines that AOPA was creating revenues to promote
regulatory reform to prevent, among other things, poorly trained
pilots from getting into the national airspace system, I would have
found my checkbook.
If I believed that AOPA was working hard to heighten the
training and experience requirements to become a certificated
flight instructor, I would have happily supported the cause. If I
thought that AOPA was promoting regulatory reform that required low
time pilots to undergo an annual, rather than biennial, flight
review, I would have been there with my dollars.
But this is not what AOPA is about. Instead, AOPA is a
membership organization. Like a labor union, its purpose is to
support member interests, right or wrong. Highest among these
interests is to block any legislation that potentially represents a
burden on its membership and to support any legislation that
benefits its membership.
This is just the kind of thing we would expect from any
membership organization, right?
But what if a piece of legislation comes along that potentially
benefits general aviation but adversely affects member AOPA member
pilots? Let's say that a bill is introduced that requires pilots
with less than 400 hours of PIC time be required to undergo an
annual flight review? AOPA would (and has) oppose such legislation
claiming that it would represent a burden on its membership.
Similarly, if a bill is introduced that amends 14 CFR Part 61 to
increase the minimum number of instruction hours for the private
pilot certificate from 40 to 60, AOPA would likely strongly oppose
on the basis of hardship to its members.
Let's say a bill is introduced that requires CFIIs to receive
some portion of instrument training in ACTUAL instrument
conditions, AOPA would likely oppose, again on the basis of
hardship to its members.
The Missing Point...
AOPA seems to be missing the point that the greatest hardship on
its members occurs every time that a fatal GA accident occurs in
any community with a hyperactive media. That community gets "turned
off" to GA for at least two to three weeks.
Multiply that single fatal accident occurrence times nearly 300
fatal GA accidents every year, year-after-year, and you can quickly
see the total adverse impact on its membership. Neighbors demand
that airports get shut down, politicians seek to restrict airspace,
insurance premiums soar, spouses discourage flying, and so
It seems so simple, yet AOPA (and EAA, the aircraft
manufacturers, and even the FAA) works so desperately hard to
"protect our pilot freedoms." They resist any legislation that
purports to makes GA safer IF it creates a burden on us pilots.
Hence, the fatal accidents continue and communities continue to
make GA their enemy.
Selling Us Out?
In the grand scheme of things, AOPA is a good organization. I've
been a card-carrying, dues paying member for nearly 30 years.
AOPA's strongest resource is its staffers. These dedicated
individuals are committed professionals who are genuinely concerned
about its members. I know some of these people personally and count
them as my friends.
But it's not the people. Instead, it's about a corporate
management philosophy that seemingly regards membership numbers
above lowering our fatal accident rate. It's a management
philosophy that apparently places more weight on protecting member
interests than it does on keeping us alive.
In the grand scheme of things, AOPA likely believes that 300
fatal accidents a year is an acceptable loss rate to support the
freedoms we have to fly. If that be true, then shame on us for
paying our membership dues year after year.
Yes, AOPA could be selling us out.
Bob Miller, ATP, CFII
Miller, CFII, ATP is publisher of Over the Airwaves - The Journal
for the Proficient Pilot and owner of Bob Miller Flight Training,
Inc., a FAA approved Part 141 flight school located in Buffalo, NY.
Bob is heard every Monday on the ANN podcast with Paul Plack and is
a frequent contributor to various aviation publications. He is
also one of the most passionate practitioners of the flight
training arts that we know of... -- Jim Campbell, ANN