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Mon, Oct 22, 2012

Barnstorming: More Signs Of The Times

After All The AOPA Hub-Bub, Momentum Builds For Redirection Of Efforts Toward Solving REAL Problems

Despite an expectation of less than positive vibes about the AOPA Summit, I headed to Palm Springs last week and got a pleasant and wholly unexpected surprise. After enduring some initial flak from the AOPA -- who seem more interested in attacking the messenger than dealing with the message -- I rather expected to have to have to grit my teeth through the event and just deal with the fallout of heading the one news organization that was willing to ask the questions many were otherwise asking under their breath.

But a funny thing happened at Palm Springs... where I found myself the recipient of a limitless sequence of 'attaboys,' hand shakes, congrats, and high fives... as well as the thanks of hundreds for doing the kind of story that, "Only ANN could, or would, do."

Wow... NOT what I expected.

Hoped for, maybe.

Expected, no.

I heard from all manner of flyer... student pilots, private pilots, professional pilots, exhibitors, aero-business owners/staffers, and past and current AOPA staffers, as well as quite a number of AOPA insiders. I also heard from a number of folks that, collectively, were responsible for MILLIONS of dollars of donations/payments to AOPA over the course of a number of years, I talked to members of their various Boards and advisory groups, and even a few members of the media who, "sure wished our Editor would let us do that kind of story."

The aforementioned (mostly former) financial supporters were incensed at the current direction of AOPA... no one (of those who came forward or sought us out), had a kind word for the current direction of the organization while their comments and thoughts reflected their feelings that AOPA was off target, driven by arrogance, unconcerned about the plight of basic flyers, and only interested in building up a significant financial portfolio... and for reasons that were still not yet altogether clear.

With very few exceptions, the rest of the folks who sought me out were concerned about the future of aviation and the possible effect a failing AOPA might have... all kinds of solutions were broached... a new association, new leadership for the AOPA, and/or a re-dedication to the things that really matter in seeking a positive future for the aviation world.

And throughout this all, I saw additional evidence of AOPA's alleged meltdown... an opening session that spent nearly an hour alienating a quite a few people (based on the comments I heard from those around me) with a few senior AOPA staffer's grandiose recitation of expensive foreign trips and vacations... and several more minutes devoted to stroking the egos of some new "Strategic Partners" (Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Aircraft Spruce -- appointed as a new partner just hours after Sporty's was kicked to the curb). Later, I found out that long-time AOPA Chief Counsel, John Yodice, no longer fulfilled that function, and was filled in on a number of specific accusations of questionable financial actions, along with some rather unpleasant details surrounding the manner and conduct of AOPA's new CFO. Attendance was unimpressive and the overall attitude was subdued and somewhat low-key. I never did get a chance to make contact with Craig Fuller... who seemed to be avoiding eye contact whenever we were in close proximity... but I'm told that I was not the only one so treated.

While a great number of people wanted to, and did, talk about the issues we raised... the organization pretty much ignored them. But here and there, the growing dissatisfaction of many AOPA members was hard to ignore.  

One particularly amusing note of protest was revealed when I looked at the various wi-fi outlets on the floor of the convention center (on my iPhone)... and noted a number of private wi-fi nodes with names like "aopa kills innovation" or "aopa competes with private enterprise." Despite this, and a number of other provocations, the leadership and staff of AOPA showed no interest in addressing the issues we raised just days before.

There's more... but you get the idea.

The overall impression?

AOPA has serious problems on its hands. But the biggest problem we see with the organization is that they apparently have no desire to address such concepts... and that's a shame. There is a valuable, even critical, dialogue that needs to happen... but AOPA seems unwilling to admit that there is an 'elephant in the room.'

Significant numbers of its membership are becoming increasingly disillusioned about the direction and conduct of the organization. A number of powerful partners and donors have not only given up on the current direction and leadership of the AOPA, but several voiced a commitment to being part of an effort to either seek change for the organization and/or its leadership... or to find a possible replacement -- and indeed, we are aware, already, of a letter circulated by some major players, seeking input on a solution to the "AOPA problem." Some high-ranking AOPA insiders do indicate that our stories "have shaken things up" and that there are discussions going on that would otherwise have not occurred... but no one, as yet, reports any concrete action to reform the direction and mission of the association.

AOPA, to all outside appearances seems to be an organization that has become increasingly out of sync with its core membership, and run by an elite group of self-appointed leaders (some of whom seem to have little to recommend them for such leadership roles), who appear to have few concerns about being accountable to the 'little people' that fly Cubs, and Cessnas, and T-Crafts and Apaches... and not the high-performance singles, twins, turboprops, and jets that seem to have captured their attention. The organization seems largely preoccupied with raising more money by nearly any means... than in earning the trust and support of the rank and file... where a well-heeled donor and advertiser seems to get more attention than 'Joe Aeronca.'

I got a big dose of that impression, myself, when instead of a frank discourse with Craig Fuller following the first of our AOPA articles a few weeks ago, I was alerted to a public editorial (by Fuller) that twisted my words, missed the point of what we were trying to address and totally blew our concerns off... on a page adorned by a big honking Cirrus Aircraft ad...

Talk about salting the wound...

We had alerted AOPA to the many problems we had found at Cirrus (problems also found by elected officials, customers, suppliers, vendors, stockholders, investors, and the like) and suggested that they look into the many problems we PROVED in a series of stories in which many of their sponsors, members and associated partners were among those hurt or otherwise victimized by that Chinese-owned GA manufacturer.  We never heard back from AOPA about the Cirrus matter... but I guess that they were too busy counting Cirrus dollars to notice. Mind you, we also called them about a number of other serious matters... issues that were contributing to documented hazards to the same people they supposedly represent... hazards that ranged from blatant ripoffs, to FAA abuses, to the kinds of unsafe aviation practices that are already under investigation and allegedly related to the deaths of two people in the past year. We got to a point where we despaired of ever seeing AOPA be what it used to be... a valued and dependable leader and resource for the aviation world... and we feel it hasn't been that since Phil Boyer retired.

We feel that AOPA can be fixed (and yes, we want it to be)... and while calls for a total replacement of the organization occasionally sound attractive, I have little doubt that such an undertaking would be a Herculean task... so fixing what's broke seems a far easier solution... IF it can still be done.

I received the attached letter a few hours ago... and am reprinting it here to draw attention to some of the REAL issues we face and the reason why we, as a community, may be on the endangered species list. While "Ken R." may have given up on aviation, I haven't... but I have little doubt that Ken has plenty of company... and until the leadership of GA and its associated aviation groups make issues like those mentioned here their primary concern, we are doomed to swirl the drain until the many problems that have afflicted us, simply and finally flush our fondest dreams and aspirations away...

***************

Jim,

I just canceled my subscription to the newsletter and I wanted to tell you why. I have no problem with ANN. I think you have a great and worthy publication. It is just that since the Great Recession combined with onerous FAA regs caused me to shut down my avionics business 5 years ago, I am not as interested in aviation as I once was. The recession along with the FAA regs combined with a moron destroying my aircraft by taxiing into it created a perfect storm. I was forced to give up something I dreamed of doing most of my adult life.  As a result, along with a heart issue (now resolved but still driving the cost of obtaining a medical out of reach), I have given up flying altogether.

Your publication has kept me informed of the happenings in the industry and I appreciate that. I have found, however, that the daily and sometime multiple times per day newsletters have begun to weigh on my mind and have become a reminder of better times lost. This is a bad thing. My personal philosophy is to move beyond the past and embrace the future and these reminders are making that difficult.

If you ever decide to create a once-a-week newsletter or a once a month online magazine, I might sign up for one of those. But for now, fly safe and good bye.

Ken R.

***************

Folks... getting a letter like this is a tragedy... the fact that I've gotten many more just like it, is an emergency. We need to come together, devise a realistic plan, remake this industry and unite behind honest, transparent, accountable focused leadership... but I see none of that at 421 Aviation Way, in Frederick, at the moment... and NO ONE is sadder to say that (and believe that), than I.   

What Do YOU Think?

What Should WE Do?

And... WHO Should Lead Us?

One Final Note: Mr. Fuller... we have requested, and continue to request, the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive interview, to be produced and distributed online, complete and unedited. Please let us know if you will consent to this request. -- Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C 

FMI: One More Time... What Do YOU THINK? Tell ANN What You Want Us To Know

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