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Thu, Oct 04, 2012

'POPA' Speaks Up... Readers Responds To AOPA Controversy

More Than One Reader Suggests That It's Time To Start P.O.P.A.... The 'Pissed-Off Pilot's Association'

News/Analysis By ANN's Staff and Readership

As expected, our recent article about questions concerning the behavior, mission and direction of the AOPA has caught some attention... and the responses have been fast and, occasionally, furious. We're pushing some 1100 responses (so far and still trending upwards) to the article (via email, Facebook, directed tweets, and the like) while the expected personal attacks against ANN and/or Jim Campbell started quickly enough for him to collect on a $20 bet placed with friends as to how long it would take for those despicable tactics to emerge. Jim, choosing the shortest possible interval (and based on previous experience with what happens when you dare to criticize AOPA), won the pot.

To paraphrase the amazing Thomas Jefferson, who had to deal with all manner of hazard in seeking truth, "When the people fear their leadership, there is tyranny; when the leadership fears the people, there is liberty."

Still... rather than dwell on the lack of professionalism, bad taste and poor sense such conduct promotes (and further incites), we'd figure we'd let our readers speak up and tell the world what THEY think. After all... since this controversy involves the issues surrounding a so-called member-services association, it behooves us to make sure that those members and other folks in that specific community are heard from... first and foremost. Please note that a stunning number of parties, fearing AOPA retribution (welcome to OUR world, folks -- grin), have asked that identifying information be stripped from their communications. A few others simply didn't care. In order to head off anticipated nay-saying, we will make this info available to our staff counsel, confidentially but on request, so that he can verify that these statements have, in fact, been made and still respect the requests made for anonymity--which our legal counsel will also have to honor.


Jonathan G commented: Sometimes, the truth is tough to face. But thanks for being testicularly endowed enough to write what you did, Jim! Folks seem a little uneasy around 421 Aviation Way today... While I am a "Life Member" of AOPA and generally support their cause, they've definitely lost touch with the core membership.


Chris D writes: Now if only they would stop filling up my mailbox asking for money...


Bob M adds: Unless and until AOPA addresses the very real threats to GA, its relevance (and membership) will continue to decline. These threats go beyond user fees and fuel prices. AOPA and, particularly, the Air Safety Foundation under Bruce's leadership, hasn't shown evidence of even remotely understanding this fact. Pity.


Jeff M checked in: Jim, I read Craig's whiny rant about your article but really didn't see his point. I mean, you raised the questions and he avoided them. For a guy that cleared some 853 thousand bucks (according to the last IRS990 I can find), I'm amazed that he sets himself up as the victim of bad press instead of taking your criticism to heart and starting an industry-wide dialogue about the role and mission of his organization. Gosh darn it, I miss Phil! Maybe its time to start P.O.P.A. The "Pissed-Off Pilot's Association."


Dan B. writes: Interesting article! I was an AOPA member from 1983 until last November. That's quite a long run, I'd say, and I didn't realize that others were finding that the organization had changed its direction since the departure of Phil Boyer.

As a CFII-MEI (initial since 1985), light aircraft enthusiast, and pilot for a major airline, I had always appreciated and strongly supported AOPA for its work in promoting GA, protecting airports, lobbying for GA, etc. However, I noticed a change in the magazine and in the character of the organization after Fuller's arrival. I don't know if it was just coincidence or at the specific direction of AOPA's new leadership, but the change I saw prompted me to write, for the first time ever, to AOPA about my concerns and disappointments.
I received a free year of membership out of that conversation, which was nice, but didn't change the direction I saw my organization going. So, I let my membership in AOPA lapse this year.
Over the past couple of years, it appears to me that AOPA has been a great resource for those few who can afford a half-million dollar entry level airplane, want to own corporate jets, or are otherwise unburdened with a flying budget. There are plenty of flying magazines out there right now that promote the lifestyles of rich & famous pilots, but I needed one that focused on the lifestyles of more realistic pilots and owners of small aircraft who are struggling to stay in the GA game at all because of the high costs involved today. Also, it appeared to me that the organization under Fuller took on a more partisan political bent. I believe that it should be strictly apolitical.
I could go on describing the small ways that I think AOPA has lost the focus on me as a member. I honestly don't know, perhaps most of its members ARE multi-millionaires who can afford all of the airplanes, trips, activities, and products that AOPA pushes? All I know is that I didn't need a subscription to an expensive magazine that seemed to focus more & more on the high-life and less on my down-home approach to GA. By the way, my grandfather was a very early AOPA member, perhaps even in the initial cadre of members.
I'm very interested in reading your continued coverage of AOPA's direction and look forward to future articles. Thanks


Bill M chimes in: In a word: yes. We could build miles of runways with all the trees killed to make all of the junk mail AOPA sends out constantly.



Phil P comments: Nice article.

I can't say that I disagree with any of the points you've mentioned. It's an understandable position that AOPA is put in, and being a corporate guy, I can understand their desire to grow.
We live in a society where we feel like we're losing if we aren't growing. But when it comes to mission focused Not for Profits like AOPA and EAA, we are losing when we lust for growing beyond our core mission.
I do have to give EAA some open and honest credit; they don't go after their members wallets quite like AOPA does. Don't get me wrong, they do ask for money but it's nothing like the aggressive hounding that AOPA uses to leverage their membership for money. I read Craig's response and he seemed to ignore their money-grabbing tactics. :)
My complaint is that growth may not be the answer. However when the majority of the leadership team (Officers and Board Members) come from the corporate world it's all they know and that's how they measure their success. No one wants to be known as the guy who simply weathered the storm and brought the organization out the backside in good shape and ready to move forward in a healthy economy.
It's really a lot like the government. If the money isn't coming in, then quit spending it and focus on your core mission until times get better. That's the message that seems to be missing in both EAA and AOPA.
(For a disclaimer, I don't know much about how AOPA operates. I haven't poured myself into AOPA quite like EAA. I'm a member, I generally like the investments they're making in GA. I think Craig Fuller is light-years better and more valuable for the GA community than Phil Boyer could ever dream of being. All that being said, judging your success by growth isn't the right metric to use in the Not For Profit world.)


Doug R emailed: I was pleased, in a perverse sense, to see the article on AOPA. I hate to see the organization damaged on the one hand, but this crap has to stop.

Fuller is a disaster. Earlier this year I canceled my auto-renewal of my membership after 30-some years of being a staunch AOPA supporter. Even when I didn't agree with AOPA on a particular issue, and even which I have been disenchanted with Fuller, I believed that they were the most effective supporter of General Aviation and deserved my support.
While Phil and I had occasional differences, and he could certainly be autocratic at times, there was no question that he tried very hard to do what was best for pilots. Fuller is simply an inside-the-beltway political flak of the worst kind and it seems clear that its always about him and about dollars. He's not a visionary; he's a short-sighted, money-grubbing elitist.
The straw that broke the camel's back for me was my treatment this year WRT presenting at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs. As you know, I have been presenting at AOPA Expo/Summit for over 15 years. I have missed presenting only a couple times in all those years due to extenuating circumstances. My survival and ditching presentations have always been very well attended, often SRO, highly interactive and I always receive consistently high marks and positive comments on the review forms.
As you know, Palm Springs is a unique venue with the hotel pool immediately adjacent to the Convention Center which allows me to also provide in-water demonstrations of life rafts, life vests, survival suits and the like to compliment my Ditching and Water Survival presentation. This has always been an immensely popular presentation, often featured in highlight videos and photos of Expo. After initially inviting me to "apply" to make presentations, asked to conform to some absurd new speaker requirements, then relenting and being complimented on the interactivity of my presentations, which is apparently something they are striving for in more presentations, and then leading me to believe that I would again be presenting, I started to arrange the substantial logistics necessary to pull of another great presentation at AOPA in Palm Springs. Then, in early May I was informed that they would not be including any of the three presentations I had offered, including the in-water demo. While I was disappointed, I was not yet at the breaking point.
That came 5 weeks later when I received the attached promotional flyer in the mail. Apparently, while AOPA doesn't feel I am worthy to present at Summit, they don't have any trouble using me to promote their "experiential & interactive learning" at Summit. Excuse me if I was not amused. Follow-up with Craig Fuller by one of the members of the Equipped To Survive Foundation Board of Directors received only a perfunctory response.
I am done with AOPA until there are some fundamental changes made in leadership and direction. For the sake of all of us involved in General Aviation, I pray this occurs sooner, rather than later.



An Industry CEO opines: ...It astounds me how leader centric both EAA and AOPA are - reading both magazines you can see the narcissistic focus on Hightower and Fuller being treated like demigods.

The AOPA Summit is, quite frankly embarrassing, and just another love fest for insiders to show how important they are and suck up to the bosses.
(Once sentence containing identifying info withheld)
There are various examples where AOPA sponsors companies (a sort of reverse sponsorship as the companies have to pay for the privilege) that are not supportive of many of the pilots that AOPA purportedly represents. A good example of this inconsistency is Bank of America. If you are a flight school then you can forget getting any loan from them but AOPA supposedly supports the goal of expanding flight training.
If you read much of what is written by AOPA propaganda you will see that almost all of it (witness Fuller's response to you) is congratulating themselves on fighting against something or defending the status quo. Rarely will you ever see anything pro-active other than key initiatives such as wine clubs….
The first thing that I would strongly push for would be for the membership to have the right to vote for a slate of directors and a president who would have to stand for re-election on a regular basis. Any member in good standing should have the right to stand for a director position and present a brief resume of why they are qualified for the role. As it stands the members have no influence or rights to determine the direction of the organization which automatically opens it up to corruption and incompetence. Voting would be online via an independent organization and all materials would be exclusively distributed via web/e-mail to save on expense.
I, for one, am looking forward to your continuing series of articles as transparency and accountability are really not what has distinguished AOPA.
For me AOPA represents the world of aviation as perhaps it might have been in the 1970's. Older people desperately trying to prevent a new generation from establishing change.
When I read most of the magazines I wonder how many more breathless articles I will have to endure on the xx anniversary of the Cessna 172, Piper Archer, Bonanza etc. I really do not see how this is going to bring new, younger people into aviation.
Keep up the good work...



Doug M says: Yes I believe that they are actively soliciting and fostering membership with the more affluent aviators. And ignoring the small general aviation pilot. (Cub, Luscombe, small Cessna drivers.)

If you don't fly a $100,000 sport class or a late model Bonanza or larger aircraft. Then they don't have time for you.
As a small aviation business owner. I have been watching with some interest the tendency of AOPA to go into direct competition with aviation supply companies.
We few aviators in the mountain west. Have made several suggestions to have safety foundation seminars out here in the spring and summer. Not in the fall and winter when most of us can't get to them because of bad weather. All has fallen on deaf ears Without even the courtesy of a response of any kind.
AOPA has taken the attitude that if you don't fly out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver. then you don't need to be represented. We are just not large enough numbers for them.


James J. reports: I read your editorial on the AOPA in your Monday release and I have to say that I agree with what you are saying. Under Phil Boyer, AOPA seemed more interested in the average pilot and how they might lower the cost f flying.
It kills me to not be able to afford to fly as much as I would like and I need to stay proficient. The cost is getting harder and harder to justify. The FBO I fly with in CA are good people and they are just getting by but I am paying $125.00 an hour for a C-172 airframe that is 11 years younger than I am and I am 60!
Currently the AOPA seems to cater to the well heeled pilot leaving the average guy in the dust. It is a shame that aviation is being priced out of the average market.


Edward T. notes: Jim, I know a lot of AOPA suits are not happy with you because this article really touches a sore spot. The AOPA has been in decline and has irritated me considerably with how it chooses its bedfellows and how it makes (or tries to make) enormous amounts of money selling its mailing lists to dubious entities while behaving strangely and impotently to important aviation issues. Reminds me a lot of the AARP and its decline from being a member champion to being a commercial parasite. 5 stars!


Allen C. thinks: AOPA has its problems. What organization in this day doesn't ? My question, is if we lose AOPA to negative press (real or otherwise) who do we pilots have left as an advocate? I hope you tread lightly here so we don't through the baby out with the bath water.


Paul C. says that: I guess now I will send all of my money to Sporty's at least I can clearly see what I can get for my dollar….

AOPA is shooting themselves in the foot by breaking up that relationship…
I am going to start sending more of my dollars to EAA, I know that EAA had their internal issues as well, but I feel that in the long run EAA is going to watch out for the General Aviation population more than AOPA…. I know I will not be renewing my membership with AOPA enough is enough….I am going to bank on EAA instead….
What happened to the AOPA commercials on the Weather Channel, when Phil Boyer was in the commercial promoting General Aviation….when I watched the commercial I felt there was at least some hope of reviving GA, but even the commercials went away….
I have to give a hand to EAA for the Light Sport Category though I have not tried my hand at flying one yet I am still in C172's, but I am also banking that EAA's push for doing away with 3rd class medical will also happen, but with user fees looming on the horizon there will be another fight for our dollars….Oh yes AOPA will be promoting Wine Club memberships instead of fighting against user fees…
Thank goodness for Aero-News to keep me informed and show the going's on at AOPA and EAA….


Brent B. writes: Great article.
I can only comment from personal experience leading the fight for residential through the fence (rTTF) access over the past three years and that experience was dismal from the point of view of the AOPA's advocacy for a GA issue.

We met with the AOPA (specifically Bill Dunn and others) at the annual meeting in Tampa. The "we" included Hal Shevers (representing Sandy's Airpark) and several others with rTTF access. In that meeting, the AOPA folks basically said it was not a big issue and Bill Dunn specifically said "not all our members are in favor of through the fence access." Bill, however, could not come up with any survey or other objective evidence to support his statement. The bottom line was that the AOPA felt this was too small an issue to use any "capital" with the FAA to get involved.
Since the AOPA did not take a stance supporting rTTF, this was interpreted by the FAA as being against rTTF access. In addition, the FAA quoted multiple times Bill's nefarious statement in their missives to Congress to discontinuing rTTF.
Once the AOPA found how much support we had in the GA Caucus, they then denied ever making the "not all our members" statement in spite of the fact there were at least ten of us in the room who heard it. Once the rTTF language passed in the FAA re-authorization bill, they actually came close to trying to take credit for it!
Unfortunately, I think the AOPA is now more about money and power and less about fighting anything for GA that could be controversial at all. Too bad for all of us aircraft owners and pilots.


Joe D. thinks: Jim, I can't help but think that GA needs a fresh face. I'm tired of hearing that AOPA cannot make a difference in Washington politics.
I just turned 34 years old and have amassed 1200 hours of flying in the last 5 years. In that same time I have worked politics and entitled projects that were thought to be impossible because I found common ground with republicans and democrats. I have wonderful friends on both sides but I never lose site of the 1st objective. I'm guessing our current AOPA chief does not understand this simple concept.
There needs to be a new #1 and Mr. Fuller would probably be fine as #2.


Elliot M expresses: I read your complaint about AOPA with an open mind.

On the one hand I very much appreciate its provision of a broad array of services to members, some excellent and some merely adequate or even disappointing, in addition to its airport and pilot support activities, aviation safety work and political lobbying.
On the other, I can appreciate the disgruntlement of private providers being outgunned by an agency that they themselves not only fund through self interested advertising but also generously fund and support.
However, on balance, of course based at this time on the very "thin" information you've provided, I think your "rant" is a bit one sided against one of general aviation's best friends.
One of the recent big losses to general aviators was not due to the big footprint of AOPA but an internecine battle between two private companies resulting in the unfortunate loss of Navmonster due to an unconscionable assertion of patent rights. I was grateful for AOPA's stepping in with FlyQ though it is more cumbersome and lacks some of the Navmonster features I liked. You should also keep in mind that General Aviation pilots aren't necessarily the best financed, and some of the private product and service providers seem to assume that if you can afford to fly you can afford the high cost and high monthly subscription charges they require.
Generally competition is supposed to be a good thing isn't it? I think you need to more precisely target your criticism to perhaps anti-competitive practices rather than broad spectrum attacks on a longstanding ally of GA. Your comments come across as petulant, as though AOPA somehow dissed Propwash. I seem to recall a similar sense following a dispute with Cirrus. Both polemics undercut what I find to be a generally excellent source of information for what's going on in a field I care a great deal about.


Tracy S corresponds: Great article ! Going back, I was somewhat annoyed with the AOPA being 'The Phil Boyer Show' and having the whole world and AOPA revolve around the man....but I see now that the organization NEEDED a strong hand on the tiller to keep the direction forward and pure. Not the case today; I personally limit my involvement with AOPA to my yearly membership. I'll be shopping my renters policy when it comes up for renewal because I don;t want this dysfunctional organization to get any more of my money other than a basic membership.
I have met Rod Hightower of EAA and THAT man has my vote to move General Aviation forward. Craig Fuller is yesterday's news along with the rest of the AOPA Board of Directors.
Harsh? Maybe. But then again so was the Wine Club as it assaulted my senses & values. (AOPA will NEVER live down the Wine Club).
Keep Up The Good Fight Jim.


Charlie W weighs in: Not just AOPA but EAA as well dating back to the AOPA / EAA "merger". After a few years of the newly combined spokes-power for General Aviation, both entities separately & combined started the politics, high finance, and ego trip that exists today. Their self interested leadership falls at an unfortunate time when the FAA / NTSB juggernaut lead by the arrogance of the Obama administration seem out to doom GA but regulation and outright decree.


Greg S tells us: I've had issues with AOPA's direction for a few years. That's why this year I just decided to call it quits. They can go find another turnip to squeeze for money. I also felt it was time to bid adieu to the EAA, as I think both they and the AOPA are directionless. It appears their main goal is making money, with aviation being placed further down on their "to do" list.


Ken B sounds off: You can add EAA to your AOPA report.
Both leaders appear to be "showboats" and have changed the culture of both organizations?
I expect to leave these pilot organizations unless there is a return focus to us, not them.



Ron S speaks up: AOPA has changed it's focus under Fuller.

It stopped being an advocate for pilot interests. Now it wants to be a player- actively taking part in formulating and passing legislation. That takes a lot more money. It also means AOPA must compromise it's position.
It's understandable that AOPA has changed, considering that its present Director has been a lobbyist and/or political dealer for most of his career.
I think that when the AOPA's BOD selected Fuller, this is the direction that they thought that the organization should take. Fuller never struck me as a "pilot person." He came out of nowhere. He was not known in aviation circles. After Phil Boyer, it was a radical change.
Well, it looks like AOPA got what it hoped for - in spades.


An 'ATP/CFI/AI' says that: I would just like to know why it seems that every cover story on AOPA Pilot and Flying magazine are the same... month after month. In the latest issue, it's the Cessna diesel.
Makes me think I should cancel one or the other!


Mike L. writes: Great article. AOPA should not have products that compete with Aviation Vendors. I agree Sporty's has always been a great supporter. (that is where I buy my AOPA logo gear.)
Why not use revenue to beautify Airport landscaping? Safety videos are great. Love the magazine.


OK... there's just a few of the responses (for and against... and in a ratio that overtly emphasized those few who disagreed with our piece) we've received so far... and if that's not enough, there are at least 1000 more (so far) to quote from.

What say you? SPEAK UP aviation world... and while you're responding to this, let us ask one bonus question...What TOP TEN goals/concepts/objectives should a Pro-GA effort undertake these days to have a positive and lasting effect on the future of aviation? Please let us know what you think!

FMI: What Do You Think? Is AOPA 'Off-Mission'???, What TOP TEN Goals/Concepts/Objectives Should a Pro-GA Effort Undertake These Days To Have A Positive and Lasting Effect On The Future of Aviation?www.aopa.org


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