By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief
AOPA President Craig Fuller says he's puzzled by the reaction of three aviation companies to the organization's move to modernize its flight planning product. In a Sept. 25 letter (PDF) to Fuller last week that was made public this week, the companies complained that AOPA was competing directly with them when it should be paying more attention to its core functions of advocacy and building the pilot population. "... we believe AOPA products and initiatives that detract from the organization's main goals are bad for members and the industry in general," the letter read. "And, as advertisers, we feel our financial contributions are furthering these initiatives that will ultimately compete with our own products - essentially we are funding a competitor."
So far, only Sporty's Pilot Shop has publicly acknowledged its participation in the letter. AVweb has confirmed the identities of the other companies but has not been told by either that they are willing to go on the record with their complaints. Sporty's CEO Michael Wolf told AVweb his company has a long history of cooperation with AOPA but is concerned by the "new direction" of the organization. "They're getting into business and they're becoming our competitors rather than our partners," Wolf said. But Fuller said AOPA has been offering products and services that compete with those of some of its advertisers for decades and the updated flight planning platform, called FlyQ, is an extension of that.
"This is a place we've been in for many years," he told AVweb. He said the old flight planning system was based on outdated technology and FlyQ will give users of the AOPA service the tablet and smartphone-friendly platform that is becoming the new standard for flight planning. He also confirmed that AOPA is embarking on a new initiative to use some of the resources of its considerable investment portfolio for "strategic investments" directly in aviation projects, but he said that program is in its infancy. On the over-arching concern that AOPA is digging in the sandboxes of its sources of advertising revenues, Fuller said it's no secret that advertising income is down for all publications. "To somehow say we shouldn't bring revenue in by other means is not realistic," he said. "For us to accomplish our mission, we have to find other sources of revenue."