Baker: For GA Future, Friendly Airports Are Key

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Just two months into his new job, AOPA President Mark Baker addressed an overflow crowd at AOPA Summit on Thursday morning, to lay out his vision for the future of the organization -- and also revealed a hint at the "real reason" that this Summit will be the last. In response to a question from the audience, Baker said switching from the annual meeting to a half-dozen regional fly-ins will create opportunities for AOPA to recruit new members. "There are still thousands of pilots who are not members of AOPA," he said. "These fly-ins will take our message out to where people fly." Baker also said changes to the third-class medical, which have wide support among aviators -- the EAA/AOPA proposal attracted more than 16,000 "overwhelmingly positive" comments -- so far are "not a priority" for the FAA, but he will continue to lobby for the changes. "I just won't let this die," he said. But the key to GA's future, in Baker's estimation, is making our local airports into friendlier, more welcoming places.

"I was one of those airport kids," says Baker, who discovered aviation at a local field. But today, too many of our GA airports are surrounded by barbed wire and fences. "Communities need access," he said. Picnic tables, playgrounds, and open-house events all can help to make GA airports into "a place for families to hang out on a Saturday afternoon where the next generation can discover aviation." Baker also addressed a question about the recent issues with customs and border officials confronting GA pilots, saying that such encounters "seem to be slowing down." He added that it's important to continue to educate lawmakers in Washington about the importance of GA, and said members of the GA caucus "understand the economic value" of aviation. Baker also earned applause from the crowd when he confirmed that AOPA will bring back its Frederick fly-in for 2014, to celebrate the organization's 75th year.

Baker said AOPA also has been working with EAA, GAMA, NBAA, and other aviation groups to bring proposals to the FAA for changes that would save money without affecting services to pilots. He said changes in flight services could save $75 million a year, for example, and shutting down just half of the remaining VORs would save $55 million annually. Baker said the proposed changes to third-class medicals also could save the FAA up to $11 million. The advocacy groups hope that by working with FAA to save money on inefficient or redundant services, they can deflect FAA proposals to save money in ways that would be harmful to GA, such as closing contract towers. Baker also said AOPA will continue to work with EAA to promote aviation. EAA chairman Jack Pelton will be here this week, appearing together with Baker at a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning at the Airportfest at Meacham Field. AOPA also will expand its presence at some EAA events, including next year's AirVenture, Baker said.