AOPA Ditches Summit: The Right Move at the Right Time

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AOPAís surprise announcement that itís abandoning the annual fall Summit show came as quite a surprise, although anyone whoís been paying attention could have seen it coming eventually. From my point of view, itís a welcome development and newly installed AOPA president Mark Baker deserves some props for making a decisive move barely days into his tenure.

So whatís the matter with Summit? Perhaps nothing, other than context. Given the size of the aviation universe and the fact that itís in decline means that there are simply too many shows for vendors and attendees to keep up with or perhaps the frequency is just excessive. AOPAís show never benefitted much from being renamed from Expo to Summit and its attendance has struggled, depending on the venue. A couple of years ago, during a dreary, rainy day in Hartford, I recall spending a solid hour in the press room by myself. Not a soul came or went. The exhibit floor was similarly sparsely attended.

I donít know whether Expo/Summit is a cost center or a profit center, but I suspect at a dismal show like Hartford, itís more likely the former. More important, Iíve always felt the show is marginal for both attendees and some vendors, whoíve already ground through a long, expensive show season starting at Sebring and culminating in AirVenture, not to mention a handful of smaller regional shows. Vendors Iíve spoken to in the past have been split; some find Summit a show worth the expense, others not so much. Late in the year and heading into winter, not many companies used Summit as a marketing springboard in the way that they use Sun Ďn Fun or AirVenture.

In cancelling it, perhaps AOPA is signaling that Summit is just an expensive distraction. Its press release on Tuesday said it will divert resources to grass roots events. Now grass roots is a much hackneyed description and Iíll confess I donít even know what it means. But if it means a focus on more frequent, smaller shows, promotions and events and a clear emphasis on affordable flying for what passes as the massesóas suggested in the press releaseóthatís the right direction indeed. And if the market shifts, the association can always bring the show back or revert to a biannual format.†

But the most telling message in Bakerís decision may be this: Donít count on business as usual. And that could be a good thing.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (33)

I'm glad I decided to take in this year's Summit. I hope the AOPA will consider holding the Summit every 2-3 years instead of cancelling it outright.

Posted by: Steve Drinkwater | September 11, 2013 6:11 AM    Report this comment

Always smacked as a poor attempt to compete with Oshkosh. Now if AOPA continues in this vein - Ditch AV8ers (the Young Eagles knock off) and strengthen the Air Safety Institute - which is currently their best "grass roots" effort at this time. And work WITH EAA on things. AOPA's failure to file an Amicus brief on the additional ATC fees at events is a glaring omission at this time.

Posted by: Graeme Smith | September 11, 2013 6:30 AM    Report this comment

I've long be a proponent of reducing "span of control" and was excited when there was a move last year to establish AOPA regions. Not much occurred after that announcement and our potential connection with National never matured. Two organizations represent us (AOPA and EAA) and I've been a vocal critic of both. By investing in joint ventures, combining assets, and decentralizing their efforts, it's just possible that we may shift the momentum from an "us vs. them" to an "our" effort to combat over regulation and stagnation. David Miller President EAA Chapter 1358 KDHN

Posted by: David Miller | September 11, 2013 7:20 AM    Report this comment

Pragmatic approach? It apears as if AOPA is going on a business diet cutting fat by eliminating ineffective declining programs, the "Summit" being one. If this decision is intended to really actively encourage and boost new starts in aviation, as in the EAA/Sportys grass-roots programs, then I am all for it. I am optimistic about AOPA now but somewhat guarded as I in some way I sense the scents of California orchards.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 11, 2013 7:48 AM    Report this comment

Personally, I'll miss having the annual Summit, since I've been using that as my annual excuse to travel to different parts of the country. I've also enjoyed the many social events they have added in recent years, but I suspect Summit hasn't been a profit center for AOPA like AirVenture Oshkosh is for EAA, so I suppose all good things come to an end.

The one flaw I can see with their proposed new regional Saturday fly-in is having the locations too far apart and most activities starting too early for us pilots who are not morning people. Too many of the weekend fly-ins in my area start at 8 or 9am, and when you factor in my 35 minute drive to the airport and another 40 minutes or so to uncover, untie and preflight the plane, plus typically 40-60 minutes flying time to where these events are held, it means getting up quite early on a weekend. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the ASF in-person seminars held during the week, but usually starting at 6pm in "major metropolitan areas", precluding me from getting there in time after getting out of work.

In short, I hope AOPA realizes they will have to do better planning to allow the non-retired, non-high-wealth members to be able to attend their new "grass roots" efforts. This is the segment of aviation that really needs to be grown, and anything they can do to make us feel more included will help general aviation.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | September 11, 2013 7:53 AM    Report this comment

Well, they appeared at the Triple Tree Fly-In this year in their Caravan. They certainly got an earfull from the pilots and aircraft owners. I know because I was one of them. They came, they listened, they went home informed... Maybe they are serious about going back to their roots. If so, they have my vote...

Posted by: Steve Wilson | September 11, 2013 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Right move? Maybe. Right time? Definately!

In the interest of fairness, I've never been to an AOPA Summit (or whatever they've called them in the past). I just could never justify what AOPA was giving me for my Summit dollar. Airventure and SnF have an airshow as the highlight of their day, and educational forums on things that matter. AOPA seemed like they didn't know what mattered or didn't care.

I seriously thought about getting some friends of mine and going to the last Summit at Hartford, but again, we couldn't justify spending our money on something that we couldn't see the value in. When is the last time a major announcement was made at Summit? None that I can remember At Airventure? Happens every day and at SnF? It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's good.

Good Luck to Mr. Baker, he's going to need a lot of it. But if this is an indication of the "new normal" at AOPA then I'm pretty happy.

Posted by: R. Doe | September 11, 2013 10:01 AM    Report this comment

Aviation is getting more expensive and there are fewer young people with interest in aviation. Both members of a household are working and free time is being spent together with family members, i.e. wife, husband, children. Then when they get older and family members are grown, most feel it is too late and expensive for aviation. Has the aviation industry examined the cost of airplanes lately rather than excutive pay and the cost of training, not counting FAA regulations? I agree with AOPA in working with local aviation groups rather than additional submits. Training is very important and AOPA has begun to put more effort in training as it reaches the pilot(s).

Posted by: Robert Lee | September 11, 2013 10:01 AM    Report this comment

AOPA is a bloated organization which represents their overpaid executives and turbine aircraft owners. The recent celebration of Fuller (you know $815,000 a year Fuller) in AOPA Pilot was a disgrace. I wrote Haines about it and as usual he thinks everything is wonderful. I have joined EAA which I consider a far better organization. When my AOPA membership expires next year I will not renew unless the Citation and Caravan are gone and the staff and staff salaries are cut. General aviation is in deep trouble with costs and regulations being mostly responsible. We can not have fat cats in AOPA representing us. I am an old guy and will soon hang up my spurs. I am a retired major airline pilot who flew corporate jets and I have loved aviation since my Viet Nam Marine Corps days. It pains me to see what is happening to the field I love. I now teach primary and instrument students and see first hand the economic difficulty of becoming a pilot. Maybe this new president has the message that AOPA has to change and will stop up selling members things like pilot protection plans and life insurance. I doubt it but we can only hope.

Posted by: Patrick McBurnett | September 11, 2013 1:37 PM    Report this comment

For too long, "our" organizations have been run for the organizations' benefit, rather than for the membership. Moves to "professional management" and a quest for ever-higher membership numbers have diluted the message and the value.

EAA has seen some of the light; AOPA might be following suit. Let's hope so.

As for Hartford... well, the museum was cool, but AOPA didn't hook up with them; we just had to find it, ourselves. Should have come with me, Paul.

Posted by: Tim Kern | September 11, 2013 3:30 PM    Report this comment

Pat and Tim above have said it all for me. I agree in total with their comments.

Posted by: Law Hartley | September 11, 2013 3:57 PM    Report this comment

I agree with Steve above. I rode the bus at Triple Tree with some AOPA guys. When I got off the bus one of them stayed behind and genuinely listened to what I had to say. They also asked any number of good questions concerning us the "little guys". If they have an open dialog like this and take the comments to heart, then maybe some things will improve. After all they are a member organization that is supposed to watch out for us, all of us, owners and pilots. I found their attitude at the fly in refreshing. As for the Summit, I have little thought about it other than I have better places to spend my money than another expensive convention.

Posted by: Jeff Grigg | September 11, 2013 4:50 PM    Report this comment

@Patrick McBurnett: I totally agree with you - you made your point loud and clear. Thanks...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 11, 2013 5:43 PM    Report this comment

Pat said it all. Almost couldn't add anything to it. Well said.

Posted by: Jason Baker | September 11, 2013 5:56 PM    Report this comment

Pat hit the nail on the head! Can't add anything to it.

Posted by: A Richie | September 12, 2013 8:53 AM    Report this comment

It's the economy stupid.... Well, in every well run business there can be the trade offs between the wants and the absolute must haves. This seems like a case where the right decision probably was made. I've had my private pilot license since 1974, but have had, and am currently in, a period of non-flying because of the needs of time and money, mostly money. I've always struggled with the time and need to fly enough to stay proficient versus the desire to just go for a $100 hamburger. Currently, I have my hamburger at McDonalds and just drive by the airport infrequently enough not to get too depressed in not being able to fly. This year's sequestration hasn't helped any as I have gone to air shows since I was knee high and am addicted to the noise and precision I see. I've been a member of AOPA for years, even when not flying, and it always kills me to see the "affordable" new model depicted in AOPA Pilot being only slightly over a half a million. I doubt I could keep up a 50 year old Cessna, let alone get in the seat of one of these new ones. Maybe AOPA will find a way to better serve the wannabe's of all ages and find a way to make flying a possibility rather than just a dream.

Posted by: dwight crowther | September 12, 2013 9:37 AM    Report this comment

I am a wood and fabric airplane owner and I fly the $100 breakfast runs. I do NOT have a $1M income. I am a member of AOPA and EAA. I did go to a Summit when it was local. The only thing I remember of interest was the vendors booths, so I will not miss the summits. It takes me two minutes to read the AOPA magazine as there is little of interest in there for me, it is for the Jet-A guys. I believe the magazine is written for doctors waiting rooms. I loathe the bombardment of AOPA solicitations for more money. What they do very well are the web based information, the training videos etc., and they do project a pilot voice to our Government. I believe that they have their heads at 25,000 feet and don't want to come down to our altitude. I hope this is changing. If so, then maybe I will keep my membership.

Posted by: George Kovac | September 12, 2013 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Seeing as how Sun-N-Fun is in Florida, and Air Venture is in Wisconsin I regularly attended the AOPA conventions when in California, since that is where I live. I still had to travel to them, as they were not in my backyard. Now that they have been cancelled I will have nowhere to go as Florida is way too far away, and Wisconsin is not much closer. I will miss the conventions as it is where I learned of vendors new products, got to try them out and actually bought quite quite a few different things.

It is where I learned of the Lockheed Martin AFSS Web portal, and how to use it. It is where I was able to attend Mountain Flying Seminars, learned how to better use my WAAS GPS to shoot LPV approaches. And where I was able to listen to Rod Machado make corny jokes about flying airplanes.

I think that all different levels of income are represented at the conventions, and there will always be someone who has more money to buy the latest and greatest. Some of the things on display I could only dream about, but some I could see the value in and decided to save my money to eventually buy it.

While I can see the logic behind cancelling the conventions due to the current lackluster economy and government sequestration, it doesn't mean that I wont miss it. And, I certainly hope that when things improve AOPA will consider bringing it back.

Finally, I really think that AOPA's major job is to represent us on Capital Hill. I constantly try to recruit pilots to join AOPA so that our voice is heard loud and clear.

Posted by: David LeTourneau | September 12, 2013 10:57 AM    Report this comment

I have been critical of some AOPA moves, in particular their competing against those who support them such as their new FlyQ competing against Foreflight, WingX, etc. That is just plane wrong. Period. Having said that, anyone who flies, fixes or in some way needs GA is completely insane not to pay your dues and support BOTH AOPA and EAA. Who else is going to go to Washington and fight for your rights to fly? There are no other options. Pay your dues or don't complain when your rights become even more restricted.

Posted by: Scott Sedam | September 12, 2013 11:15 AM    Report this comment

I felt last year's AOPA Summit was one of (if not the) best ones that I attended since my first one in Hartford, CT back in 2007. I thought they were doing a good job at encouraging interaction between fellow attendees, and the tour of the San Andreas Fault during the final social event was something I'm glad I had the opportunity to see. Another great event I attended was back in 2010 during their "Dine Around" event, and talked to Dick Rutan and Mike Melvil for quite some time. Sure, some of these events weren't free or cheap, but they were affordable compared the rest of the expense of the trip, or to flying for a $200 hamburger.

They claim to be doing this to better reach more pilots on a face-to-face basis, but as David mentions, for me it's likely to mean less contact with AOPA staff. They can't possibly reach more pilots with this method, unless most of the year is devoted to visiting as many small airports as possible (and thus detracting from their government advocacy). I could be wrong about this all (and I hope I am), but only time will tell if it was a good move or not.

One final thought I have, is I wonder if this will also mean the end of the sweepstakes plane, since they've always given it away at Summit/Expo (at least, while I've been a member). I enjoy reading about the restoration process they go through, and their various decisions in aircraft selection, purchase, and upgrading has given me many ideas on how to improve my own plane, or my flying club's planes. Besides, while my chances of ever winning one are exceedingly low, it's still the closest I've come to feeling like a "dream plane" is within reach.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | September 12, 2013 11:58 AM    Report this comment

I flew to Palm Springs for the Summit last year, hoping to get some in person information and experience with some new avionics products I was considering.

What I got was a really mixed bag. The folks at Avidyne were well informed, helpful, and had good demo setups where they could walk you through complex scenarios. The folks from Bendix/King had a crappy demo, with a product that wasn't equipped to be demonstrated beyond a few basic button pushes and knob twists. One wonders why in the world they bothered to pay for booth space.

In that sense, I guess it was a useful trip -- I learned who had their act more or less together.

Posted by: Michael Kobb | September 12, 2013 2:06 PM    Report this comment

A few years ago I was getting back into flying after several year's of inactivity. I had just bought a run-of-the-mill Bonanza and needed to see what was new in the avionics and autopilot departments. So I thoroughly enjoyed the meet at Long Beach. Learned a lot, and made some informed purchases.

A few years later, I had moved to a Cessna 340 that was nicely equipped. Again, I attended the meet in Long Beach. And again, I learned what I needed to fill a few niches in the equipment list. My wife and I also enjoyed checking out the more efficient singles on the airport. Free bus ride over. Sadly, although she liked the leather and decor of the pocket-rockets, I'm stuck with the pressurized 340 for a while.

I hope AOPA bring back something similar when the economy improves. I'm not one to fly great distances just to go to a trade show.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 12, 2013 7:55 PM    Report this comment

A few years ago I was getting back into flying after several year's of inactivity. I had just bought a run-of-the-mill Bonanza and needed to see what was new in the avionics and autopilot departments. So I thoroughly enjoyed the meet at Long Beach. Learned a lot, and made some informed purchases.

A few years later, I had moved to a Cessna 340 that was nicely equipped. Again, I attended the meet in Long Beach. And again, I learned what I needed to fill a few niches in the equipment list. My wife and I also enjoyed checking out the more efficient singles on the airport. Free bus ride over. Sadly, although she liked the leather and decor of the pocket-rockets, I'm stuck with the pressurized 340 for a while.

I hope AOPA bring back something similar when the economy improves. I'm not one to fly great distances just to go to a trade show.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 12, 2013 7:56 PM    Report this comment

Maybe they can use the money saved to hire more relatives or pay the fuel costs of something I'll never fly. Perhaps on a different thread, someday, I'll mention the lackluster visit which a friend and I experienced at a AOPA/HQ visit.

Posted by: Dave Jaundrill | September 13, 2013 6:37 AM    Report this comment

Captain McBurnett's comments are spot on! I recently cancelled my AOPA membership after 12 years as I felt they lost sight of what their core mission was. In addition, the constant revenue generating tactics was out out control! When is enough, enough? While Baker has a tough road ahead I think canceling the summit series is a move in the right direction and will provide face value to AOPA if they can truly grasp the needs of members. Best of luck!

Posted by: Andrew Elwood | September 13, 2013 6:44 AM    Report this comment

Out-of-control is an understatement. Witness the AOPA Wine Club. If there's anything that should NOT be associated with flying, it is alcohol!

Posted by: A Richie | September 13, 2013 9:27 AM    Report this comment

I also did not renew my membership this year. I went to the Hartford Summit a couple of years ago, and was completely turned off. A large gathering for the wealthy pilot population, No member camaraderie. A giant money grab. I am happy to hear the new leadership will direct AOPA toward grass roots level gatherings. I have since turned to EAA for just that.

Posted by: Charles Mackin | September 13, 2013 9:33 AM    Report this comment

I am going to vent! Do we at AOPA need two doctors, one MD and One DO? Does the extra cost for the "Medical & Legal Services add on" pay for multiple doctors? AOPA has lost its panache. You used to, in the distant past, have had to be soloed to join as a PILOT! I had to call to get them to stop trying to get my disabled wife, my unenthusiastic passenger, off their spamming list. AOPA has lost their focus. I hope they don't go out of business because they have POed so many of their members. I used the Expos in the past to buy GPS and other aviation related products after I compared the relative values. Now what do I do now, punt? Believe all the advertising? Do without? I learned a lot at the presentations. I enjoyed the moderate cost things but could not afford the real ritzy activities of the last couple of Summits. This decision, whoever made it, sucks in my opinion. Paul Warman (AOPA membership number 00409842)

Posted by: Paul J. Warman | September 13, 2013 11:33 AM    Report this comment

I liked the Summit and was looking forward to the next time it was on the west coast. I like seeing the new products and going to as many seminars as I could. It is really the only large aviation convention I could afford to attend. I am saddened it is gone.

Now for the bigger question - what will AOPA do with the money they saved (presumably). In the past there has only been about one safety seminar in my area per year - will I see more of them? And what about seeing new airplanes, products, etc? I'm not quite sure how AOPA will bring their services to me, and I'm not afraid to say that I am quite skeptical at this point in time.

Seems AOPA has become more commercialized in the past couple of years. Its really a shame. If they dont add some value that I can see - I may have to just bow out.

Austin Kalb AOPA Member since the early 80's

Posted by: Austin Kalb | September 13, 2013 3:07 PM    Report this comment

I always wondered why they haggle me for a $20 donation when they have approximately $70 million in the bank? At some point you do need to spend some of that to save GA, if it's still possible.

Posted by: A Richie | September 13, 2013 4:39 PM    Report this comment

Before the Summit it was the Expo, and before that it was the Plantation Party (anyone else remember that far back?) I've been a member for nearly 50 years and have seen almost nothing change except for increases in money, both money in and money out - for expensive aircraft and expensive management.

If AOPA and the others were good at influencing Washington we'd have regulations that promote general aviation. I soloed in 4 hours, not unusual back then, and it was spent learning how to fly not how to obey regulations. AOPA has totally failed us. The truckers counterpart, OIDA, regularly sues the gov't and usually wins - and you see millions of trucks on the road. AOPA wants to "lobby" which means wine and dine and make important friends. Now we see how well that's working out for us.

Posted by: Darryl Philips | September 13, 2013 6:05 PM    Report this comment

Well, AOPA has taken the bull by the horns.

"The preparations and investments made by the SOCAL Tracon and local ATC, FBOs, airport management, facilities and personnel, aircraft parking, car rentals, hotels, services and flight training organizations in the area were based anticipating a much larger number of operations before, during and after the event. At PSP less than 350 aircraft flew in, at least 750 were expected. TRM planned to have about one thousand aircraft, but less than fifty (50) showed up. More than 60 percent of the air traffic expected did not materialize. AOPA publicized the event well but the GA response appears to have been weak from the start. Could it be the economy, fuel prices, pilot population decline, or just plain lack of interest? If the AOPA SUMMIT is to repeat in 2014 this year's weak turn out needs to be addressed and to have everyone's return on their investments justified.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | October 15, 2012 6:12 AM "

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | September 14, 2013 5:07 PM    Report this comment

As a relatively new pilot flying a C-182 based in Florida, I think it is a good move to cancel the Summit. I did go to the most recent Summit in Long Beach, it reminded me more of a weakly attended business convention, with little excitement and less inspiration. SnF was much bigger, much more exciting, more courses, more vendors, more real deals to be had, and more to do. The only way I would go again if it was in my backyard (eg Californians), I just could not see why anyone would go otherwise. To keep aviation alive there needs to be way more emphasis on smaller planes and affordable flying, introducing the joy of flight, education, and advocacy to government and the public. I like jets/ turbines, and reading about them in moderation, but most pilots do not own them and will never be able to...isn't that what the Business Aviation Associations are for? EAA is better, but they too have become more like AOPA in recent years I am told.

I plan to keep my membership as long as I'm flying. AOPA does many good things for us and it looks like they are critically evaluating their programs which is great.

Posted by: Michel Samson | September 15, 2013 8:50 AM    Report this comment

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